BishopAccountability.org
Diocese May Soon Pay for Closed Churches

By Dick Lindsay
Berkshire Eagle
October 29, 2010

http://www.berkshireeagle.com/ci_16462898?IADID=Search-www.berkshireeagle.com-www.berkshireeagle.com

PITTSFIELD -- The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield may soon be paying taxes on five churches it closed in the city more than two years ago.

The Board of Assessors is seeking to add All Souls Mission, Holy Family, St. Francis Xavier, St. Theresa and St. Mary's of the Morning Star to the Pittsfield property tax rolls for the current fiscal year, because those parishes have been vacant since July 2008. They were closed by a diocese reorganization plan.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish on Fenn Street, which was also closed by the diocese two years ago, was purchased by the Brien Center this summer, and has maintained its tax-exempt status under new ownership.

Besides the five closed churches, the former St. Mary's Rectory next to St. Mary's Church on Tyler Street is being targeted for taxation along with the St. Mary's School and convent complex on Plunkett Street. Those properties were closed in the mid-1970s as part of a parochial school consolidation plan.

The city is asking the state Department of Revenue to approve the removal of the church parcels from tax exempt status as part of the process for setting the fiscal 2011 property tax rate.

North Adams has already won state approval to place two vacant Catholic churches, St. Francis of Assisi and Our Lady of Mercy, on the city's property tax rolls. But the amount the diocese will pay in tax revenue has yet to be determined, city officials said.

As of Jan.

1, the total assessed value of the five Pittsfield church parcels was $6.4 million. But that figure is likely to change, said Paula King, one of the city's three assessors.

"I'm not at liberty yet to discuss the value that would be placed on the properties," said King. "We are looking at the buildings as their best use being religious and would be taxed at a commercial rate."

Because the church properties are currently vacant their use has changed, which means they can be taxed by the city, King said. Their ownership by a religious organization does not guarantee that they remain tax exempt.

While diocese officials are cool to the idea of paying property taxes on vacant buildings they still own, they recognize that Pittsfield has a legal right to pursue taxation.

"Obviously, we will carefully review every tax bill we receive," said Mark Dupont, spokesman for the Diocese of Springfield. "We recognize cities and towns are in need of money and we share their concern."

If the diocese is compelled to pay the real estate tax bills, Dupont said the money would come from a locally established general fund that includes proceeds from the sale of the churches in the Berkshires.

"We have been working with cities and towns in redeveloping these churches," he said.

Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo broached the idea of having the city tax the vacant church properties, partly as an incentive to get them reused.

"If [the Diocese] starts paying taxes, maybe it will push [church officials] more to try and sell the properties," Mazzeo said.

To reach Dick Lindsay:

rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,

or (413) 496-6233.

Church offering?

Listed below are the latest assessed values of the five vacant Catholic churches and related properties Pittsfield wants to tax in the current fiscal year. The Board of Assessors expect the values will be different, if the state approves the city issuing the property tax bills.

Church Assessed value as of Jan. 1

All Souls Mission $ 702,330

Holy Family 1,048,703

(includes open lot)

St. Francis Xavier 943,360

St. Theresa 2,312,950

St. Mary's of the

Morning Star Church 604,720

Rectory 236,230

School 250,820

Convent 333,090


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