Wednesday, November 22, 2006

If God Had Wanted Us To Pay Property Taxes. . .

. . .He Would Have Taxed The Church!

We can hear the banter at Hempstead Town Hall now... "Oh, there goes Tax Assessor, Harvey Levinson, again. Raising taxes. And now, he wants to tax the church..."

Actually, if you read through a press release recently issued by the office of the Nassau County Assessor, as republished below, the idea is to fix glaring inequities in the law that permit certain members of the clergy to pay less in property taxes on houses owned by them than others who own similarly valued houses.

Still, as long as we're talking about taxing the rich (and since we've already wrung every last dime out of the poor and middle class), why not tax ALL real property owned by religious institutions.

After all, who owns more real estate in New York than anybody else? Okay, other than the Arabs and the Japanese. Right. The Catholic church. And all of it, every God-blessed square foot, is exempt from the property tax. "Holy Sepluchar, Batman!"

By what divine right does the church think it is above paying property taxes? All right, the IRS says they don't have to pay income taxes on all the money they collect as tithe, in those gold-gilded plates they pass around, or as rent in the run-down hovels they own, but property taxes? For God's sake, man.

Come to think of it, isn't exempting religious institutions (collectively, the "church") just another way the government subsidizes parochial interests? A subsidy that mocks the seperation of church and state at its very core!

Most of us are now getting hit by that dreaded Alternative Minimum Tax. Why not an Altar Boy Minimum Tax for members of the clergy? In the Catholic church, they can call it "Pay-to-Play!"

Tax those houses owned by members of the cloth, why don't you? And not only clerics of the church, but those terror-crazed Imans, too. And don't forget the Jews. Heck, they already control Wall Street (Bloomberg), Albany (Spitzer, Silver), and Hollywood (Mel Gibson), so why not make some money off of it? Think about it -- in the Five Towns alone, where everyone is a rabbi (at least for tax purposes), and every third house is deemed a synagogue (and why not?) -- making "those people" pay property taxes on their houses would reap millions for the County, Town and school districts. [Not to mention all the cash that would be taken in by the Sanitary Districts, so they can add on those "extra trucks during Passover" to pick up all the leftover bread!]

Yeah. "Chosen People," my tuchas. You've been chosen, all right. Chosen to pay your full share of property taxes!

Now, let's get one thing straight. Religious institutions -- from church, to mosque, to synagogue -- are NOT not-for-profit. They're making a bundle (they don't call it the "arch" Diocese for nothing) -- not the least of which comes from real estate owned, but not appearing on the tax rolls.

When the church complains that it can't make ends meet, maybe we'll call in the UJA to raise some money. Until then, tax the church. If you own property -- be it residential, commercial, or held in the name of the Almighty (if "God shall provide," let Him pay my property tax bill) -- you pay property taxes on it. Period!

The time has come to stick it to the holier-than-thou crowd. Pay up or shut up. Charity, after all, truly begins at home, and the Tax Assessor is going to start with your home, Mr. Clergyman.

And whether you're a Bishop, Rabbi, Iman or Pastor, ordained after years of study or last week by mail order, you're gonna have to dig deep into your pockets to pay the tax man -- just like us ordinary, God-fearing homeowners who get stuck footing the bill for those who own millions (billions?) of dollars in real property but pay not one cent in property taxes.

"Look, Monsignor. You see where there was only one set of property tax bills in the mail? That's where the rest of us were carrying you..."

And while we're at it, let's tax Telicare, too. "Pay up, God Squad. And you too, Church Lady. No more freeloading at the taxpayers' expense. If we have to endure this slop on cable, you have to help support our infrastructure, our public schools, and those garbage trucks that pick up the trash outside the rectory."

Maybe Albany will take up Harvey's call to equalize property taxes among the clergy. [Will those who live in glass houses have to pay more?] But if you think our Legislature will ever amend the law to lift the property tax exemption on real estate owned, say, by the Diocese of Rockville Centre, well, then, to paraphrase Billy Graham as he embarked on his last crusade, "You haven't got a prayer..."
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A recent analysis conducted by Assessor Harvey Levinson of the Clergy Property Tax Exemption offered in Nassau County, revealed that 267 members of the clergy are not paying any school property taxes on homes valued at $600,000 dollars or less, while 83 members of the clergy who own homes valued over $600,000 dollars are paying school property taxes that vary from .11 cents to over $29,000.

As the state’s clergy exemption law was written, real property owned by members of the clergy is exempt from school property taxes to the extent of $1,500 dollars in assessed value. The problem, according to Assessor Levinson, was created when the previous administration was mandated by the New York State Supreme Court to lower the level of assessment (the percentage of the full market value of a home that is used to calculate property taxes) to one quarter of one percent to comply with the provisions of the court settlement requiring the county to capture the full market value of all residential properties without violating Real Property Tax Law that caps assessment increases at 6% each year or 20% over five years.

Assessor Levinson explained that any qualifying home with an assessed value of $600,000 would be taxed at one quarter of one percent or $1,500. Once the $1,500 exemption was applied, the clergy members’ property tax obligation was reduced to zero.

“Clearly the intent of the legislation was not to grant a total exemption,” stated Assessor Levinson. “If you look elsewhere throughout the state, the various levels of assessment imposed by other assessing jurisdictions results in some amount of property taxes being paid by members of the clergy. That is why I am calling on state lawmakers to amend state law to allow a total clergy exemption of 20% of the assessed value – similar to the 10% Volunteer Firefighters Exemption. I also believe that the exemption should be income-based so that clergy members with high annual income levels (possibly above $100,000 dollars) receive less.”

In examining a number of towns and cities throughout the state, Assessor Levinson discovered clergy exemption amounts that varied from 31.25% of assessed value in the Town of Huntington; 2.09% in the Town of Islip; 0.25% in the City of Jamestown; and, 0.27% in the City of Syracuse. The level of assessment for these assessing jurisdictions where, respectively, .80%, 11.98%, 100%, and 93.50%.

“Another troubling fact is that the law allows husband and wife ministers who own the same property to double the amount of their exemption,” Assessor Levinson stated. “One notable husband and wife minister family who owns a home in Old Westbury valued at $2.2 million dollars is being granted a clergy exemption totaling $20,200.83 dollars for the 2006-2007 school tax year. Is this policy fair?

“That is why I am calling on state lawmakers to conduct a comprehensive review of this and other provisions of NYS Real Property Tax Law, so that fair and sensible standards that reflect the true intent of the law can be adopted in the next legislative session,” concluded Assessor Levinson. “There is no reason why a clergy member in one part of the state should be granted a greater property tax exemption than other parts of the state.”
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A blessed Thanksgiving, one and all.

The Community Alliance blog returns, in full force, after the holiday weekend. Pass the turkey, please, and don't spare the trimmings...

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