Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Fees for NFPs . . .

More ODd journalism yesterday. The editors of our local newspaper jump to oppose the proposal for Utica to assess annual "user" fees on ALL property owners -- including Not For Profits (NFPs) -- for such things as snow removal and sidewalk repairs, but fail to offer any data from Rochester, NY, where this has been done for years.

The OD editors raise valid concerns about fees possibly driving people and businesses out of the city and becoming excuses to increase spending. These are things that Utica needs to come to grips with, if fees are not going to create more problems than they solve. But that is why it is so important for the OD to explore what happened in Rochester.

The valid concerns, however, are no justification for not charging NFPs their "fair share" for the services they receive from Utica taxpayers. Per the OD editors:
But while nonprofits don’t pay taxes, they do provide human services this city could not do without. They reach out to the city’s poorest residents whose needs, if left unmet, might end up costing taxpayers even more. Places like Hope House, New Horizons, Catholic Charities, Thea Bowman House, dozens of houses of worship and so many more people-committed agencies provide essential services ranging from meals and clothing to day care and housing. Their clients are most often people caught in the cracks of life who have no place else to turn. . . .

Slapping a tax on that is not only wrong, it’s unconscionable. Any “fee” would only end up being paid by the same generous people who already donate time and money to keep the facilities going.
Every community has poor, and to the extent that they need services, they are everyone's responsibility. But for many, including the OD editors, the concept of "community" seems to stop at the city line, as though city policies made a high percentage of its citizens poor and needy. Of course, they did not.

For years Utica taxpayers were forced by law to pay significantly higher taxes than the surrounding jurisdictions in order to fund welfare programs for the poor. This made sense at the time the laws were drawn because municipal boundaries were the boundaries of the "community" economically speaking, containing both its rich and poor.

With the advent of the automobile, however, it became practical for people to make their living in the city, while living in another jurisdiction near by. It also became possible for people to leave the high taxes of the city behind. While many who could afford to move just wanted more space and that new house, the low if non-existent local taxes in the suburbs were also an attraction. (My understanding is that New Hartford at one time had NO Town taxes.) The rest is history. Wealth concentrated in the new "suburbs" while the city became increasingly poor . . . which, in a perverted feedback-loop, raised city taxes and drove even more to the 'burbs. The stark contrast between homes in Cornhill and those just 2-3 miles away in the upper Tilden Ave and Higby Road areas of New Hartford is breathtaking. No one wants to deny those in New Hartford their fabulous homes -- they worked long and hard for them -- but why should they not have to shoulder the burden of municipal services to the region's NFPs while those in Utica do?

The OD's solution is for the city to "tighten its belt," but how can that work when Utica has the lion's share of the region's tax exempt properties, owned by the NFPs, as well as taxpayers who have the region's lowest incomes? The OD's solution is no solution.

While the OD editors periodically beat the "racism" drum, they apparently are OK with "class-ism" -- safe behind their municipal boundary wall.


Anonymous said...

Perceptive post. Two additional points need mentioning are that the non-profit boards are comprised predominantly of suburban residents and that the non profits clustered in Utica are a detriment to development.Finally, Binghamton also has a user fee for non profits.

Mrs. Mecomber said...

No offense, but I found it difficult to ascertain exactly the point you are making here, besides criticizing the OD. Are you saying that residents in New Hartford should foot the bill, in some way or form, for services rendered in Utica? And that your reason for promoting this is that NFP philathropists live in New Hartford and not Utica?

Truly, I care not about the automobile, suburbs, rich people moving where they wish, etc. (The automobile has been a part of our society for over 100 years-- we haven't adjusted yet?) Under no circumstances should New Hartford be financially obligated to Utica because the population fled the city for the New Hartford.

Why doesn't Utica start some program where people who receive welfare benefits are required to shovel sidewalks, collect litter, etc?

And here's maybe an ugly but realistic scenario: Utica is a dying city, and the state has no intention of helping it. For varying reasons, people have been wanting to get out of the city, for decades. Why try to forcibly resuscitate a city that no one wants to be in? It's an unfortunate situation and definitely an unpleasant thought. But I do not see where residents outside the city of Utica have any obligation to support Utica, any more than any other city in the state.

Strikeslip said...

Mrs. M --

A "community" -- any community -- has an obligation in varying degrees to support "its" poor.

