AUBURN — A coalition of Lewiston-Auburn nonprofit agencies came together Tuesday to say they’re givers, not takers. They provide critical services and 8,000 jobs, one of every six jobs in Androscoggin County.

Some of those jobs and services will be in jeopardy if Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to no longer exempt nonprofits from property taxes passes. Maine would become the first state in the nation to tax nonprofits such as hospitals and colleges.

“We need your help,” said Peter Kowalski, chief executive officer of John F. Murphy Homes. “Call the governor and call your legislator and tell them this is not a policy you support,” he said, flanked by others from big and small nonprofit agencies.

The other members of the coalition of nine are Bates College, Central Maine Medical Center, St. Mary’s Health System, DFD Russell Medical Center, Androscoggin Home Care and Hospice, Good Shepherd Food-Bank, Tri-County Mental Health and the Auburn-Lewiston YMCA.

“Although we represent many different service areas, we are brought together by the governor’s proposal to eliminate our property-tax exemption,” Kowalski said. “For most of us, this cut is just one of many in this budget proposal and in the budgets of the last 12 years. Collectively, the property-tax proposal will cost our various systems over $3.5 million.”

That’s on top of Medicaid cuts that will cost coalition members more than $14 million, Kowalski said, adding that John F. Murphy Homes would lose $2 million.

LePage has called nonprofits “takers, not givers,” and said they should help pay for services such as snow removal and police and fire protection. In his sweeping tax-reform proposals, the governor wants to end the state’s income tax and stop providing $62 million a year in state revenue-sharing to towns and cities.

To make up for that, LePage has proposed that municipalities tax at half the rate nonprofits with more than $500,000 worth of property. Churches would continue to be exempt.

Kowalski said Tuesday that despite the governor’s dismissal of nonprofits as takers, “there is no magic solution and these cuts will be made up with job losses, service curtailments and cost shifting to local taxes to the citizens of this county.”

Residents should care, he said, because the 8,000 jobs the nonprofits provide are significant to the local economy. “The governor may see us as expendable, but ask yourself what you would do if we simply ceased to exist,” Kowalski said.

There’s no room for partisan politics “when the ambulance pulls up to the emergency room with one of our loved ones,” or someone’s end of life in hospice is at hand, or help is needed by the most vulnerable citizens, such as people with intellectual disabilities helped by Murphy Homes.

“We all expect us to be there when the need arrives,” Kowalski said. “But at some point, a tipping point is reached. We may not be there when you need us most.”

Chuck Gill, vice president for public affairs at Central Maine Medical Center, said the hospital will provide $19 million in free care this year. The emergency room sees about 46,000 people a year, regardless of their ability to pay. “We don’t ask them at the front door, ‘Can you pay the bill?’ And many don’t pay the bill.”

The property-tax exemption helps cover charity care,  Gill said. He said the proposal doesn’t make sense. “We’re providing lots of jobs. Our payroll is $270 million a year.” 

Catherine Ryder, executive director of Tri-County Mental Health Services, said her agency has been lean over the years “as cuts have come our way. We have cut into infrastructure, the overhead and support-service delivery.”

She understands savings have to be achieved, but she said the cuts could mean fewer services for people with mental illnesses.

It’s not just the proposal to end the property-tax exemption, Ryder said. “It’s also cuts pending for service delivery that will lead to some pretty significant decision-making.”

Under Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to end property-tax exemptions for nonprofit agencies, local agencies would pay these amounts per year: 

Bates College, $1.59 million.

Central Maine Medical Center, $1.17 million.

St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, $535,164.

Marcotte Nursing Home, $125,444.

John J. Murphy Homes, $39,955.

Androscoggin Home Care and Hospice, $37,531

Tri-County Mental Health, $31,449

Kora Shrine Temple, $15,168

The Franco Center, $14,881

Auburn-Lewiston YMCA, $13,177

Sandcastle early childhood services, $11,939

Greater Androscoggin Humane Society, $11,462

Maine Public Broadcasting, $9,958

New Beginnings, $9,409

Goodwill Industries, $8,906

SeniorsPlus, $8,662

Community Partners, $6,193

The Public Theatre, $4,746

Salvation Army, $2,021

Support Solutions, $1,968

Source: City of Lewiston

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.