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Mich. City Begs Tax-Exempt Organizations for Donations to Cover Debt

November 21, 2010

Mount Clemens, Michigan sits just 25 miles Northeast of Detroit. Like its big sister, it has a problem: debt. Desperate, the city is now begging tax-exempt organizations to donate to its general fund, which covers fire services, streetlights, and roads.

Mount Clemens Mayor Barb Dempsey made the request in a letter to 35 such groups this week. According to the New York Times, Dempsey said the town of 17,000 has already made cuts, such as disbanding its police department. But still, it’s facing a budget deficit of $960,000 that she says will reach $1.5 million next year.

“As the County seat and land base of many religious properties, hospitals, schools, and non-profit charitable organizations, one of the most challenging dilemmas the City faces in trying to balance its budget each year is that 42% of the property in Mount Clemens is tax exempt,” Dempsey writes in the letter. “These properties receive the same services as the tax paying properties which places a tremendous burden upon the 58% of property owners that pay taxes.”

“The 42%,” the Times says, includes 26 churches, a hospital, and several schools. That’s taken its toll on the 4.2-square-mile city, which, as the letter says, is also the headquarters of Macomb County, the third largest in Michigan.

If all that property were not exempt, Dempsey told the Times, the properties would pay at least $1.2 million, enough to erase the deficit.

The letter hopes to make up for some of that lost revenue by asking, not telling. “We figured it can’t hurt to send out letters,” Dempsey told the Times. “If you don’t ask, you never know.” She’s hoping it works. Hamtramck, a Detroit suburb, just asked the state for permission to file for bankruptcy, something no Michigan government has ever done before.

For now, at least one group is stepping up to the collection plate: First Presbyterian Church of Mount Clemens. The church gave $1,000 five years ago when the city considered a similar request. Pending approval from the church board, it will do it again.

“If we can help the city in a time of need we definitely should do that,” First Presb. Rev. Bill Davis told the Times. “We need the city, and the city needs us. If we can help financially, I think that’s right.”

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