I have often come out from an evening meeting at our synagogue to find a policeman sitting in his patrol car. A fellow congregant who is also a local attorney once told me that Bloomfield Police officers have been asked to complete any necessary paperwork that goes along with their daily tasks while sitting in the Temple Ner Tamid parking lot. It certainly is a deterrent to vandals and robbers. And it gives those of us stragglers on a late night some comfort as well.
This police siting was also a reminder to me about all of the local services synagogues receive – police, fire and emergency, and snow plowing – particularly this year – of the main roads. This is not just a synagogue benefit. Rather it is one that all houses of worship, hospitals, universities and not-for-profit organizations receive.
A few years ago, I wrote a blog about the PILOT program– Payment In Lieu of Taxes – that is happening in a number of communities. There are already laws on the books in such cities as Boston, Cambridge and Pittsburgh impacting not-for-profit organizations, including hoses of worship, that own real estate. In most instances, the organizations impacted that truly have substantial real estate holdings are asked by local officials to make a payment in lieu of taxes at a discounted rate compared to what individuals and corporations owning property would pay.
In Boston, the expected payment is at 25% of the tax rate. And the focus is on organizations with property holdings of $15 million or more. So if Temple Ner Tamid were to be in Boston rather than Bloomfield, our synagogue would not be impacted.
When Maine Governor Paul LePage introduced his budget in January to the Maine Legislature, it included a property tax for not-for-profit organizations that own property valued at $500,000 or more. Le Page’s proposal called for an exemption on the first $500,000 of value. Tax on the remaining value would be at the rate of 50% of what an individual or company would pay on similarly valued property.
I have always had a love of Maine from my summer camp days. And I love camps, too. And camps in Maine will be impacted by this proposed budget in a very big way.
Cities like Boston and Pittsburgh have a number of universities and very large medical complexes. It seems unfair to lump all not-for-profit organizations that own property if such a mix includes universities, hospitals, along with houses of worship and human service organizations. That seems to be the intent of Boston City officials starting this PILOT at organizations with property valued at $15 million.
In 2013, there were 27 people on the staff of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center that earned more than $1 million. The budget of any synagogue in Pittsburgh, along with its property, is dwarfed by that of the UPMC, University of Pittsburgh, and Carnegie Mellon.
In my Blog in 2012, I suggested that all we could do is keep a watchful eye. The Maine legislation is a sign that a PILOT program will likely be requested of more synagogues in communities throughout the country in the not to distant future. You should be talking to your local officials – town managers, town and city council members – to gauge their thoughts on this.
And be prepared for the need for a budget increase, should this happen.