The San Damiano Friary, a historic lakefront property in Monona, is no longer exempt from paying property taxes after the Freedom From Religion Foundation questioned the property’s tax status in December.
The Madison-based national nonprofit wrote a letter to the city of Monona questioning the exempt status because it was not actually being used by the property owners, St. Norbert Abbey. The letter caused the city assessor to review the property, and it was then reclassified as taxable “based on the change in use” as it has been vacant and not used for a religious purpose, City Attorney William Cole said.
The 10-acre property at 4123 Monona Drive has been exempt from paying property taxes for several years, but the home has been vacant. The last priest from the Abbey moved out in 2015.
The reclassification of the property became effective Jan. 1, Cole said. With this classification, property taxes will have to be paid starting with the 2020 tax year.
Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said “a question of back taxes being owed” still needs to be answered.
Cole said the city will “not be recouping taxes from prior years.”
“As far as the city knew, the classifications were correct in those previous years,” Cole said. “The assessor believed it was correct based on the information at the time.”
He said the city has “no way of knowing at any given time what property is vacant and what is not.”
The 131-year-old property, formerly home to farm equipment and machinery manufacturer Allis-Chalmers heir Frank Allis, was appraised at just under $4 million, according to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and the current owners could end up owing over $80,000 in taxes annually.
“It’s important that the public realizes this is going to be major savings for them because when things are taken off the tax roll, the rest of us have to pay more,” Gaylor said. “Monona residents will no longer have to compensate for an entity not paying its taxes.”
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