Allentown City Council committee will ask colleges, hospitals to "show us the money"

Goal: persuade non-profits to donate more money to city

Author: , WFMZ.com Reporter, RKraft@wfmz.com
Published: Aug 22 2013 06:38:46 AM EDT   Updated On: Aug 22 2013 09:01:41 AM EDT
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

Members of a committee established by Allentown City Council soon will be meeting individually with hospitals and colleges in the city.

Their goal will be to persuade those non-profit institutions to voluntarily make greater financial contributions to Allentown.

It’s called the Special Committee on Partnerships in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT). But when established in February, that PILOT acronym stood for “payment in lieu of taxes.”

The name change has not diminished the “show me the money” attitude of City Council member Jeanette Eichenwald, who chairs the committee.

She proposed the committee begin paying visits to city colleges and hospitals.

“I endorse that, wholeheartedly,” said council member Ray O’Connell, who serves on the committee.

Eichenwald also asked City Clerk Michael Hanlon to find out what services and payments other communities that already have PILOT programs get from their hospitals, colleges and universities.

Allentown’s hospitals now contribute much more to the city than do its colleges, according to reports given at the committee’s meeting late Wednesday afternoon.

Muhlenberg College contributes $24,000 to the city toward a police vehicle every year, reported Debi Bowman, Allentown’s deputy finance director, who serves on the committee.

“So the only payment we get from the only college is Muhlenberg-- $24,000,” said Eichenwald.

If colleges in Allentown had to pay property taxes to the city, they would pay more than $1 million a year, according to figures presented at the committee meeting.

The city’s hospitals would pay more than $1.42 million. And city churches would pay more than $884,000.

Twenty-nine percent of all the property in Allentown is not taxed because it is in the hands of non-profit entities, according to committee members.

“It’s a high number, but I don’t think I would go into apoplexy over it,” said committee member Jeff Glazier, a member of City Council. “Twenty to 22 percent is not uncommon throughout the Commonwealth.”

Committee member Vicky Kistler, the city’s health bureau director, said it’s very difficult to put a dollar figure on the amount of support the city gets from its three hospitals: Lehigh Valley, Sacred Heart and St. Luke’s.

“Going forward, at some point we need to ascribe a dollar amount in some way,” said Glazier.

Kistler said the hospitals don’t seem to have a clear answer about the worth of the medical services they provide to city residents.

But she described the support the hospitals now give to the city as both phenomenal and flexible.

“When we need them, we can call any of the three hospitals and they will typically rise up to meet the need,” she said. “It adds up to a lot of money that we’re not spending out of the general fund.”

Kistler said services all three hospitals donate to the health bureau include “hundreds to thousands” of mammograms, pap smears and other laboratory tests.

She said the hospitals give the city reduced rates on additional services, like chest X-rays. They also provide the health bureau with a doctor who serves as a medical adviser and runs a tuberculosis clinic.

She guessed the city gets $200,000 to $300,000 worth of laboratory tests and services a year from the hospitals. She said every year the amount of medical tests they donate increases, because the demand has increased.

Kistler said the three hospitals also contribute new ambulances to the city. “I think it’s one ambulance per year.”

She also said when a city ambulance goes to a local hospital, medical supplies that were used can be replaced if they are in stock in the emergency rooms.

Kistler said one of the hospitals gives the city a stipend that has been used to off-set salary costs for health specialists who do community outreach in the city. She said the city also gets a stipend for other health-related purpose.

“Sacred Heart even allows us to park our city cars in the evening, securely in their parking deck, for free.”

Eichenwald began the meeting by reporting that local colleges do run enterprises that make profits, such as Muhlenberg College renting out its facilities during the summer.

“Several of the programs that universities do are for profit and they are competing with other for-profits.”

Another cash-generating idea was mentioned by O’Connell. He suggested colleges in the city should charge their students public safety fees, with the proceeds coming to the city.

“That’s steady income every year,” said O’Connell. “I think we should pursue that.
“If you’re paying $48,000-$49,000 to go to Muhlenberg, which is a very good school, what’s another hundred bucks?”

Glazier said if 2,500 city college students each paid a $50 fee, the city could hire 2.5 more police officers.

Eichenwald said city police and other emergency personnel routinely are called to Muhlenberg.