By Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News
Detroit —The Detroit Branch NAACP is at risk of losing its headquarters to foreclosure if it doesn’t enter a payment plan to pay $47,451 in taxes from 2008 with Wayne County by next spring.
Officials with the branch, which made news last month when it disputed reports that its status had been suspended over paperwork and dues, said that the tax issue — the branch also owes $38,969 for 2009 — is under appeal before the Michigan Tax Tribunal in Lansing.
Hester L. Wheeler, the executive director of the branch, said the office on Second Avenue should be exempt from taxes like its previous building on East Grand Boulevard.
He promised that if found to be in violation, “we will pay. Losing the building is not negotiable.”
County records show that the NAACP’s building, which the branch moved into in late 2007, was not granted exempt status by the city. And officials at the tribunal said both of the branch’s petitions appealing the tax issues have been dismissed due to late filings.
But Wheeler said he’s been assured by the civil rights group’s legal counsel that the tribunal case and a decision is still pending.
The branch, he said, is now paid up with the national office and will not crumble financially.
Terrance Keith, the county’s deputy treasurer, said he has been in discussion with NAACP officials about a payment plan for the 2008 tax bill. It would start in March with 20 percent due then; another 20 percent would be due in May; another 20 in July; and the final 40 percent would be due in December.
“We’re anticipating that they are going to set up a payment plan consistent with what we’ve offered individuals and corporations over the last couple of years to pay the taxes while their appeal is pending,” Keith said.
Political Consultant Steve Hood was one of the first to learn of the branch’s tax problems. He criticized the branch’s leadership for letting the building go into forfeiture and questioned why the taxes haven’t been paid.
“How can the NAACP advocate for those in foreclosure trouble if they don’t pay their own bills?” said Hood, who will discuss the issue on his new talk show, “Detroit Wants 2 Know,” tonight on WADL-TV Channel 38.
But Wheeler said that the branch is still actively fighting for the less fortunate — even when his organization is caught up in tough economic times.
Wheeler said his NAACP branch, the nation’s largest with 45,000 members, has been belt-tightening with every employee taking a 10 percent to 15 percent pay cut and reduced hours.