Fatima tax plan gets cool reception in Warren

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A religious order's plan to stave off a large tax bill at their shuttered Warren school is getting a cool reception from Warren's tax assessor.

Last month, members of the Sisters of Saint Dorothy decided to host limited remedial tutoring and adult bible study classes at their Our Lady of Fatima school this fall, more than a year after they closed the school in the face of declining enrollment and tight finances.

The decision to bring back limited classes grew out of the town's recent decision to strip the unused school of its tax exempt status.

After the Sisters got a $102,000 property bill for the 2012 calendar year, they appealed the bill and also decided to bring back classes in hopes that that would be enough to return the tax exempt status.

“We’re not trying to be adversarial; we understand the town’s position,” Sister Dorothy Schwarz said. “We’re just trying to survive.”

Though she isn't sure yet and said she has never been formally informed of the plan by the Sisters, assessor Cathy Maisano said this week that she wonders whether limited classes in a large building are enough to satisfy the requirements for a tax exemption.

"To turn around and see a few rooms being used in a school of that size," she said, "I personally have never run across it. I'll look at the state law and if there's room for interpretation I'll get a legal opinion on this."

In any case, she said, the Sisters' move to start classes will not affect their  tax bill for the 2012 calendar year. As for next year's bill, that will be computed this coming Dec. 31, and will be based on the building's recognized use on that day.

"Whatever the approved use is on that day, that's what the taxes will reflect," she said.

Ms. Maisano said she probably won't address the Sisters' latest plan for several months. However, she is processing an earlier appeal they filed several months ago.

The school and expansive grounds, which were previously listed for sale for $8.1 million, have been reduced to $5.998 million.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.