York City officials say they are satisfied with the results of a fundraising campaign targeting tax-exempt property owners that raised more than $450,000 for the cash-strapped city's 2012 general fund.
That's an increase over the 2011 campaign, which raised just more than $310,000 -- most of it from WellSpan.
Most of the 2012 total also comes from WellSpan, which increased its annual contribution by $100,000. That does not include the $600,000 WellSpan recently donated for the creation of a new police training center.
The York County Industrial Development Authority, which gave $37,500 in 2011, upped its 2012 donation to $75,000.
Last summer, a team of city officials and volunteers began sending letters, making phone calls and paying visits to the owners of more than $400 million worth of city property, none of which is taxed.
With a strategy more refined and aggressive than in years past, they asked property owners to voluntarily donate 25 percent of what their municipal tax bill would be if they were taxed.
The owners of 23 tax-exempt properties -- or about 14 percent of the 160 property owners the city asked -- responded to the city's request with money. Of those 23, about half are new donors.
Short of goal: Mayor Kim Bracey had set a 2012 fundraising goal of $760,000 -- a number city officials agreed to fundraise rather than strap onto the already burdened backs of taxpayers during a particularly contentious budget season in late 2011.
Though short of its goal, the city came out on top because of a program to collect unpaid sewer and refuse bills that infused the city's 2012 budget with more than $880,000, said Kevin Schreiber, the city's director of economic and community development.
In addition to a bigger haul, the 2012 fundraising campaign also reached some first-time donors, Schreiber said.
York City Councilman Henry Nixon, who helped with the campaign, said some institutions responded with in-kind services or donations of another kind -- like a church that donated batteries to the fire department.
"Everybody pitched in a few bucks for a battery and they passed the plate. That kind of thing is very helpful," Nixon said. "You multiply that by thousands of people and it becomes very meaningful."
Future payments: Bracey said she was especially pleased with the response from religious institutions. Several churches also indicated they'd work a payment-in-lieu-of-tax donation into their 2013 budget, Bracey said.
Religious institutions, which account for about half of York City's tax-exempt properties, collectively donated more than $16,000 toward the 2012 fundraising drive.
"We're doing all we can to take care of home and get our house in order," Bracey said.
City residents and business owners, who swallowed a 17 percent increase in municipal property taxes last year, already pay far more in school and municipal property taxes than those anywhere else in York County. The reasons for the disparity are both complex and debatable.
But officials attribute part of the burden to the fact that York City, like many urban areas, is a natural warehousing center for tax-exempt properties, which include religious, educational, government and social-service institutions.
In York, about 37 percent of city properties fall into one of those categories.
What's next? A new round of fundraising will begin soon. Schreiber said the city will get an earlier start than last year.
Nixon said he believes the city is well on its way to reaching its ultimate $2 million fundraising goal -- the figure city officials estimate is equivalent to 25 percent of what tax-exempt property owners would owe if they were taxed.
This year, Nixon said, he's hoping for $1 million.
"The bottom line is, how can we reduce our bottom line?" Nixon said. "What will the community do to help the city provide the needed infrastructure and the needed public safety?"
-- Erin James may also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.