Pittsburgh City Council approves nonprofit contribution

Coalition to give $5.4 million over 2 years

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Pittsburgh City Council approved legislation Monday that sets up a new round of contributions from a few dozen nonprofit groups, but did so only after a flurry of last-minute questions and complaints that hung up the deal for a couple of hours.

Under the agreement, the Pittsburgh Public Service Fund -- made up of about 40 nonprofits -- collectively will contribute an estimated $5.2 million to $5.4 million over the next two years. The groups make the voluntary contributions because they don't pay property taxes on their land and buildings.

Although some members said they wanted a lot more money than $5.4 million, council gave the agreement preliminary approval last week.

The final vote, scheduled for Monday morning, was delayed when Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak complained that she hadn't received a list of nonprofits that contributed to the service fund in 2010 and 2011. In addition, Ms. Rudiak amended the bill to direct city Controller Michael Lamb to perform a study of the costs the city incurs providing police, fire and other services to tax-exempt groups.

By the time council took up the bill again at an afternoon meeting, the city finance department had provided the list of contributors from 2010 and 2011. Council praised some small nonprofits, such as the Allentown senior citizens, for giving money to the fund and criticized others for not giving enough.

"They understand the importance of being part of something greater than themselves," Councilman Bruce Kraus said of the Allentown seniors.

Although University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has made a $100 million contribution to the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship fund, it does not contribute to the city -- something that has repeatedly drawn council members' ire.

The 40 or so nonprofits in the service fund are a small number of tax-exempt groups in the city. Another 10 to 20 nonprofits have negotiated separate payments in lieu of taxes that jointly will yield the city $450,000 to $500,000 this year.

Nonprofits "are good partners, but they could be better partners," Councilman Ricky Burgess, the finance chairman, said.

The new agreement notwithstanding, council President Darlene Harris said she and other members will continue efforts to coax more money from nonprofits.

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Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548. First Published July 3, 2012 12:00 AM


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