Whose ‘arnona’ is it, anyway?

Some residents have a right to varying tax breaks based on factors like socioeconomic status or age.

Independence Park in Jerusalem. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Independence Park in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
 It is no secret that governing bodies collect taxes, often before giving the taxpayers a detailed report of what will be done with the money. That’s life.
That said, those bodies also have some limits on their tax-collecting. For example, the Jerusalem Municipality does not collect arnona (municipal tax) from churches, mosques or synagogues. Some residents have a right to varying tax breaks based on factors like socioeconomic status or age (seniors pay less). People whom the National Insurance Institute recognizes as disabled benefit from discounts of up to 80 percent on arnona.
Until 2006, this was the situation for disabled residents living in their own homes or in nonprofit-operated hostels. In fact, the hostels – run by groups such as Shekel, Alei Siach and others – were completely exempt from arnona. In 2006, however, the city council voted for a significant change, ruling that from then on, the organizations would have to pay full municipal tax.
The official reason for the change was that the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for collecting the tax, set new criteria for arnona-exempt institutions. Under the new rules, only day centers qualify for exemption; since the hostels provide apartments in which the disabled can live, they have been ruled out of that category.
Most of the affected organizations tried to roll back the situation. Not only were they unsuccessful, however, they began to accumulate huge debts to the municipality, since they could not pay these taxes with only the meager funds they received from the Welfare and Social Services Ministry and National Insurance Institute.
At some point, most of the organizations decided to pass the tax burden on to the hostels’ disabled residents.
The problem was that these individuals, who would have benefited from an arnona discount of up to 80% if they were living in their own private apartments, were not eligible for that discount while living at the hostels.
None of the residents, who earn a monthly maximum of NIS 800 in special employment frameworks adapted to their abilities, could afford to pay the full tax. So it went back to the nonprofits, which could not afford it either – though according to the municipality’s accounts, the residents were billed.
Over the past few years, there have been many attempts to find a solution, all of them unsuccessful.
Now, the nonprofits’ debts have reached such a level that the municipality has seized the private bank accounts of the disabled residents, in whose names the hostel apartments are registered.
After many requests from the hostel directors, the municipality has agreed to freeze the seizures for one month while the parties try to find a solution. But for the organizations, whose debts to the municipality amount to millions of shekels, that is evidently not enough. Now they are planning a public protest, which may include bringing the disabled residents to Safra Square to present their impossible situation.
The municipality has declared that the difficulty involved requires further investigation so that the parties can agree on a fair solution. The first step: to ask the Interior Ministry to change the rules that prevent disabled residents from getting tax discounts if they choose – or need – to move to a hostel.
This is all fine, but “Corridors” wonders why these people, whose lives are not exactly easy to begin with, had to suffer to this degree before the municipality began seeking a better solution.