Central United Methodist Church v. City of Milwaukee (Tax Exemption)

In Central United Methodist Church v. City of Milwaukee (2019AP778), the Court of Appeals District I held that a Milwaukee church accepting donations for use of its parking lot used its property exclusively for benevolent purposes; therefore, the church was entitled to a property tax exemption under Wis. Stat. § 70.11(4).

Central United, a non-profit church located near the Rave/Eagles Club concert venue in Milwaukee, began accepting donations from concert-goers who wished to park in its lot. Several years after Central United began offering concert parking, the City of Milwaukee changed the parking lot’s tax assessment classification from “exempt” to “local mercantile.” Central United filed this lawsuit seeking a declaration that the parking lot was exempt and seeking recovery of taxes paid based on the reclassification.

The court found that the church’s parking lot was exempt under Wis. Stat. § 70.11(4), which exempts benevolent associations from property tax payments. According to the court, donations from concert-goers for parking spaces in the church lot were incidental to the benevolent purpose of the church. The church used profits from the voluntary parking lot donations as it used donations from any other source – to support its primary benevolent functions. Furthermore, the church had only begun using volunteers to collect parking lot donations after unauthorized neighbors not associated with the church had attempted to use the parking lot to make a profit. Because the use of the parking lot to accept donations was incidental to the benevolent purpose of the church, the court ruled against the city and found the church exempt from paying property taxes under Wis. Stat. § 70.11(4).