City Council member David A. Clarke, suggesting that the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington no longer serves its original charitable purpose, said last night that city finance officials should reconsider whether YMCA buildings here are entitled to their current tax exemption of nearly $200,000 a year.
However, council member John A. Wilson, chairman of the finance and revenue commmittee, said that he will not attempt to remove the YMCA's tax-exempt status by legislation, in part because influential members of Congress--whom he would not name--had "pressured" him to leave the YMCA alone.
The council members' statements came during a four-hour hearing of Wilson's committee to consider whether the YMCA should retain tax-exempt status in the District. The hearing, called at Clarke's request, was prompted by the Feb. 23 closing of the Anthony Bowen YMCA branch in the Shaw area.
Despite a tentative agreement announced last month to open temporary YMCA facilities in the Shaw area and to start raising funds for a new Bowen building, Clarke said the city, nonetheless, should reexamine the tax exemption on the YMCA's downtown headquarters because that facility, he said, no longer serves youths.
"I think you have a serious problem here," Clarke told Thomas B. Hargrave Jr., the YMCA president. Hargrave testified for nearly 45 minutes in an effort to persuade the committee that the Bowen closing was unavoidable and that the YMCA still serves the benevolent ends for which it was chartered in the 1860s.
Clarke said "the Department of Finance and Revenue can make a case that none of your properties qualifies for tax exemption." The YMCA's 1892 articles of incorporation declare it to be dedicated to improving the lives of young men, he said, but the YMCA's downtown facility--assessed at $8.2 million--rarely accommodates young people, and also charges membership fees that make it inaccessible to many city residents.
Wilson said that while Clarke would ask finance officials to review administratively whether the YMCA buildings should be exempt, he said he would not attempt to alter District law to make the YMCA pay taxes.
"The intimidation that has come from Capitol Hill is absolutely disgusting," he said. But Wilson refused to identify who had pressured him or how.