WARRENSBURG - Statements this week from town board member Dean Ackley that nonprofit organizations are a burden on local taxes and town government services have prompted ardent responses from people defending the benefits such entities have to the community.
At the Dec. 10 Warrensburg Town Board meeting, Councilman Dean Ackley complained that nonprofit tax exempt status is detrimental to the town and that the services non-profits offer are often unnecessary.
"I don't want you here," Ackley said. "The nonprofits do nothing for the community and contribute nothing in taxes."
Ackley's comments prompted a response from Warrensburg Historical Society spokesman Steve Parisi.
"I understand why you are saying these things, but to use such a broad paint-brush is unfair and inaccurate," Parisi said. "Many of these organizations provide necessary services that would be otherwise unavailable to Warrensburg residents."
Parisi then asked Ackley to modify or rescind his comments.
"I won't," Ackley responded.
Ackley and others have complained that non-profit groups have bought up valuable property which have historically produced revenue and brought tourists to town.
One example cited by officials is the Torah Institute, which bought the former Sit 'N Bull Ranch on Route 418 several years ago for $1.2 million. The ranch resort once was a major source of tax revenue for the town, as well as bringing in hundreds of tourists that boosted the local economy.
Now, the resort stands empty nearly year-round, and it's tax exempt.
Friday, Ackley stood behind his statements, saying that he believes that the services provided by nonprofits are limited, unnecessary and redundant.
"I am concerned with attracting businesses which bring jobs and pay taxes," Ackley said. "These non-profit groups keep buying property on Main Street and are a burden to the town."
Ackley's comments have prompted responses from non-profit organizations with operations in Warrensburg.
"People do not want to live in a community without churches or schools," Hudson Headwaters Executive Director Dr. John Rugge said Friday. "Life is about more than revenue - it is about a full community life which includes public health, education and religion."
Rugge said that the Hudson Headwaters Health Network, which includes the health center, employs 115 local residents and directly generates approximately $6 million in revenue for the community.
Furthermore, Rugge estimates that indirect local annual revenue linked to Hudson Headwaters exceeds $10 million annually, as well as offering considerable convenience and savings in time and money to area residents.
"Hudson Headwaters is the kind of enterprise that brings traffic through town," he said. "60,000 cars a week come to our facility and while they are here they often do business in town as well-we have also saved a few lives along the way - public health is fundamental to a community."
Hudson Headwaters pays approximately $20,000 annually to the town government in lieu of taxes to help pay for town government services, although they are not obligated to pay anything, officials said.
Warrensburg Supervisor Kevin Geraghty said he also believes non-profits are an essential part of the community, but within acceptable limits.
"There is a need for nonprofits; they provide important services to people who would otherwise be without," Geraghty said. "I don't agree with non-profits buying up large chunks of land and running a summer camp - but if people want to go to church, they have a right to worship."
Other non-profits in town include the Warrensburg Volunteer Fire Company, the Warrensburg Cemetery, the Warrensburg Central School District, numerous churches and the social welfare organization North Country Ministries.
"We assist working people with everyday problems like paying for heat or having enough food," said North Country Ministries Executive Director Brother Jim Posluszny. "We also pay salaries to our staff, providing jobs and revenue."
Posluszny said that the organization provides a necessary service to the region as a whole, working not only in a directly philanthropic manner, but also as a liaison to governmental organizations which people may not be familiar with.
"There are no counseling services in town," Posluszny said. "We help working people with everything from gas to get to work to providing clothing for their children."
With the current economic conditions, Posluszny said that the services provided by organizations like North County Ministries are all the more necessary.
"We have more people coming to our door than ever before, but we are receiving less in donations," Posluszny said. "Many people live on the edge of catastrophe - where would they go if we weren't here?"
Ackley affirmed that he is sticking to his position that when non-profits proliferate, taxpayers generally suffer.
"I have broad shoulders - I can take it," he said. "I am worried about bringing businesses to town - I just don't want them here."