The Mote Marine Aquarium, Selby Botanical Gardens, and Florida Studio Theater are among Sarasota County’s longstanding property tax exempt organizations.
Now, Sarasota Real Estate Appraiser Bill Furst wants these distinguished institutions and other nonprofits to start paying property taxes and potentially face new tax burdens that are anywhere from 3 percent to 100 percent of their property value, blowing a big hole in their budgets and jeopardize their ability to carry out their missions. We all lose when that happens.
The stated reason for moving from Furst: The non-profit organizations generate income from secondary uses such as restaurants, souvenir shops and real estate rentals.
Like many, I believe this is a misinterpretation and misapplication of Chapter 196 of the Florida Bylaws. Property tax exemption for nonprofits is enshrined in the Florida Constitution and has been repeated in various legal cases over the years. Unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped some real estate appraisers from occasionally trying to reconsider these longstanding and well-established laws at the expense of local nonprofits.
The long-standing interpretation of state law has been that the nonprofit’s assets remain tax-exempt if income from activities on a nonprofit’s property is used to benefit the nonprofit’s mission and if the uses in question are the primary function of the property to promote the mission of the are subordinate to non-profit companies.
For example, the income from a company event at the Children’s Museum in Glaz helps fund the creation of more appealing exhibits for our children and is tax exempt by law. The income from the rental of weddings at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg helps fund the museum’s operations and is not passed on to the government.
Accessory uses like these make up a significant part of the operating budget of many nonprofits. More importantly, they introduce many people in the community to these institutions.
A full 8 percent of Florida workers are employed by nonprofits. The benefits and significant economic impact that nonprofit cultural institutions offer our community are enormous. They work hard to give back to our community and many have stepped up during the pandemic to meet needs such as online education programs during this challenging time.
A dangerous trend is afoot in Sarasota with this proposed new tax on nonprofits. If this denial of exemption persists, it will have far-reaching implications for the fiscal health and vitality of our major cultural institutions and will have a significant impact not just on our Tampa Bay community but on the entire state of Florida.
Fortunately, Senator Joe Gruters and Rep. David Borrero have enacted laws to clear once and for all the misinterpretation of state law that protects nonprofits across the state from attempted tax breaks by overwhelming real estate appraisers.
After a year affected by COVID, our cultural institutions need our help more than ever. This is not the time to assess new property taxes, and real estate appraisers need to understand that levying new taxes during this time of economic uncertainty slows economic growth and has a negative impact on our prosperity.
Please contact your legislature and ask them to vote yes to Senate Act 1214 and House Act 889.
Ron Christaldi is Tampa Managing Partner of Shumaker, Loop and Kendrick, LLP and President / CEO of Shumaker Advisors Florida. He has served in leadership positions for a variety of not-for-profit cultural institutions, including the Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa Bay Culture and Arts Company, and the Tampa City Council Citizen Advisory Committee on the Economic Impact of Cultural Assets.