Y   ork City officials say they're satisfied with the results of a solicitation of funds from tax-exempt property owners.

But I'm not.

Yes, I understand why city officials might be content, given they raised more money this year -- $460,000 -- than they did last year, when they collected $310,000.

That's an improvement of $150,000, which is nothing to sneeze at. It's almost "found" money, except that a lot of hard work went into collecting that amount.

So for a government body that seems always on the brink of bankruptcy and wasn't able to make an on-time payment into its pension fund for the fifth straight year, any unexpected cash is a bright light at the end of the tunnel.

Because York City, like many urban cities, has a cash-flow problem. Money does not grow on trees in York City. Everyone has to pitch in to keep the wolves away from the front door.

That includes, of course, tax-exempt property owners -- mostly government, education, religious or social-service organizations -- of more than $400 million worth of city property.

So a team of city officials and volunteers send out a bunch of letters last summer, made a lot of phone calls and paid one-on-one visits to owners of tax-exempt property. The goal? Extract a commitment from them to pay an amount equal to 25 percent of what would be the tax on their property if they weren't tax exempt.

To me that sounds fair. Just the services rendered to city property owners by police, fire and public works departments alone should have that much value.

Yes, there is the old separation of church and state argument, which in this case bleeds outward to include social-service agencies, schools and government bodies, as well.

Nearly all tax-exempts, of which there are 160 located within the boundaries of York City, do provide a certain amount of service to city residents as a substitute for property taxes. In lieu of taxes, you might say.

Except that none of those services are provided exclusively to city residents.

York countians living in one of the other 71 municipalities in the county might very well be members of a York City church.

Or maybe they work for city or county government, both located within the city. Or maybe they are clients of the many social-service agencies headquartered in the city, or their children are being educated in a school located in York City.

Or they might teach in a city school or work in a social-service agency, but live somewhere outside the city.

So it's reasonable to assume each of the owners of these 160 tax-exempt properties is providing services or employment to people who don't live in the city.

That being the case, why should they not feel obligated to financially support York City? At least at the rate of one-quarter of what they would have to pay if they weren't tax exempt?

I don't get it.

It's called generosity of spirit. Don't do it because someone is forcing you to do it, do it because it's the right thing to do.

But they haven't done that in the past, and they didn't do it again this year to the extent they should. Why? Well, I'm guessing it's because they don't have to. And as long as they don't have to, they won't.

Of the 160 tax exempts that received letters, phone calls or face-to-face communication from city officials this year, only 23 have done the right thing.

Of those 23, only about half are new donors.

And three of the four highest contributions came from old donors: WellSpan Health (York Hospital), York County Industrial Development Authority, and York College of Pennsylvania made a combined donation in the amount of $416,861. That's 91 percent of the total amount received.

Most of that -- $320,000 -- came from York Hospital.

Add $11,000 from Mantec, a new contributor, and the top four donors account for 93 percent of the $460,000 received.

A tip of the hat to those four tax-exempts for digging a little deeper to pay their fair share of the cost of city government when they know if they don't, the full burden is going to fall directly on residential property owners and businesses.

Add a smiley face to the 19 tax-exempts who at least made an effort.

And a pat on the back goes out to the handful of institutions that provided an in-kind donation or service -- batteries for the fire department, for example -- instead of sending money.

That leaves us with 130-or-so tax-exempt property owners who have given nothing at all. Eighty-six percent. Zero dollars.

York City Councilman Henry Nixon assisted with the fundraising campaign, and he thinks a goal of $2 million from tax-exempts is within reach.

I hope he's right about that

But I have my doubts.

To reach that amount, each of the 23 that gave this year would have to quadruple their contributions in the next few years, and all 130 institutions who gave nothing would have to ante up at least $1,000 apiece. And even then, the city would be $30,000 short of the goal.

"The bottom line is, how can we reduce the bottom line?" Nixon asked.

Good question.

In fact, it's the perfect question.

But I suspect additional generosity by the tax-exempts is not going to be the perfect answer.

Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: lhicks@yorkdispatch.com.