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Earlier this year, WILL filed paperwork with the City of Milwaukee, challenging its taxation of a portion of property owned by the Jerusalem Empowered African Methodist Episcopal Church (“JEAMEC”) as unlawful. Milwaukee denied that challenge, however, claiming that JEAMEC could not get a property tax exemption for a small field they used for numerous church and community events.
Now, JEAMEC, with the assistance of WILL attorneys, has filed suit in the Milwaukee County Circuit Court. The lawsuit alleges that the City’s attempt to tax church property is not only in violation of state statutes, but also violates equal protection, as Milwaukee has granted tax exempt status to numerous other nearby churches with equal or greater amounts of “vacant” land.
The lawsuit also challenges the constitutionality of a state statute requiring property owners to pay a disputed tax first before challenging an exemption denial. “There ought to be some way to be heard,” said Rick Esenberg, President and General Counsel at WILL, “you can’t deny somebody access to the courts because they can’t afford to pay thousands of dollars in taxes. If people who challenge the dollar amount of an assessment can do so without paying the tax first; why can’t people who challenge the denial of an exemption?”
A copy of the complaint and an article by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal is provided below.