The Church of Saint John the Baptist in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/ REURERS)
The Jerusalem Municipality says it will start collecting arnona (municipal property taxes) from multi-purpose properties owned by the United Nations or many of the city's churches.
In a statement released on Sunday, the municipality explained that it had refrained from doing so until now because it was restricted by the state, that said that it has an agreement with these bodies. However, it said that the new legal examination indicates that the municipality should exercise its power to collect the taxes.
The municipally also stressed that it would not apply to properties with prayer houses in them as they are exempt from paying arnona.
The municipality notified the Finance, Interior and Foreign ministries, and the Prime Minister's Office that it started in collecting NIS 650 million worth of taxes from 887 different properties throughout the capital.
Last week the municipality foreclosed the bank accounts of the Armenian, Catholic, Greek-Orthodox churches for millions of shekels worth of debts, according to the statement.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said that it is unfair that the residents of Jerusalem should continue suffering from these debts. He said that if the move is blocked by the state, the municipality will file a petition to the High Court of Justice.
“We would not allow a situation in which the residents of Jerusalem are funding these huge sums [of debts],” Barkat said. “The state should deal with the consequences of its decisions - either the state will refund us and give us our money back, that should fund the improvement of our city, or we could charge it as the law states. We are planning to keep collecting it, and to enforce the law, and if needed, we will file a petition the High Court of Justice.”
This comes under the shadow of a feud that broke out between the Jerusalem Municipality and the Finance Ministry of the budget of the capital, that at its peak led to a one-day strike in which the city was covered with trash that was not collected by municipality workers.
While Barkat claims that the municipality is not receiving the funding that it was promised by the Treasury, and that this is a part of a personal targeting by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the latter maintains that under his term in office, the special grant to the capital reached an all-time high.
It was then decided that a special committee, headed by the CEOs of the municipality and ministry would come with an agrees solution to end the crisis.