Nonprofit Christian school sues over taxes on ‘exempt’ property

By Bob Unruh

(Image courtesy Unsplash)
(Image courtesy Unsplash)

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty has announced the filing of a lawsuit against the city of Milwaukee over $105,000 in property taxes city officials imposed on a nonprofit Christian school for part of its campus.

That’s even though the property in question is used for educational purposes by the school, and under state law should be exempt, according to the legal organization.

“The city is trying to tax Wisconsin Lutheran for a campus building that is owned by the school and used for student housing and other educational purposes,” WILL explained about the case filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court.

“State law provides a property tax exemption for educational and religious institutions like Wisconsin Lutheran,” said WILL Deputy Counsel Lucas Vebber. “The city of Milwaukee’s attempt to assess the school for more than $100,000 for this property is clearly unlawful.”

The chief of the school, Kenneth Fisher, noted, “This is an important issue for our school. We have a huge gap between what we receive in vouchers and our actual costs to educate our teens. We would much rather spend the $105,000 educating our students than paying for an improper tax. We are praying that our money can be restored to us so we can use it to further the ministry of our school.”

At issue is the building called Honey Creek Hall, which is used by the school and is not available to the public.

The school filed a property tax exemption with Milwaukee in 2021, and last winter that was denied. It then paid the taxes and filed a refund claim, which the city also refused.

The property “provides basic housing, outdoor classroom space, physical recreation areas, worship and Bible study space, and sleeping quarters exclusively for both domestic and international students who attend the high school,” the filing explains. “Space within this building is not offered for rent to the general public or used for any purpose other than in connection with the high school.”

The city then billed the school $105,946.14 for taxes.

But, WILL’s filing said, “The property is entitled to exemption from the property tax pursuant to Wis. Stat. 70.11(4) because it is used exclusively by a church or religious association for educational purposes.”

The complaint explained that while the school has met all the requirements for protesting the taxes, the city delayed its last response, a rejection of a request for a refund, beyond the 90 days “required” by state law.

The case seeks a declaration that the assessment was unlawful, that it has paid more taxes than due, and it is entitled to a refund.

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