Column: A Free Ride For Wilton Manors Non-Profits

It is common knowledge that churches and non-profit organizations are exempt from paying all sorts of taxes. This accepted reality is due to the vital services such institutions provide in our society, community, and daily lives. Here in Wilton Manors, we all benefit from the work and programs of our regional non-profit organizations such as Poverello, Pride Center, Pace School, Kids in Distress, and numerous religious institutions. Non-profit landowners are removed from our property tax rolls. We accept this tax-exempt status not just locally, but also on a national level.

However, in Wilton Manors, these exemptions do not end with property taxes. Non-profit landowners and religious institutions are also exempt from paying their share of Fire and EMS services for which everyone else in Wilton Manors are charged, with a few minor exemptions. The Fire Assessment is not a tax, but rather a user fee for services provided. Non-profits have to pay for water, electric, insurance, trash removal, etc. So why the free ride when it comes to Fire and EMS services? Who is paying for this free ride? Every resident of our city pays, because these services for non-profits are paid out of the city’s General Operating Fund. This is where we as a community should draw the line and say, “Pay your fair share!”

Many in our city government are not that concerned with this, since we are talking about only $68,000 per year, not a major budget item in their opinions. But as the cost of Fire and EMS services continue to rise on a yearly basis, city residents are seeing higher bills each year, so why should we have to pay for their free ride?

What can our community do with an additional $68,000 per year in our General Fund? We could pay for an additional police officer to patrol NW 30th Court where residents are struggling with rampant crime issues, we could hire additional part-time recreational leaders to support programming in our park facilities, we could pay for someone to answer the phone at the Police Department when residents call with Code violation complaints, pay for pedestrian crosswalks along busy roadways. The list is virtually endless of yearly items that would benefit all residents when everyone pays their fair share.

Some argue that these institutions are not wealthy, that it would be very hard for them if burdened with additional costs. Nonsense! The Archdiocese of Miami collects a huge rent from Somerset Academy, other churches rent out space to daycare facilities, private groups, and more. Most of the non-profit landowners have executive salaries well above the $100,000 level and multi-million dollar operating budgets. Paying a mere $200 a month, some slightly higher, for the Fire and EMS services they use at our expense is not asking for much, nor is it unreasonable or unjust.

The City Commissioners will be discussing this topic in upcoming meetings. There is a growing consensus within the Commission to charge only a portion of the cost involved. Some want it as low as 10 percent, while others say 20 percent. I wish residents could get such a great deal.

This important decision will impact us all and it is vital that we let our Commissioners know how we feel on this issue and others.

Contact information for City Commissioners can be found on the city website at Members of the public are allowed to speak for up to three minutes at the beginning of every City Commission. Meetings are held the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month at 7 p.m. in the City Hall Commission Chambers. Let them know that we want an end to this free ride for non-profits.

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