Pa. rules nonprofits' payments to Pittsburgh are public record

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Because of a ruling Tuesday from the state Office of Open Records, the public is a step closer to finding out which nonprofits make payments in lieu of taxes to financially strapped Pittsburgh.

The city says it has individual agreements with 10 to 20 nonprofits, totaling $450,000 to $500,000 this year, but it refused to provide specifics or make the agreements available to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in June.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette appealed to the Office of Open Records, which ruled that the documents are public records and ordered the city to provide them within 30 days. The city may appeal the decision to Common Pleas Court.

Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said the city had not decided whether to turn over the documents or appeal.

Nonprofits do not pay taxes on many of their real-estate holdings. A small number of nonprofits, however, make payments in lieu of taxes.

Property-tax exemptions for nonprofits are a contentious issue in a city trying to fight its way out of eight years of state financial oversight. The Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, one of two oversight groups, last month suggested that the city establish a task force to study the possibility of garnering more and bigger nonprofit payments.

The city this year anticipates about $3.2 million in contributions from nonprofits. About $2.6 million is expected to come from a consortium of nonprofits known as the Pittsburgh Public Service Fund.

The consortium's agreement with the city is a matter of public record. The consortium identifies its members, but does not divulge individual contribution amounts to the city or public.

In addition, the city has said that it has separately negotiated payments in lieu of taxes with another 10 to 20 nonprofits and that these agreements will bring in an estimated $450,000 to $500,000 this year. The Post-Gazette is seeking access to these agreements.

In rejecting the Post-Gazette's request for the documents, the city said they are not public records as defined in the state Right-To-Know Law. In addition, the Law Department said, release of the records would violate confidentiality agreements between the city and the nonprofits making the donations.

The Office of Open Records ruled that the agreements are public records. The city, it added, "cannot circumvent the RTKL by including confidentiality clauses in public records."

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Joe Smydo: or 412-263-1548.


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