The site on West Main Street where St. Raphael Cathedral once stood was properly taxed by the city of Madison in 2013 because the church’s leaders missed a deadline to seek a religious exemption, a Dane County judge ruled Tuesday.
Under state law, the property at 204 W. Main St., where the cathedral stood until it was destroyed in a 2005 arson fire, was taxable as of Jan. 1, 2012, Circuit Judge Richard Niess said.
Although the church paid property taxes for 2012 and 2013, it contested the 2013 payment because it contended that by then, the property was again being used for a religious purpose, a park-like feature called Way of the Cross, which commemorates Christ’s final hours.
But Niess said St. Raphael’s Congregation, the owner of the property, failed to ask for a religious exemption by a March 1, 2013, deadline mandated by state law, so the property remained taxable. Had the congregation simply followed procedure and filed for an exemption by the deadline, Niess said, the property could have been given a tax exemption because by then it was being used for a religious purpose.
The congregation sued the city of Madison in June, seeking a refund of $101,125 in taxes it paid for the property in 2013.
The city began taxing the property in 2012 after it had been cleared of what remained of the cathedral and no longer served a religious purpose. In late 2012, the Way of the Cross was finished and opened.
While the property was “clearly taxable” in 2012, because no religious use was being made of it, Niess said, the use of the property has “changed in a way that the church has a legitimate argument for an exemption.” But by failing to file for one by the deadline in 2013, it didn’t comply with required legal procedures.
“You may all go on to the Court of Appeals to see if I’m right,” Niess said.
Diocese lawyer Lawrence Bechler said no decision on an appeal has been made. He and Cathedral Parish pastor Monsignor Kevin Holmes had no comment after the ruling.
The property remains taxable, Madison city assessor Mark Hanson said. St. Raphael’s Congregation applied for tax exempt status for the property for 2014, but the city denied it.
“We didn’t feel the current use qualified for an exemption,” he said.
The congregation will have to pay the property tax for 2014, then file a claim in January to have it refunded, just as it did for 2013, Hanson said.
That matter also could end up in court, he added.