Mercyhurst College contributions help pay for public safety

For the fifth consecutive year, Mercyhurst College will make a financial contribution to the city of Erie.

Mercyhurst President Tom Gamble, Ph.D., announced on Wednesday, Sept. 21, that the college will donate $100,000 to help the city of Erie pay for police and fire response, road maintenance and other services that benefit the college.

“We are very proud of our relationship with the city,” Gamble said in his announcement speech. “We firmly believe that a strong Mercyhurst in a strong city community is best for everybody, so that is why we’re willing to help out whenever we can.”

Mayor Joseph Sinnott thanked Mercyhurst after Gamble’s announcement. Sinnott said these contributions are primarily spent on public safety, such as the purchase of new police vehicles.

“It’s keeping our capital needs current in our public safety, which is critical to continuing to provide these services at the level that we’ve been able to provide,” Sinnott said.

Although these services are vital for students, some have questioned why Mercyhurst is not spending more of its money on scholarships.

Senior Rachel Brown said, “It’s important for the college to give back to the community for the services it receives. However, the college should also consider its duty to its students and take the opportunity to examine the issue of scholarship funding, as merit scholarships have stayed the same while tuition has increased.”

Mercyhurst began financial contributions to the city in 2008 with a pledge of $500,000 over three years.

Executive Vice President Gary Brown, Ph.D., said prior to that decision, Mercyhurst occasionally made donations of police vehicles and also gave the city a subsidy when the college decided not to host the annual fireworks display.

This year’s donation is a $25,000 increase from last year, but according to Provost James Adovasio, Ph.D., it is still a “modest” donation for the amount of services Mercyhurst receives.

“If we collectively, as colleges and universities, expect the same level of services, then it’s appropriate that we would be increasing our donations during these tough economic times,” said Adovasio. “We would be very hard put if the city didn’t respond to a fire or disturbance on campus.”

Gannon University and LECOM also donate to the city, and according to Adovasio, this type of donation is common for colleges across the country.

“Various schools and universities work out their own idiosyncratic relationship with the municipalities they’ve been working with,” he said.

However, some people in the Erie community have raised a debate over the fairness of Pennsylvania’s tax exempt policy. Erie Times-News Managing Editor Pat Howard argued this view in an opinion article that ran in the Erie Times-News on Sept. 25.

Howard said, “Most everyone acknowledges that the colleges, hospitals and the rest are community treasures as well as economic drivers, but at some point the costs they shift onto the city’s struggling tax base fail the test of basic fairness.”

He noted that 30.1 percent of the city’s property is tax exempt and that Mercyhurst is only contributing 5 percent of the almost $2 million it would have to pay the county, city and school district.

Gamble defended the state’s policy in his speech and said it has helped produce a vibrant and effective nonprofit sector.

“We see this as a completely voluntary gift. We believe that nonprofits should be tax exempt… As a result of the tax exempt status, we can relieve the government of doing some of the kinds of things it would otherwise have to do,” Gamble said.

He emphasized that in addition to financial donations, Mercyhurst makes significant contributions to the community through service projects, cultural performances and athletic events.