It’s crisis mode for the non-profits

For nearly one month now, a small part of what the area’s cultural future holds has been tied to a “For sale” sign. On the inside, the Adams Art Gallery is in shambles. Walls are damaged. The roof is leaking. The plumbing is shot.

It is another former community asset that has suffered as a region once dotted with major business and industry now clings to a precious few. It is a cruel trickle-down effect.

When business and industry continues to disappear from an area, needs increase as well. We have documented many times the high poverty rate in this county.

Do not kid yourself. High taxes promote poverty. Enormous burdens of too many school districts and municipalities add to that high-tax burden.

Now, the non-profit sector is feeling a tremendous pinch. This is not about whether our area can support an art gallery. This is about what lies ahead for groups and organizations that rely on fund-raising and volunteers.

“We just can’t afford it anymore,” said Christopher Schaeffer, president of the Access to the Arts, which owns the gallery property at Sixth Street and Central Avenue in Dunkirk. “We don’t have enough money coming in from donations and there’s not enough money available in grants.

“Grant money is pretty much for programming, not for infrastructure, so it’s really tough to get money to replace the roof and do the plumbing, upgrade everything, that’s required. There’s just not enough cash, so the building is more of a liability for us at this point. We’re looking to sell the building so we can use the money to finance our mission, so we can continue to provide arts education to the community.”

Some may blame volunteers at the gallery or those associated with it. But the fact remains a lack of investment – or as Schaeffer referred to in the June 1 article as “deep pockets” – will continue to hinder the area.

Taxes are not an investment. They are a drain. A drain on charities. A drain on business.

Taxes are not new money. It is money being recirculated. Charities and non-profits cannot survive on those recirculated funds.

Those notoriously high taxes are why residents have heard County Executive Vince Horrigan talk about growing the county. With the population exodus over the last 40 years – a drop from 150,000 to 134,000 – the county, the school districts and municipalities are taxing the same people for more money every year – and that’s not counting the other fees.

More non-profits will be facing that same fate as Adams Art Gallery in the coming years. With the closing of Carriage House, a lot less money will be going to fund those non-profit initiatives.

In all my years with United Way of Northern Chautauqua County, Carriage House was one of the shining stars. Many of those workers donated to help with our cause of giving to other agencies.

Who will fill that void? If you think it will come from employees of the school districts or municipalities, think again. Many employed at those entities, who do not even live in this county, do not give to non-profit campaigns. Many of those who lead the entities – especially those who make the six-figure salaries – are so worried about getting their funding one way or another that they don’t assist with other community causes.

That is unfortunate.

A number of non-profits today are faced with dwindling memberships and funding. Dunkirk Historical Society, which is hosting a Park in the Park Cruise-In from 4 to 8 p.m. today in Washington Park, is filled with treasures of important artifacts tied to how the city became a force in locomotives.

Who will fill that void if no one helps or donates?

Dunkirk Lighthouse receives more than 5,000 visitors internationally and from across this country. No one who is there is paid for the numerous hours of tours and attention given to the priceless facility.

Who will fill that void if no one helps or donates?

Adams Art Gallery’s status as well as other organizations are hamstrung by the community’s lack of “deep pockets.”

We have sat back for decades watching businesses and people leave for years due to the high cost of Western New York. Non-profit organizations here are endangered today like never before.

But don’t worry about all area schools and municipalities that collect millions from you annually but still cry they do not receive enough. The tax bill is their way of fund-raising.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.