Charity begins at home, and Allegheny County is home to a lot of charities.
After six years, the county has only been able to review 72 percent of the tax-exempt properties owned by “complex nonprofits.” Out of 2,800 parcels, about 700 have not been reviewed to see if they really should be tax exempt, or if they should be required to pump up to $25 million into the county’s budget, and millions more into schools and municipalities.
One of those is the City of Pittsburgh, which some big-budget nonprofits call home. UPMC alone has net assets of $1.9 billion, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State. Throw in UPMC Senior Communities and that’s another $45 million.
That doesn’t count Highmark or its affiliated hospitals, or Pitt or Carnegie Mellon or any of the other universities. It doesn’t touch on church assets or museums. Look at a tax map of the city or the county and you find a lot of well-situated real estate that doesn’t get a tax bill.
A lot of that is for the good. Charities, after all, serve an important role in our society. They fill the gaps that are left in providing care for the poor, comfort to the sick, education to better ourselves and art to uplift us. What government fails to do, charities choose to do.
But if too many of our businesses are charities, that leaves us in an unfortunate position. The taxes have to be paid by somebody, and if the groups that own all those big, expensive buildings don’t have to pay taxes on them to pave and plow the streets and provide police protection, that responsibility is going to fall on the people who own the taxable structures. Hello, little guy.
The county has been trying to find a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) balance with UPMC, Highmark, Pitt and CMU, and Mayor Bill Peduto’s “One Pittsburgh” initiative looks to get commitments from them and others to coordinate giving up to $50 million a year on dozens of projects.
But they don’t have to participate. Those 700 unfinished property reviews show more than a lack of manpower and time. They show a lack of political power. The county can’t force the nonprofits to the negotiating table and neither can Pittsburgh, and if the city can’t, smaller municipalities and school boards are definitely out of luck.
All of it leaves the public entities — and the taxpayers they represent — with a hand out, asking the charities for spare change.