Pittsfield Ponders Cash Request to Nonprofits

With tight budgets, many municipalities are looking for untapped sources of revenue. In Pittsfield, Massachusetts, a movement is afoot to formally ask some nonprofits, whose real estate holdings are exempt from local property taxes, for voluntary contributions.

Motivated by Boston’s efforts, two City Councillors prompted Pittsfield’s mayor Daniel Bianchi to form a panel now holding public meetings. Its task is to examine the potential impact of requesting such contributions from nonprofits owning property in the city, but which are not required to pay property tax. 

Councilman John Krol says he recognizes many nonprofits are small and ill-prepared to make voluntary payments, but there are at least some who could step up.

“There are certain nonprofits that use a significant amount of city resources, that own significant land in the city that they are not paying property taxes for, and so I think there are some candidates that are good for it.”

According to the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, there are 347 officially recognized nonprofits earning income of at least $25,000 annually. In Boston, the payment in lieu of taxes program is aimed at non-profits with annual incomes of$15  million or more.

Some in the Berkshire nonprofit world argue they’re doing well if they break even in a given year, much less make voluntary payments. They also worry about how City Hall would publicize the results.

Tristan Wilson, managing director of Barrington Stage Company, says the absence of payments in lieu of taxes doesn’t take into account in-kind donations, like its playwright mentoring program for city youth, run in partnership with the courts.

“Could create a public relations issues for a company. If the city asks and we don’t choose to participate, then what do they do with that information—If they turn around and publish it and say, well,  here’s the bad non-profits who aren’t contributing to the city.” 

Boston makes a spreadsheet available listing nonprofits’ contributions, both in cash and services. Green checkmarks note those kicking in the requested 25% of what for-profits would owe in property taxes. The next meeting of the Pittsfield study group is March 27th.