PILOT contributions in Southborough fall short of other towns

by susan on September 8, 2010

The fact that St. Mark’s School doesn’t pay property taxes to the town has been a topic of conversation lately here on the blog. It’s anything but a new subject. We’ve talked about it before, and last year the town put together a committee to look at the voluntary contributions St. Mark’s and the other big non-profits in town — Fay School, The New England School for Children, and Harvard University — make to the town.

Last night the committee presented their final report to the Board of Selectmen, and turns out relative to other towns with similar non-profit institutions, donations in Southborough fall short.

Institutions that are tax-exempt like St. Mark’s typically make voluntary donations to the town called payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT contributions. All of the major tax exempt institutions in Southborough make PILOT contributions, but the amounts vary widely, and according to the PILOT Committee’s report, generally lag behind what other towns get.

I haven’t read the committee’s report from cover-to-cover (although you can here), but here are some numbers that I pulled from it.

In 2010, St. Mark’s donated $20K to the general fund and $10K toward the purchase of a new ladder truck. Fay School also gave $10K to the ladder truck, but nothing to the general fund. Harvard University contributed nearly $35K split between the general fund and the ladder truck fund. The highest contributor in town, NECC gave just over $80K to the general fund and another $12K to the ladder truck fund.

So, for those of you keeping score, that’s $30K from St. Mark’s, $10K from Fay School, $35K from Harvard, and $92K from NECC.

Now compare that to the town of Andover, where Phillips Academy donates $150K to the town annually. In Ashburnham, Cushings Academy purchased a new public safety complex for the town at a cost of $2.7M. They also covered 50% of the cost of the town’s last two ladder trucks. The Lawrence Academy and the Groton School in Groton combined contribute $125K annually to the town.

“I think you’re generous when you say we’re falling short,” Selectman John Rooney told committee members of the comparisons made in the report.

A bulk of the donations in Southborough have gone to support the purchase of a new ladder truck. St. Mark’s and Fay have each pledged $100K total to the ladder truck fund to be paid out over 10 years. NECC said it will donate $120K over 10 years. Harvard has committed $50K over three years. Fay announced last year that they would also donate $100K to a new public safety complex over the next 10 years.

The report noted that towns with legally-binding PILOT agreements are typically more successful. In Southborough, NECC is the only tax-exempt institution that has such an agreement. NECC currently accounts for 75% of the town’s PILOT contributions.

After hearing the report, the Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to transition the PILOT committee into a working group that would initiate conversations with the tax-exempt organizations in town.

Rooney said the town gets a benefit from the institutions being in town, but so does the town benefit the institutions. “It’s a symbiotic relationship,” he said. “It’s not us versus them.”

1 Mike Jr. September 8, 2010 at 1:46 PM

Do any of the dept heads ( Fire, Police, Highway, ) track what these institutions cost the town ,
How many times a year does the Fire -Police depts send personal to ST Marks or Fay as compared to another part of town consisting of the same area or population. I’m willing to bet that those two schools tax the services of Southborough well beyond what they contribute. I for one get tired of watching the police set up radar in front of St Marks, Speeding is such a major problem in town, that to spend so much time on an area of roadway thats pays almost nothing in taxes seems useless to me.

2 dope September 9, 2010 at 9:24 AM

With all due respect I’m not sure your question about how much the non-profits use the fire and police department is on point.

The annual cost for the PD and FD in any one year is pretty much the same regardless of their level of activity and attempting to allocate that cost on a per call basis is problematic.

At one extreme, assume there is one call in any one year to which both the PD and FD respond. The cost per call in that year is their entire budget. The costs to maintain both departments are more similar to the premium we pay on an insurance policy that we hope we never need.

In my view, unless there is an argument to be made that the property and assets held by non-profits is in some way materially different than that of the other residential and commercial property in town, the most straightforward way to estimate the costs they incur is by looking at the assessed value of the property they hold (+-10% per the PILOT article) relative to the total assessed value of all the property in town.

3 djd66 September 8, 2010 at 3:17 PM

335 students x $43,600 = $14,600,000.00 And they were generous enough to “donate” $20,000.00 ??? They are a “not for profit” institution and they do not have to give the town a dime,… but I’m just saying,… Its nice that they have that sustainable lawn in the town center,… How about helping to sustain our town.

