Nonprofit organizations are reluctant about city proposal

Responding to the city's plan to consider asking tax-exempt groups in Hagerstown for money, several officials said they had no

Responding to the city's plan to consider asking tax-exempt groups in Hagerstown for money, several officials said they had no

January 17, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

A check Thursday with tax-exempt organizations in Hagerstown found none who said they would voluntarily contribute money to the city government to help ease anticipated budget problems.

Officials with more than five organizations contacted either said they had no money to spare or had no comment until they had more information about a city proposal to consider asking nonprofits for money.

"Typically, our budgets are very tight and we don't have extra money lying around," Community Action Council Executive Director David Jordan said. A statewide budget crisis is affecting all organizations, he said.


At Tuesday's Hagerstown City Council meeting, Finance Director Alfred Martin asked the council if he should try to find ways to increase revenue to address an expected $1.25 million shortfall in the next fiscal year's budget.

The council's consensus was that Martin should explore asking tax-exempt nonprofit organizations to voluntarily give money to the city.

The council also asked Martin to explore the benefits of imposing an impact fee on new residences, with the proceeds paying for firefighting and police expenses.

About 21 percent of the tax base in the city is tax-exempt, Martin said.

Martin gave the council copies of a newspaper story about the City of York, Pa., which raised more than $300,000 through a Fair Share Program. Under the program, tax-exempt nonprofits were asked to contribute to the City of York half of what they would pay in taxes if they were not tax-exempt.

Martin said he would contact York officials to learn more about the program.

Martin said he had not decided which nonprofits to approach. Mayor William M. Breichner said he does not want to ask churches to contribute.

Breichner said he is skeptical the program would work in Hagerstown.

"I really think it would be a tough sell here," Breichner said.

Some nonprofits have financial problems because of the poor economy, he said.

"I can't think of one nonprofit that is all that endowed," he said.

The Maryland Theatre is barely profitable and cannot afford to give money to the city, Executive Director Pat Wolford said.

On Tuesday, Martin said that if he did ask nonprofits for money, he would point out that the city provides services to nonprofits even though they are tax-exempt.

Wolford said the theater also provides services to the city. An estimated 80,000 people a year come to downtown Hagerstown because of events at the theater, she said.

"We are the biggest draw in the city by far," she said.

The only way the W House of Hagerstown Foundation Inc. could give money to the city would be to cut some of its services or get more money from funding sources, Executive Director Christina Trenton said.

Spokesmen for Washington County Hospital, the Hagerstown YMCA and other tax-exempt organizations contacted Thursday did not want to comment on the idea.

"At this point, we have absolutely no information on this. To comment on it would be inappropriate," Hagerstown YMCA Executive Director Michael Flicek said.

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