Allegheny County to review all tax-exempt properties, begins with UPMC's nonprofit status
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has ordered a review of each tax-exempt property in the county as part of a two-pronged approach to squeeze money from nonprofits that enjoy tax breaks.
Fitzgerald will enforce a 2007 county ordinance that requires officials to review individual parcels of tax-exempt land at least once every three years to ensure they are used for solely charitable purposes, said spokeswoman Amie Downs. She said she believes this will be the first time the ordinance has been enforced.
“We've directed our administrative services director and the Office of Property Assessments to create a process by which we can do a three-year review of all nonprofit, tax-exempt properties,” Downs said. “We want to do our due diligence to make sure properties that should be on the tax rolls be put back on the tax rolls.”
Some nonprofits, in lieu of taxes, choose to make voluntary contributions to the city and county. Downs said the county expects to receive $315,840 this year from several, including UPMC.
County Council held a three-hour public hearing Wednesday that was intended to gather public input about UPMC's tax-exempt land. Dozens spoke out against UPMC's tax exemptions and used the opportunity to talk about labor issues with the health care system.
Spokesman Paul Wood said it's unfair for council to focus only on UPMC, which has said it pays taxes on 49 percent of its land in the county.
“UPMC provides more in free and reduced care to the community to more than offset the tax exemptions extended to us,” Wood said. “Whatever tax requirements local or state or federal officials apply, we're OK with as long as it's applied fairly to all nonprofits. The only fair way to do it is to look at all the tax-exempt properties.”
Councilman John DeFazio, D-Shaler, who chaired the meeting, said he hopes to have more public meetings focusing on other nonprofits.
“We're not picking on UPMC. They just happen to be the biggest and the first,” DeFazio said.
If the county chooses to revoke tax-exempt status on a parcel of land, the owner can appeal to the county's Board of Property Assessment and Review, the Board of Viewers and ultimately the courts — similar to appealing a property assessment, Downs said.
Area colleges fought an attempt by Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in 2009 to impose a tuition tax as a way to raise revenue from nonprofits. Instead, city officials negotiated a deal with the nonprofit Pittsburgh Public Service Fund, which accepts voluntary annual payments from at least 46 nonprofits that don't pay property taxes on land used for charitable purposes.
Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for the mayor, said the city expects to receive about $2.6 million from the fund this year and next. Spokesmen for the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University declined comment. A spokeswoman for Duquesne University could not be reached.
Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or firstname.lastname@example.org.