City nonprofits weigh in on potential for voluntary PILOTS
PITTSFIELD -- The committee studying the potential for volunteer payments in lieu of taxes from Pittsfield nonprofits heard presentations from six organizations Wednesday and later decided to begin formulating a recommendation to city officials on the concept at their April meeting.
Representatives from Girls Inc., the YMCA, Barrington Stage Company, Hancock Shaker Village, Berkshire County ARC and local religious organizations, provided financial and operational details about their organizations and answered questions from members of the study committee. Each described a significant contribution to the city in terms of services to residents, employment and other economic, social or humanitarian benefits.
Each speaker also described a precarious annual budget and said they believe a PILOT payment to the city would cause them to cut back programs and reduce services they now provide.
Kelly Martin of Girls Inc. of the Berkshires described an annual budget of just under $1.6 million with salaries of about $1 million. The tight budget, she said, has to be evaluated each year to determine what programs can be funded and at what level, and donations are required to keep programs going.
"I think if you look at nonprofits overall in Pittsfield, they support those most in need in the community," Martin said.
Randy Kinnas, executive director of the YMCA, said the organization provides health and sports programs for youth and adults, as well as housing facilities. The organization provides membership scholarships based on need for a quarter of its members and hundreds of hours of volunteer work with youth groups and others.
"I just think that in our situation it would be a detriment to us and a disservice to the community" to make a PILOT commitment to the city, Kinnas said.
Tristan Wilson of Barrington Stage, Ken Singer of Berkshire County ARC and Linda Steigleder of Hancock Shaker Village each described organizations that have a significant economic impact on the area.
Barrington Stage, Wilson said, is funded in part through supporter donations, yet as attractions they bring in visitors from outside Pittsfield who then spend money here. He said that the economic impact of the theater group had been estimated at more than $4 million with 300 performances and 50,000 ticket sales annually, including tax revenue the city receives from a local option sales tax.
Steigleder said Hancock Shaker Village, which is mostly in Hancock but has 80 acres in the city, is the only Michelin Guide 3 Star rated attraction in the Berkshires and attracts 13 percent of its annual 55,000 to 60,000 visitors from overseas.
Singer said the ARC program for people with disabilities brings in $22 million in state and federal funding to the area for residential, work-creation and other programs that make it one of the county's largest employers.
"All of this money comes from outside Berkshire County," he said, adding that, unlike many economic sectors, human services is adding employees. ARC added 32 new positions within the past year, he said.
In addition, Singer said, ARC provides effective work programs for those with disabilities that provide employment and useful services -- such as commercial mail sorting -- that attract and assist local businesses.
Quentin Chin, pastor of First Baptist Church, said he recently spoke with eight other clergy members about their organizations and found that through volunteer work, donations of money and food and meeting space for community events, religious organizations are providing significant direct benefits to those most in need in the city.
Those people, he said, would be impacted if the organizations were to provide PILOT funding to the city. "If it weren't for the faith community, there would be a lot more poverty than there is," Chin said.
Members of the study group, appointed by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi at the request of the City Council to study the idea of PILOT payments by nonprofits, said they would begin discussing a recommendation during their April 24 meeting.
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