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.”