This week, the city of Boston sent letters to 40 of its largest nonprofits valued at more than $15 million and asked them to make voluntary payments to the city, a practice commonly referred to as payments in lieu of taxes.

Those PILOTS are meant to help cover the cost of municipal services to what is otherwise a tax-exempt property, and the Boston letter asked the nonprofits to pay up to 25 percent of what they would owe if their properties were on the tax roll.

This is not a new concept, and we have been arguing for similar practice here in the Midcoast for years, well before the Great Recession parked on our doorstep. Nonprofits classified as charitable and benevolent have been granted tax exempt status since medieval England in order to provide services to communities. Those charitable organizations (originally and mostly churches) according to academics, were not always automatically exempt from paying taxes and only so if they kept out of the political arena.

In the Jan. 31 edition of the Nonprofit Quarterly, an article titled “An Uncomfortable – But Necessary – Conversation: Part I” described how revenue-starved governments were beginning to nibble at the nonprofits by withholding payments or imposing new fees, and in doing so, take money intended to provide programs and services for the needy and communities. In that mix was the PILOT. There is no argument that many nonprofits fulfill their mission as charitable and benevolent organizations for society’s collective benefit. And while many rely on funding from private and generous donors, many also receive grants from the federal government, the public taxpayer who has dispatched a portion of his or her money annually to Washington, D.C.

In 2010, more than one-fifth of properties in Rockland were exempt from paying property tax. A lot of it was owned by government — federal, state, county and city. Approximately $50 million in tax-exempt properties, however, were owned by nonprofits, including health care organizations, museums, religious institutions and housing organizations.

Next door in Warren, there were $93 million in exempt properties. The state owned $79 million of that property, with the Maine State Prison the largest of the holdings. In Rockport, there was $87 million in exempt properties owned by health care, public and independent schools, and churches. And Camden was home to $86 million in tax-exempt properties, owned by the town, schools, state and nonprofits.

The picture is clear: nonprofits, the majority of which are classified as charitable and benevolent, comprise a large portion of property owners. Some of them, such as Aldermere Farm and the Megunticook Golf Course, Adas Yoshuron Synagogue, Coastal Opportunities and Coastal Mountains Land Trust, already make payments in lieu of taxes, and they are much appreciated, not just by the town offices, but the taxpayer, who shoulders most of the burden of paying to keep the schools running, the sheriff’s department and jail in business, and the local roads paved.

In Boston’s case, the city is asking nonprofits for 25 percent of payment, three-quarters less than what a for-profit would pay. That seems pretty reasonable.

In the Midcoast, the majority of the taxpayer burden rests on funding public education. That is a benevolent and charitable mission unto itself, and no one wants to see public education opportunities diminished for students. If all nonprofits in the Midcoast targeted a small portion of their annual expenses for payment — or call it donation — in lieu of taxes the squeeze on the local taxpayer would subside, even just a little bit. There has been a simmering grudge against tax-exempt properties for decades. The time has come to resolve that issue with a collective effort by all to share the property tax burden.