Tuesday, April 1, 2014
When it comes to the benefits and burdens that tax exempt organizations bring to local communities, there is always unsupported rhetoric on both sides. Supporters of tax exempt organizations claim, if only meekly, that they bring more benefits to their communities then their communities bring to them. Local government leaders claim just the opposite, particularly in connection with their demands for PILOTS. A March 2014 report from the Gerald Ford Center at the University of Michigan contains a dispassionate discussion of the issue and, though it focuses on local governments in Michigan, is well worth reading. Here is the conclusion:
ConclusionMichigan’s local governments have been hit by decreasing revenues, due largely to both falling property values and the taxes those properties generate, and cuts to revenue sharing from the state government. Property tax revenues—one of the most important sources of funding for local government—are further constrained by the fact that many properties within Michigan’s communities are exempted from paying taxes in the first place. While Michigan’s local leaders are more likely to say the tax-exempt properties (TEPs) in their communities are relatively insignificant when measured as a portion of their jurisdictions’ total land area, potential tax revenues, and sources of service demands, nonetheless, significant percentages say TEPs are in fact moderate or significant factors in these ways. Tax-exempt properties, and the organizations that own them, can be assets and/or liabilities to their local communities. On one hand, they can help attract tourists and can provide jobs, medical services, human services, a more highly educated workforce, and much more. In these ways they might help produce more economic and quality of life benefits to a community than they cost in forfeited revenues. On the other hand, they can also introduce additional costs and burdens on the local government, such as the need for police and fire protection, water and sewer services, street lighting, and street plowing and maintenance. And because they don’t pay property taxes, they enjoy these kinds of benefits while others in the community must cover the associated costs.For the most part, the MPPS finds that local leaders in Michigan see the TEPs in their jurisdictions as a mixed blessing in terms of their impact on the jurisdictions fiscal health. Overall, 40% say their TEPs are both assets and liabilities to fiscal health, while 26% say they are primarily assets, and just 15% say they are primarily liabilities. However, in jurisdictions where TEPs have a significant presence, 40% of local leaders view them primarily as liabilities to fiscal health. In terms of their impact on a community’s quality of life, TEPs are more likely to be viewed as assets. Overall, 46% of local leadersview their TEPs as assets in this way, while just 7% see them as liabilities. Statewide, a relatively small portion of Michigan’s local jurisdictions appear to be actively investigating options to generate new revenues to offset the property tax revenues that are currently exempted. Just 24% of local jurisdictions with TEPs say these kinds of issues have been discussed recently among local leaders. However, this shifts dramatically in locations where local leaders say TEPs have a significant presence. In these cases, 60% of MPPS respondents say local leaders in their jurisdictions have discussed these issues ecently, and note that they are looking into a range of options to charge currently exempted properties for the services they receive, with policies such as new millages, fees-for-service, payments-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements, and special assessment districts.