CLEVELAND -- State Representative Mike Foley of Cleveland says it's time to take a new look at an old question.
Should big landowning non-profits like the Cleveland Clinic who don't pay property tax on most of their land and buildings offer other financial help to city schools?
Foley says passage of the schools transformation plan and school levy mark a new day and a logical opportunity to reexamine the question.
He's suggesting the Clinic, University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University consider voluntary payments to help the schools.
Foley claims the Clinic owns 4.5 percent of all real estate in Cleveland. And most of it goes untaxed.
"The behemoth financial empires that exist, they have to help out. It's a matter of fairness. They've got the wealth. They've got the resources," he said.
Foley wrote an op-ed piece in Sunday's paper that included some errors. He said the Clinic does not pay a dime in property tax.
But it does on buildings like the Intercontinental Hotel not directly related to its main medical mission . The Clinic claims it will pay more than $8 million in property taxes in Cuyahoga County this year.
The last time this issue was raised was in 2005. The Clinic voluntarily donated more than $10 million in cash and services to Northeast Ohio Schools. But that specific commitment ended.
The Clinic supported last year's school levy and campaign goals. It claims it partners with Cleveland schools on programs to enhance students' education and well being.
Foley points to arrangements in other cities called PILOTs, Payments in Lieu of Taxes, to compensate for not paying property tax. He cites a study that 218 jurisdictions in 28 states use pilots.
In 2004, the group Policy Matters calculated if the Clinic paid normal property tax it would owe $12 million a year.
Asked what he thought a fair compensation for the Clinic would be, Foley suggested the discussions start at $10 million/year for ten years.
The Clinic's been fighting an 11-year legal battle in Beachwood trying to get a property tax exemption for its Family Health Center. A state tax commissioner agreed with Beachwood Schools argument that the facility should be taxed because it provides little or no charity care. Another hearing is slated for early this year.
Similar Clinic facilities in 6 other cities have been ruled to be exempt and meet state standards for exemption.
The Clinic is Northeast Ohio's largest employer.
The Clinic declined to provide a spokesperson for an interview. It issued a statement saying, "In 2011, Cleveland Clinic provided more than $552 million in community benefits and had a $10.5 billion economic impact on Northeast Ohio. Cleveland Clinic has a longstanding history of supporting Northeast Ohio and will continue to do so in the future."
Foley says he is not targeting churches or Cleveland sports teams who also have property tax exemptions...yet.
He claims because the Clinic is a multi-billion dollar enterprise with national and global facilities it could easily afford to do more.He says in a city where many poor residents will shoulder more burden to help the schools, it's a matter of fairness.
Tom Beres will have more tonight on Channel 3 News.