The "community" here does NOT stop at the municipal boundary. New Hartford people have their heads in the sand if they think they could have made it as a community without Utica's existence, both in the past and now, even if Utica served as only as the source of the bulk of its population. If it were not for the population base in Utica, there would be insufficient customers for the doctors, lawyers, and merchants who live in New Hartford to make a living. Economically, we are all part of the same community. Why should the wealthy be able to escape their obligations to the poorer members of society (their customers, their employees, those that give them their own economic vitality) by merely moving across a boundary line? The idea that crossing a boundary relieves one of obligations is classism -- a form of discrimination -- plain and simple.

I'm sure that my experience is different from yours, Mrs M, because my understanding is that you are relatively new to the area. My view is colored by growing up in Utica in the 50s and 60s, with distinct memories of people moving to the suburbs and bragging how little they paid in taxes, while still being able to take advantage of all the services that the City offered such as the parks, ski slope, golf course, pools and library.

My view was also colored by the 80s, when Oneida County was one of I believe only two in the state that required its Cities to provide Aid for Dependent Children. In the others, the Counties took this burden on entirely. I have to think there was a bit of racism or classism behind Oneida County dragging its feet.

The main thrust of the post, however, WAS targeted at the hypocritical editors of the OD.

Mrs. Mecomber said...

Thanks for the explanation, Strike. I am not exactly new to the area-- but I've lived in this area for 20 years now. Not as long as you, of course, but long enough, I guess.

I must disagree with you that New Hartford, or any other municipality, owes Utica anything. I don't. That may be a very hard saying, but it is true. Maybe part of Utica's problem is her mentality that everyone owes the city something, Utica isn't getting it, and is blaming others and expecting favors.

Historically, Utica brought all these things on itself. Of course, if a philanthropist feels some emotional "obligation" to help out the Utica poor, fine. You can't make emotional obligations legalized.

I know these are things are hard for the "old guard" to hear, but it an undeniable fact that Utica and the other municipalities are changing. Utica seems hell-bent on trying to relive the olden days, and that just isn't going to happen.

Just my two cents.

Strikeslip said...

I understand and respect your position Mrs. M, tho I disagree that Utica "brought all these things on itself."

While leadership in Utica has been pretty inept for years, I cannot say that government is any better in the suburbs, having lived in both.

Utica's problems are really little different that those of Syracuse, Rochester or Buffalo ... which suggests to me that the problem is with NYS government and our municipal structure . . . It also suggests to me that in 30 years New Hartford will find itself in the same position that Utica is in now.

Just my 2 cents :-)

Keith said...

I'm not following how charging a fee to The ARC or Historic Old St. Johns would effect a transfer of funds from New Hartford to Utica

Strikeslip said...

It won't, Keith. The fees are the best that Utica can do while municipal boundaries allow the wealthy to segregate themselves and avoid supporting the NFPs with municipal services.

The OD has no credibility when it comes to recommending what is best for Utica . . . Its views and reporting of the news is almost always from a New Hartford perspective.

Perhaps its opposition to Utica's proposed fees is really fueled by a fear that the fees will cause some NFPs to move facilities to New Hartford . . . as the Salvation Army considered a few months back.

Anonymous said...

I must say, Strike, this is a VERY interesting take on the whole subject that I'm sure none of the sponsors even thought of. I happen to oppose the proposal for the purpose that it is not aimed soley at NFP's, but at all taxpayers and is being SOLD as a way to collect from NFP's.

But your take on the whole classism is very enlightening and brings much intellect and forethought.

Keep up the good work and maybe someday we will encourage YOU to run for public office. (I can wish, can't I?)

Mrs. Mecomber said...

Yes, when it comes to state policy, all Upstate cities are suffering. But Utica seems especially depressed, no doubt due to the "keystone cop" bumbling and underhanded deals, and corruption by its leaders for decades.

If New Hartford finds itself in such a mess after 30 years, it would be because it brought on all these things itself, one way or another, just as Utica has done. Aren't "we the people" supposed to be in charge here?

I have never understood the vicious contention and competition between New Hartford and Utica. It seems both have groups of whining leaders who point the finger and blame the other. If I was governor, I guess I'd avoid this area, too!

Anonymous said...

Donovan & the rest of her brood on the editorial board don't even live in Utica. I've had it up to here with the OD's preaching about what's best for our city. What I'm really fed up with is having to support freeloading NPO's with my tax dollars. Let them move to the suburbs like New Hartford & let the Donovan's of the burbs provide free services to them with THEIR tax dollars.