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University contributes $5.5 million to area

Jenn Metz | Friday, September 4, 2009

The University’s $5.5 million in contributions to local communities demonstrate Notre Dame’s “commitment to leadership,” University President Fr. John Jenkins said in a June 29 press conference.

The voluntary contributions will be distributed over the next 10 years to the cities of South Bend and Mishawaka, the town of Roseland and to St. Joseph County.

The unrestricted funds will be provided in increments of $500,000 in each of the first five years, increasing to $600,000 annually in the second five years and may be used as needed by the municipalities, according to a University press release.

“We have full confidence that local government leaders know how these funds can best be used for the good of their constituents,” Jenkins said. “We hope and believe that these funds will make a positive difference in our community.”

University Spokesperson Dennis Brown described the variety of ways in which Notre Dame contributes to the local community in an e-mail message to The Observer. With an annual economic impact of $873 million, the University accounts for more than 12,000 jobs in St. Joseph County and draws more than 685,000 visitors from outside the county who spend roughly $114 million at off-campus retailers.

Notre Dame also contributes more than 373,000 work hours through student volunteerism and has accounted for more than $12 million over the past five years in local taxes, Brown said.

University-backed initiatives such as the Robinson Community Learning Center, the Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization Organization and, more recently, MetroNet, Eddy Street Commons and Innovation Park also assist local municipalities, Brown said.

However, the contribution of $5.5 million over 10 years is “a more direct financial commitment, and it is provided with the sincere intent to be a valuable partner in the community,” Brown said.

The current state of the nation’s economy was a factor in the decision, Brown said.

“We are also keenly aware of the extraordinary financial hardships our local communities are facing. And we, too, have felt the brunt of the financial crisis,” he said. “So, we hope and think that this contribution comes at a particularly important time as our local government officials continue their work to provide services to the community.”

Mayor Stephen Luecke of South Bend said the city is “deeply grateful for the University’s contribution” especially because this is a time where the budget is under “severe stress.”

Mishawaka Mayor Jeffrey Rea echoed his neighbor’s sentiments, thanking the University for “recognizing these are difficult times for local governments.”

Brown said University officers were behind the decision, and the contributions are being pooled from the University General Fund.

He said the amount was decided upon because “the University sought to make a contribution that was fair and meaningful.”

First checks were mailed to municipalities this summer, Brown said.

“We trust that the funds will be used in a meaningful way, and there is no requirement that the communities report to use how that plays out,” he said.

Luecke told The Observer the city will first use the funds to cover costs for providing overtime traffic police for home football games – amounting to slightly less than half of this year’s allocation.

“I think it’s appropriate to use the money for a service that supports our relations with the University,” he said.

The remaining funds will reduce budget gaps for police, fire and parks departments, he said.

“These are important for the quality of life in South Bend,” Luecke said.

Luecke said this is the first instance of the University providing direct financial contributions for the city.

“We are certainly grateful for the understanding of Fr. Jenkins,” he said.

Rea described the contribution as a “welcome surprise” and told The Observer the municipality is not yet sure how it will spend the money, but indicated funds will likely be directed to city promotions.

“What the University does is bring people to our area, so we would like to have information available on different things they can do while they’re in our area,” he said.

Though the amount is “significant,” it will not fund any long-term expenses, he said.

The clerk treasurer of Roseland, Susan Hammons, told The Observer the funds were used for payroll for staff in the police department because revenue from annual state income taxes has not yet been distributed.

Therefore, the money from the University was a “good surprise,” she said.

President of the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners Bob Kovach said St. Joseph County has not yet determined how it will use the money.

“The County Council is the county’s fiscal body, so the board of commissioners […] could make a recommendation and then it would be up to the county council fiscal body to make actual appropriation,” he said.

Brown said the University has received comments regarding the contribution, and most have been in support.

Madeline Buckley

contributed to this report.