- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 4, 2003

ERIE, Pa. (AP) Property owned by Mercyhurst College and Gannon University is tax exempt, but that doesn't mean the city shouldn't tax their students, Mayor Rick Filippi says.

Mr. Filippi, a Gannon alumnus, wants to charge the schools a $50-per-student fee for the use of city services, such as police and fire protection. That would add more than $300,000 a year to the city's treasury.

Mercyhurst President William P. Garvey agrees in principle "that we should do something to help the city out." But Mr. Garvey noted that the school already has made donations to the city and purchased police vehicles.

"I'm in a position where I have to deal with the city's high rate of tax-exempt properties," Mr. Filippi said. City records show that about 40 percent of all city properties are tax exempt.

The city already has a Payment in Lieu of Taxes program under which hospitals and other nonprofit agencies pay about half of what they would be paying if their holdings weren't tax exempt.

Erie Finance Director Chuck Herron said the two Erie schools would be getting a bargain at the $50-per-student rate.

With 3,358 students, Gannon would pay the city $167,900 annually, compared with the $923,000 they would have to pay in property tax if the holdings were not exempt. With 2,930 students, Mercyhurst would pay $146,500, compared with $571,000 it would have been paying in taxes.

Both schools raised tuition for the current year by 5-1/2 percent. The total cost at both schools tuition, room and board, and other fees is $22,000 to $23,000.

"The bottom line is it's a fee for services rendered," Mr. Filippi said. "How much value do they place on police and fire service? That's what this is about."

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