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By The Skanner News | The Skanner News
Published: 20 December 2010

Detroit Executive Director Heaster Wheeler

DETROIT (AP) -- Officials with Detroit's NAACP branch and Wayne County are discussing a plan to allow the civil rights organization to pay off back taxes and avoid losing its headquarters to foreclosure.

Detroit's National Association for the Advancement of Colored People branch is one of the oldest and largest in the country, but it owes about $47,450 in taxes from 2008 and nearly $39,000 for 2009, The Detroit News reported Saturday.

Its tax troubles are the latest sign of financial problems for the branch, which last month said it was behind $46,000 in dues to the national NAACP office.

The dues are now caught up, Detroit Executive Director Heaster Wheeler told the newspaper.

Wheeler said the branch believes the office it moved into three years ago should be tax-exempt, like its former headquarters. The branch is appealing the issue before a state tax tribunal.

The back taxes will be paid if the tribunal rules against the NAACP, Wheeler said.

``We will pay. Losing the building is not negotiable,'' he said.

Wheeler said in an e-mail Saturday to The Associated Press that a letter to members and supporters addressing the branch's finances was posted on its website.

As of Nov. 23, the Detroit branch had submitted more than $175,000 in dues payments in 2010, it said, noting that dues are submitted throughout the year and never in a single ``lump sum."

The branch also reported that charitable contributions are down about 30 percent this year.

``We remain a viable and fully functional organization that continues to advocate and work on behalf of our members and in concert with those who support our ideals,'' the letter said.

Branch employees have taken 10- to 15-percent pay cuts and hours have been cut, Wheeler told The Detroit News.

Each year, the 45,000-member Detroit branch hosts its Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner at Cobo Center. It's the branch's largest fundraiser. Keynote speakers included Barack Obama when he was a U.S. senator from Illinois and former President Bill Clinton.

Talks on the 2008 tax bill are under way. That plan could require the branch to come up with 20 percent of what's owed in March, said Terrance Keith, Wayne County deputy treasurer.

Installments of 20 percent also would be due in May and July, with 40 percent due next December.

That plan would be consistent with others offered by the county, Keith told the newspaper.

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