4 Jeremiah Mass September 8, 2010 at 3:49 PM

St. Mark’s self-proclaimed “meadow” is one piece of their land that town residents use (or make that “used”). Their annual financial contribution to the town approximates the amount of taxes paid by some of the towns’ homeowners. And yet, they stop caring for a piece of land that sits at the center of town and effectively remove this land from use by town residents. I can’t wait to frolic in the meadow on Heritage Day and watch Santa stumble through the frozen weeds on Santa Day.

5 Mike Hanigan September 8, 2010 at 6:38 PM

Now let’s see how the private school apologists including handle this! How will Advisory guru John Butler spin this?

6 Jerry September 9, 2010 at 12:30 AM

Butler’s one of the only people commenting on this site who give us useful information.

7 H.A.B. September 8, 2010 at 6:47 PM

Both schools should be ashamed for donating less than the cost of one year of tuition for one student to the town. Very stingy. And yes, that stupid “meadow” looks disqusting.

8 Seymour Goode September 8, 2010 at 7:16 PM

Whoa! What a difference. Pretty niggardly of them, huh? Bah, Humbug and all that, but “what goes around, comes around.”

Too bad the people can’t “make ’em” pay a decent share for use of public facilities.

9 PDB September 8, 2010 at 10:19 PM

Does St. Marks or Fay offer discounts to Southborough residents, courses or programs to the public, or any other outreach that benefits the town? I may not be paying close enough attention, and I have only been in town two summers, but nothing particularly well publicized jumps out at me. Unless their financial positions are particularly dire, they should both increase their contribuitons and/or promote other value to the town.

10 Trixie September 9, 2010 at 1:18 PM

I don’t know if it is still ongoing but a few years ago at St Mark’s there was limited use of the ice rink for town lessons on Sunday nights and free skating during Christmas break. Youth lacrosse used the cage and some of the athletic fields. I am not aware of any town use of Fay facilities.

11 Al Hamilton September 10, 2010 at 8:37 AM

In the past Fay made its gyms available for youth basketball programs, I am not sure of the status now and it may be less of a benefit now that all our schools are built out.

12 Pam September 9, 2010 at 6:54 AM

Legally-binding PILOT agreements sounds like the way to go. MAKE them pay. This is shameful.

13 Al Hamilton September 10, 2010 at 9:03 AM

The deck is stacked against us. I for one would be willing to call it a day if the faculty & staff residences were taxed at their fair market value. However, making that mandatory would require an act of the Legislature and you can be sure that Harvard, MIT, BU, BC, ect, and a host of churches, temples and mosques would scream foul.

On the other hand I don’t think the town should provide any permit that is not due to one of these institutions by right (eg zoning variance) unless they have a PILOT agreement in place.

14 Long time resident September 9, 2010 at 7:50 PM

So I just got finished watching the bos meeting on cable on the Pilot issue. A lot happens at these meetings that the paper and this site doesn’t report. I’ve got to tell you, although I didn’t vote for Rooney because I knew nothing about him, I understand why so many people did.

I either attend or watch the bos meetings on tv. In the past they were frustrating and boring because it seemed like nothing ever happened. I actually now look forward to each meeting and I think everyone should. Rooney offers a different approach to this stuff. He is very prepared, wastes no time, asks hard questions, and doesn’t have a problem disagreeing with the other two and then tells you why he disagrees. Decisions are now being made and not just delayed.

A real good example is this Pilot thing. Watch the meeting the next time it is on. They rerun them all the time. The other two members were just going to file the report away. That is how it was done in the past. The other two also thought the bos should only deal with the Pilot issue. Rooney was the one who thoroughly went through the report, and asked the committee questions. When the other two had nothing to offer about the report, he argued for the town to be proactive and discussed ways to approach the nonpaying places. He also said that if the bos had been the ones who handled the Pilot payments in the past, they did a terrible job. These are things people do not know if they do not attend or watch. Also, keep watching this meeting. He dealt with a resident’s water issue that had been before the bos for 6 years (yes, SIX years) and in minutes proposed a solution to solve the problem. Then his questions on the Triangle were righton and questions I have had, like asking the final price tag, the costs to maintain the area, and why rusted metal?

I am sure many of you have not seen what goes on at these meetings and get your information from the paper or this site. I think you will get a better understanding of how this town is operating if you go to the meeting or watch on television. Don’t just rely on what you read.

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