Don't be surprised if ministers in Brooksville ask church-goers to pony up extra in the collection plate in the coming months. It will be an offshoot of a misguided plan from the City Council to start pushing the burden of public safety costs onto places of worship, modest-valued single-family homes, nonprofit nursing homes and government entities.
Under a proposal to be voted on Monday evening, churches in the city would have to kick in a combined $6,200 in the coming fiscal year with the figure likely doubling in the future as the City Council considers a fire rescue assessment that takes from the poor and gives to the rich.
This Robin-Hood-in-reverse policy will generate a hefty bill for churches to split considering the fire department sent a full response — four vehicles —to places of worship just three times all of last year.
Or consider the nonprofit Brooksville Health Care Center, a 180-bed nursing home for Medicare and Medicaid patients. In the first year, it could end up paying more than $100,000 annually on its more than 200,000-square-foot facility on Chatman Boulevard.
"They're taking from the elderly,'' said Cheryl Sagundo, director of nursing. "That's money they're taking from our patients.''
The motivation is to get money from the owners of each parcel in the city, regardless of exemptions or taxable value, while lowering the general fund millage. This backdoor tax shift rewards the owners of the city's most valuable property while pushing fire safety costs onto nonprofits and the owner/occupants of the least expensive housing.
It is an unreasonable financing plan. The greater the value of the property, the richer the reward. In the spring, the city estimated the owner of a home with a taxable value of $250,000 would save $470 under the plan, while the owner of a home with a taxable value of $25,000 would pay an additional $82. What's fair about that?
Since, the per-home assessment was calculated at $152.51, but some council members indicated a preference to halve the assessment for the initial year. It will require each of the city's homeowners to pay $76.26 and remains an unfair burden on people of modest means.
The goal of the shift is to cut the city's tax rate from more than 6 mills, or $6 per $1,000 of a property's taxable value, to less than 4 mills. It is perceived as a way to provide an incentive to attract new commerce. Trying to cut the tax rate by more than one-third for the most valuable property while asking poorer residents to fork out more for an essential public safety service is dubious economic recruitment.
Likewise, the suggestion the city could eventually tie the size of the fee to the square footage of a residence — as commercial buildings will be assessed — is illogical. That system already exists in the form of ad valorem taxes. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.
A progressive city shouldn't push new assessments in exchange for reduced property taxes, one of the few revenue sources that asks people of greater means to contribute more to their government. It's a better measure of tax fairness than asking everyone, regardless of ability, to pay for the fire department.
And, rationalizing the measure as necessary to be economically competitive with Hernando County, which also has a fire assessment, is disingenuous. The leading attributes of municipal governments are the added public services — notably police and fire protection — for which residents and businesses owners are willing to pay extra. Dumping more of the public safety costs on charities and some of its poorest residents is not an incentive of which to be proud.