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City seeks help — Letter asks tax-exempt groups to help pay for services

City seeks help — Letter asks tax-exempt groups to help pay for services

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RACINE — Mayor John Dickert has said repeatedly that Racine is facing a dire budget situation next year.

To help the city better cope with the problem, and possibly mitigate cuts to services, his office sent out 182 letters to local nonprofits last month, including churches, asking the tax-exempt organizations if they would consider paying a portion of the property tax the city would normally charge them if their properties were taxed.

In the letter Dickert states that the program — dubbed Racine’s Fair Share — is based on similar initiatives in cities like Boston and Milwaukee.

The letter explains that while state law grants “tax-exempt status to properties for various reasons, the obligation of the City of Racine to provide services to these properties remains.

“The costs of providing police and fire protection, snow plowing, street lighting and street maintenance, among other services to these properties become the burden of the remaining taxpayers who do not have tax-exempt status.”

On Monday Dickert said he got the idea for the program at a recent United States Conference of Mayors meeting.

“One of the mayors put out a letter of this sort and he was shocked by the amount of money that came in,” Dickert said. “I said, ‘you know what, the worst you can do is ask,’ and if you got somebody who is doing better than usual maybe they can help out during a time when we are having some difficulties.”

The city collects payments for services from around eight nonprofit organizations, the bulk of them assisted living or tax-exempt apartment buildings. The agreements with the entities, which own around 30 parcels, were negotiated through the city’s Payment of In-Lieu of Tax or PILOT program.

Last year the city collected around $97,400 from PILOT participants, City Administrator Tom Friedel said.

What makes the Fair Share program different from PILOT is its scope and approach.

The deals the city has with PILOT participants were arranged on the case-by-case basis, often when a nonprofit had just purchased or constructed a building, Friedel said. Its agreement with Lakeside Curative Service Inc., which offers vocational rehabilitation services, was negotiated in 2001.

The agreements have usually been written up when a project received some kind of subsidy, Friedel said. The idea being that the city would help the nonprofit out with subsidies if it agreed to help pay for city services.

With the Fair Share program, the city is asking all nonprofits that own property if they wouldn’t mind helping out. In addition to churches, hospitals, some clinics and medical offices, charities, service groups and governmental entities, like schools, are tax-exempt. Letters went out to all nonprofits, except governmental entities, that own property but don’t participate in PILOT.

Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church, 625 College Avenue, was one of the nonprofits that received the letter. Whether to participate in the program is a decision that will have to be made by the church’s board, but so far board president Linda Flashinksi and minister, the Rev. Tony Larsen, have said they are personally in favor of contributing some money to the cause.

Any contributions the city receives through the program through Nov. 1 will be applied to its 2013 budget, according to Dicker’s letter. Contributions also will be publicly recognized, unless the organization contributing the funds wishes to remain anonymous.

“We are saying to the people that do have the means, ‘let’s work together,’ because these are services for all of us,” Dickert said. “We are not even asking for people to do this every year. We are just saying that we all need to work together if we are going to get this done.”

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