Iowa pastor discovers half his church was sold

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The Iglesia Cristiana El Balsamo church in Muscatine is divided, literally.

Pastor Robert Garcia, who has been the pastor at the Mennonite  faith-based church since it opened in 1983, learned that half of his church was sold in a tax sale. The rear half of the church is now owned by Oak Helm Partners in Davenport, a real estate investment group.

"For something like this to happen is very rare," said Muscatine County Assessor Dale McCrea.

According to Iowa law, churches are deemed tax exempt; however, the Iowa Secretary of State's Office had the church listed as an inactive corporation since 1987. The church has been holding services regularly since 1983.

In an article published by Iowa Watch Dog, Garcia stated that he was unaware that Iowa law requires churches to file reports with the state every two years to be considered active and entitled to tax-exempt status.

McCreas told News 8 that back in 2009, the county began sending letters to the church's address. The postal service returned the mail as undeliverable.

After several years of unpaid taxes, Garcia learned he owed $19,128 in back taxes. McCrea said since the county has already allocated the tax money received from the payment of Oak Helm Partners, the issue will have to be resolved between Garcia and Oak Helm Partners.

"I think this is an unfortunate situation, but ultimately, it does fall on the property owners to make sure that the government entities know where they're at and how they can be reached," McCrea said.

In the meantime, Garcia told News 8 church services will continue.

A spokesperson with Oak Helm Partners said they are interested in working with the church's members to negotiate a possible reimbursement of the purchase.