November 20, 2010; Source: Detroit News | This is the season when nonprofits expect to see their mailboxes fill up with letters containing checks from donors. But schools, churches, hospitals and other tax-exempt organizations in Mount Clemens, Mich., might want to check their mail very carefully for an unexpected letter.

Last week, Mayor Barb Dempsey said the city—which is approximately 20 miles northeast of Downtown Detroit—had mailed letters to nonprofits pleading with them to pay what the Detroit News says is a “voluntary fee” to help pay for police, fire, and other municipal services. The newspaper reports that about 42 percent of property in the city is tax exempt, which works out to about $1.2 million in noncollectable taxes.

In her letter, Dempsey wrote, “These properties receive the same services as the tax-paying properties, which places a tremendous burden upon the 58 percent of property owners that pay taxes.” Acknowledging there is no obligation for these organizations to pay, Dempsey added, “but we hope that you will look favorably at this request.” Although she recognizes there is risk—along with the potential for ridicule—in making this request, Dempsey says the city has no choice. “We are scraping the barrel. That’s why we have to come up with creative ways to get everyone involved.” As she sagely adds, “If you don’t ask you will never know if you can get it.”

Bill Davis, co-pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Mount Clemens, already has $1,000 to help the city and is in favor of doing it again. “The city provides us with wonderful services and police protection,” Davis said. “Isn’t it right that a nonprofit that benefits from services of the city should contribute?” To pay or not to pay, that is the question.—Bruce Trachtenberg