Your Money: A closer look at what more non-profits buying property in Erie means to taxpayers

Local News

We’re taking a look at Erie’s shrinking population and tax base. While those numbers drop, more property in the City of Erie is being taken over by non-profits.

JET 24 Action News’ Chelsey Withers takes a deeper look at what this means for taxpayers and your money.

The City of Erie is full of non-profits. In fact, there are 2,021 of them to be exact. With so many different not for profit organizations buying property in the city, some wonder what’s the benefit to taxpayers when property is removed from the tax rolls

“You know, non-profits came to pass because originally they were flush and we could help people. Well, the city needs help now, so I think that its time that even though the non-profits are doing a lot of good, it’s time for them to help us,” said Ed Brzezinski, Erie City Council Member.

This year, Erie property owners will pay increased property taxes. The question is that because none of the non-profits don’t pay property taxes?

“Every property that a non-profit buys doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not going to pay income tax some of Gannon’s recent purchases. For example, they purchased an apartment complex on 6th and Sassafras (Streets) and they still pay taxes on that because people live there. They’re paying rent to Gannon so they pay property tax. Also, most churches are tax exempt, but they still pay taxes on their rectory,” said Mayor Joe Schember, City of Erie.

Mercyhurst University explained that when they buy property along Parade Street for student housing, they pay a property tax on that. The university stated that although they don’t participate in a pilot program, they make multiple donations and provide services to the community.

“Mercyhurst took the lead in sponsoring and starting the Erie Innovation District, which has attracted a number of start-ups in the sort of smart secure city space, those are corporate investments coming to our region, but for Mercyhurst, not leading the charge would not be contributing to our local economy,” said Joseph Howard, Vice President for Enrollment, Mercyhurst University.

As for Gannon University, leadership cites the benefits of their investment in the Erie Downtown Development Corporation and other non-profits in the downtown area. As for payment in lieu of taxes, referred to as a pilot, Gannon said by e-mail.

“We do not do pilot agreements. We do have an understanding/partnership with the Mayor (current and prior) to support with a $100,000 annual gift to go to a need that we agree on each year. Generally, it has been used for public safety.”

Of the more than 2,000 non-profit organizations, 11 of them pay a pilot. Two of the biggest non-profits are Hamot Medical Center and St. Vincent. They each pay 50% of what they would normally pay in taxes.

Each of those health care providers explained the work they do for the community benefits the city beyond the hospital doors.

“Someone who hasn’t seen a doctor in years who comes up to one of our screening events and is identified to have diabetes and didn’t even know it or blood pressure that’s out of control and then right then and there, we can start to address that issue and then get them into the system to get them the care that they deserve,” said Christopher Clark, DO, President, St. Vincent Hospital.

“Our community benefits as reported is about $33 million a year. That includes education, community outreach programs, and there’s a whole host of various programs that we have a long tradition to the community,” said Brad Dinger, CFO of UPMC Hamot.

With a low number of organizations paying a pilot, the City of Erie saying they would never force any organization to do so or to make a donation.

“The work they’re doing is not typically done by any for profit company and they’re really helping the people of Erie. I certainly would ask them to consider if there is a way they can help the city financially, we would welcome that, but as a non-profit they don’t have to do that,” said Mayor Schember.

Full Interview with Mayor Joe Schember

Full interview with Brad Dinger, CFO of UPMC Hamot

Full Interview with Dr. Christopher Clark, President of St. Vincent

Full interview with Joseph Howard, Vice President for Enrollment at Mercyhurst University

Full interview with Ed Brzezinski, Erie City Councilman

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