Tax the nonprofits

They should pay their fair share for county services

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Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb recently offered an interesting perspective in the Post-Gazette on Allegheny County Council seeking payment for government services from nonprofit organizations. Mr. Lamb wrote that only municipalities provide significant services to nonprofit institutions and concluded that county taxpayers are not entitled to have their tax burden relieved by nonprofit institutions.

County departments provide direct services that benefit hospitals and colleges. For example, the Allegheny County Health Department inspects all of their facilities -- including checks on plumbing, waste management and air quality -- to assure they meet high standards. The Department of Public Works maintains 810 lane miles of roads and 525 bridges, including significant spans in the city. Access to many nonprofit facilities is made possible by county citizens who pay to maintain and improve this vast infrastructure.

The county taxpayer-supported 911 center receives thousands of calls daily and dispatches fire, police and EMT units throughout the city and other municipalities. The county also provides critical public-safety services, such as police, emergency management, hazardous-materials response and fire investigation.

The county's Human Services Department works closely with hospitals and other nonprofits. Many lab technicians, nurses and other health-care professionals attended local schools and the Community College of Allegheny County. The department also provides a safety net for all residents with programs for children and families, drug and alcohol treatment, and homeless and mental-health assistance.

The county's district attorney, police, sheriff, Court of Common Pleas and public defender serve all 130 municipalities, protecting our neighborhoods and upholding our sense of security and well-being. The Allegheny County Jail and Shuman Juvenile Detention Center rehabilitate offenders. The medical examiner's office delivers invaluable research and services to assist public-safety departments with investigations.

By taxing nonprofits, the county would not aim to punish them or portray them in a bad light. On the contrary, our universities, colleges and health-care facilities are great economic generators that provide many jobs for our citizens. The University of Pittsburgh's 27,000 students and millions of dollars in research grants creates an enormous amount of wealth for the region. Carnegie Mellon University's worldwide reputation for excellence brings many companies to our region that look to utilize its tremendous resources.

But many of the same arguments can be made about U.S. Steel, PPG, Bayer, PNC bank and so on, all of which are taxed. U.S. Steel is embarking on a $1.2 billion investment in the Mon Valley. It recently contributed the Riverton Bridge to connect riverfront trails. Thousands of small businesses provide countless jobs and support local churches, volunteer fire departments and little leagues; they also pay for government services.

Nonprofits have to pay for the gas and electricity they consume. They have to pay the cleaning companies and landscapers they hire. Likewise, they should pay for the services of the county government. If they don't, a bigger burden is left on property owners, and county taxpayers need relief.

Rich Fitzgerald , D-Squirrel Hill, is president of Allegheny County Council .


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