You Say Cemetery, Miami Says Deadbeat

The city's surfeit of tax-exempt properties costs tens of millions

Promoters of the fee scheme acknowledge that it could become one of the biggest political hot potatoes of the coming year, pitting tax-exempt institutions against politicians who think citizens want them to run government more like a bare-bones business operation. "It's going to be controversial," Canton says. "There will be all sorts of large corporations and small institutions opposed to it. But I think something has to happen, and doing a study like this will certainly narrow the discussion."

Edward Rosasco, president of Mercy Hospital, says the institution's 44 acres on the bay should remain tax-free. "We argue that we give at least as much indigent care and free service to the community as we get in tax exemptions," Rosasco says, and adds that while city officials are looking for additional revenues, his own job has gotten tougher because of increased competition and slimmer profit margins.

It remains to be seen if Mercy will actively lobby against the plan. "It's an issue that's timely," Rosasco acknowledges, "and we're not surprised it got attention up in Tallahassee. When this issue surfaced in Pittsburgh, rather than fight it and get polarized, the hospitals negotiated an agreement with the city. That could happen here. It's not a new idea. It's not an idea we thought would go away, nor is it something that we want to approach in an adversarial way."

Stephen Morgan, executive vice president of the 4000-member American Cemetery Association, says any plot to tax tax-exempt graveyards would be a serious mistake. "Municipalities are desperately looking for ways to raise revenues and they come off the wall sometimes with these atypical, exotic proposals," he opines. "They want to tax the dead, when you think about it. Emotionally, it would disturb a lot of people. And the additional expense would mean cemeteries might have to raise prices. It really stretches the boundaries of common sense, and I think it could backfire on the city.

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