Will Churches Get Charged
The Fire Assessment Anyway?
So let’s see, what is an assessment?
A tax is an enforced burden of contribution imposed by sovereign right for the support of the government, the administration of the law, and to execute the various functions the sovereign is called on to perform. An assessment is like a tax in that it is an enforced contribution from the property owner, it may possess other points of similarity to a tax, but it is inherently different and governed by entirely different principles. It is imposed upon the theory that that portion of the community which is required to bear it receives some special or peculiar benefit in the enhancement of value of the property against which it is imposed as a result of the improvement made with the proceeds of the assessment.
Richard Pringle, the Lehigh Acres fire board’s attorney said, “The board under the law could discuss future exemptions, but could not pass any types of resolutions saying what they would be, not until the measure has passed in November.”
On the Fire board’s website it states, it is the intent of the Board of Fire Commissioners to those properties that are currently exempt from property taxes under the ad valorem taxing methodology, as long as said properties are classified appropriately as being exempt. This includes, but is not limited to, properties classified as Churches or Educational/Religious institutions.
“Please don’t show us the words on a website — show the community the binding resolution.” said Dorothy Baker member of large church in Lehigh Acres. Our church family needs the fire board to show some good faith and we are praying they will.
“Is this because the fire board already knows the law or just playing dumb”, said Oliver Johnston, four year resident of Lehigh Acres. Why not pass the resolution and exempt the churches and the not for profits before the election; “maybe I would vote yes for it then”, said Johnston.
A Florida appellate court concluded that fees imposed on churches for fire and rescue services met the definition of a special assessment and therefore could be assessed against a church consistently with the church’s exemption from property tax. (See 1)
In “The Property Tax Exemption For Nonprofits And Revenue Implications For Cities” by Daphne A. Kenyon and Adam H. Langley it states assessments are used to pay for improvements that benefit specific properties within a municipality. For example, a special assessment might be used to pay for sewer hookups for some part of a municipality. As with user fees, nonprofits are typically not exempt from such payments. (See 2)
In the same report states that on user fees Nonprofits are not exempt from paying user fees for services like garbage collection, water, and sewer. Thus, when municipalities reduce the proportion of their budgets financed by property taxes and increase the proportion paid through user fees, they increase the financial contributions of nonprofits. For example, Houston voted in November 2010 to adopt a drainage fee to raise revenue to improve roads and storm-water systems, making the explicit decision not to exempt churches, schools, and charities
Does a state or local government have the authority to assess a fee or special assessment against church property in lieu of a direct tax? A few courts have addressed this question, with conflicting results. (See 3)
A Florida appeals court rules that churches can be required to pay special assessments only if their property is directly benefited. A county ordinance imposed special assessments against various property owners, including churches, to pay for fire and rescue services as well as storm-water management services. A state appeals court rules that the exemption of church property from property taxes does not exempt such property from special assessments. However, it acknowledged that the distinction between a property tax and a special assessment often is difficult to make. It noticed that a property tax does not necessarily provide any direct benefit to the property it taxes, while a special assessment always does.
So the point still stands, why not pass the resolution NOW and exempt the churches and the not for profits before the election to show good faith to the taxpayers and residents of the community of Lehigh Acres.