A move by the Scranton City Council to withhold zoning variances from tax-exempt groups in the region has gained the attention of state and national nonprofit groups, the Scranton Times Tribune reports.
According to a recent newsletter from the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations, the city council in Scranton said it would oppose any zoning changes sought by local nonprofits, which, like most nonprofits, are not required to pay property taxes. But the Times Tribune reports that what the city council actually did was agree to send a letter to the city zoning board asking to be given notice of any applications for variances filed by a nonprofit. Council solicitor Boyd Hughes would then move to oppose the variance.
The move sparked concerns at the National Council of Nonprofits, which has been monitoring the tax policy tug-of-war between nonprofits and revenue-starved municipalities in Pennsylvania and across the country. But David L. Thompson, NCN's vice president for public policy, said Scranton has taken its anti-nonprofit rhetoric further than most communities.
"The variance thing is as close to extortion as you can get and may cross the line," said Thompson. "[The Scranton City Council is] focusing on a sector of the economy and saying, 'We can't get you legally, so we're going to do it from the bully pulpit.'"