- Associated Press - Friday, July 29, 2016

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) - Kalamazoo is getting $70 million from philanthropists and others for a foundation to help solve the city’s budget problems, cut property taxes and tackle other projects, officials said.

The City Commission decided Thursday to move forward with the creation of the Foundation for Excellence. City leaders secured donations from Kalamazoo philanthropists William Johnston and William Parfet, among others, over a 3-year period, the Kalamazoo Gazette reported (https://bit.ly/2alxbLi ).

Officials expect the foundation to be fully funded by 2020, so revenue from investments will be available long term. It would allow Kalamazoo to cut property taxes starting in January and spend $10 million annually on “aspirational” projects, such as a sidewalk improvement program or a small business loan program.

“I think this is a game-changing opportunity,” Mayor Bobby Hopewell said. “We are so blessed to live where we are, with individuals who can live anywhere, that are willing to work with us to find a different path where we are allowed to give our taxpayers some relief, deal with our deficit challenges, and allow us to aspire for what our city should be.”

Funding for the foundation will be solicited from a broad donor base, officials said. Under the initial plan, the owner of a home worth $100,000 could see general property taxes drop to about $600 a year from about $960, and that could be cut by another $100 later.

“That’s key on this,” City Manager Jim Ritsema said. “The perception is the city is already at a high tax rate, and that’s hurting development, hurting our housing. This removes that barrier now and makes us competitive with the region.”

Ritsema introduced the concept of the foundation. City commissioners unanimously agreed to have Ritsema gather more details, so they can consider taking formal action to create the foundation. A vote is expected before the end of the year.

City Commissioner Shannon Sykes noted, however, she has been “incredibly skeptical and incredibly fearful” of the idea of the large donation. “It has to really have no strings attached, otherwise we’re not doing our duty by the citizens,” Sykes said.

Kalamazoo is known for creative philanthropic efforts, including the city’s anonymously funded Kalamazoo Promise program, which has paid the college tuition of students who graduate from Kalamazoo Public Schools for more than a decade.

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Information from: Kalamazoo Gazette, https://www.mlive.com/kalamazoo


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