9 Investigates hundreds of churches, nonprofits at risk of losing property



ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Nine investigates first uncovered hundreds of churches and non-profits in Orange County were behind on taxes and at risk of losing their properties.

Orange County tax collector Scott Randolph is trying to help but says Mayor Teresa Jacobs is standing in the way.

Eyewitness News learned Randolph sent a letter to county commissioners to see if they will help.

"These taxes are a burden to us," Charter Church Member Roger Ward said.

Ward is a charter member of West Orlando Church of Christ.

The church owes $1,200 in back taxes and Ward said with 80 people the church can't come current.

"If an organization is tax exempt, it should be tax exempt," Ward said.

Churches and nonprofits are exempt from property taxes but in Orange County they still have to pay taxes to cover things that include street lights and storm water drains.

Ward thinks all fees should be waived. If so, county commissioners would have to make the change.

In August, tax collector Randolph alerted Jacobs that hundreds of churches and nonprofits were at risk of losing their properties because of back taxes.

"For 2 1/2 months they haven't done anything," Randolph said.

He asked her to consider making the groups exempt but says he got no response.

"Not a courtesy call, not a letter," Randolph said.

In the meantime, his office is still trying to collect the money

Warning letters were mailed 2 1/2 months ago and field officers are going door to door using mobile tablets where they can pull up the bill online and collect payment right away.

They've collected $115,000. Nonprofits, business and individuals still owe $750,000.

Randolph's trying to help nonprofits come current enough so they won't lose their properties.

Ward hopes county leaders will exempt them altogether.

"That would be a great help," Ward said.

State statute requires the county to apply for a tax deed and take over these delinquent properties.

Randolph said if they don't take action in the next few weeks, he will have to file a lawsuit against the county.

Jacobs' office said there was a mixup and they misplaced Randolph's initial letter.

They have agreed to meet with him and discuss cleaning up the tax rolls and making nonprofits exempt.