Apply for the PILOT Committee (Updated)

The Town is starting to form - but hasn't promoted - the Committee approved by Town Meeting

Nothing has yet been advertised (or is even shown as possible) for residents to apply for seats on the Town’s new PILOT Committee. Yet, at this week’s meeting, the Select Board Chair indicated they were waiting for more people to apply.

The at large seats are open to three residents:

representing the tax-payers of Southborough, without any financial relationship with St. Mark’s, Fay School or New England Center for Children

[Editor’s Note: The below paragraph was true when I wrote the post on Thursday morning. On Friday morning, the Town Clerk notified me that he updated volunteer form and the the commitee lists on the Town website to address the issues I raised here. And he assured that he ” will be responsible for handling this moving forward”.]**

As of this morning, there isn’t an obvious way to apply. However, you can use the Town’s Citizen Activity form (here) and note in the Narrative field that you are seeking a position on the PILOT Committee.

Petitioners originally hoped that the Committee’s role would include discussions with the non-profit private schools to increase their Payments In Lieu of Taxes. However, the Attorney General made changes to the bylaw before approving it. Instead, the committee will focus on putting together information to help the Select Board in its negotiations:

A. Research and examine how other towns in Massachusetts approach their local large nonprofit entities in regard to financial support from those nonprofit entities to pay for the taxpayer funded Town services they use, and examine any formal or informal agreements such towns may have;

B. Compare the funding received from nonprofits throughout the State of Massachusetts to their local communities with the funding received from nonprofits within Southborough;

C. Examine State Code regarding requirements for, and benefits of, nonprofit status within Massachusetts.

The charge in the Article requires that “No later than forty-five (45) days after the Attorney General’s approval of this article, the Select Board will appoint members of this committee”. Yet the first mention of the approved committee at a Select Board meeting was made 69 days after the Town was notified of the AG’s approval on November 23rd..

It’s worth noting that the AG’s changes also included removing motivation for meeting the deadline. The following section was struck:

if the Select Board is not able, or chooses not, to properly establish such a committee within 45 days of the Attorney General’s approval of this article, another elected Town Official or elected Town Board may accept responsibility for, and organize, such Standing Committee.

On Tuesday night, the Select Board appointed their representative for the PILOT Committee, Chair Kathy Cook. Members agreed with Cook’s assessment that as the current liaison to the private schools she was the most appropriate choice.

Cook followed, “when people start filling out the forms, we’ll start appointing other people.” She also noted that a couple of forms had already come in.

There was no discussion about making the public aware of the opportunity. 

As of this morning, not only has the Town failed to promote* the at-large seats — but all indications to the public on the Town website are that the committee doesn’t exist.

The Citizen Activity form to apply to join committees has a checklist of committees to apply to join. The PILOT Committee isn’t on it. (I assume those who have applied either emailed the Board or used the “Narrative” field that is meant for sharing “how much time you have available and any education, experience or special skills that may be relevant to the Committee(s) you are interested in.”.)

On the Town’s page listing vacant committee seats the PILOT Committee is missing. Elsewhere on the website, the Town’s list of committees and boards lists a PILOT Committee. But it is labeled as “Dissolved”. 

(It appears the dissolved committee refers to the one the Select Board began to form in 2019 after Town Meeting voted for one to be created. However, that was a non-binding vote and the Board changed its mind. In contrast, the version passed in 2022 was written to be added to the Town Bylaws.)

The Committee’s charge also calls for members representing Capital Planning, Council on Aging, and the Historical Commission.

On Tuesday, Town Administrator Mark Purple noted that the night before, the Capital Improvement and Planning Committee selected its representative (Joe Palmer). That was part of the newly formed CIPC’s first official meeting. (The standing committee was created to replace the former ad-hoc committee.)

On Tuesday, the Board and Purple couldn’t recall what all of the other committees were. But Cook assured they’d figure it out and “get them”. They plan to approve any that are selected in time at their February 7th meeting.

The Board wasn’t supportive of the PILOT Committee Article at Town Meeting. As I noted above, original language included directly involving the Committee in the discussions with the schools. The Board has been employing the “successful” model set by former member Marty Healey, One member is deemed a liaison to meet with the school while avoiding Public Meeting requirements. Healey had advocated that private talks are more productive for negotiations.

*No mention of the Committee has been made through the Town’s twitter account or under the News Flash section of the Town’s website. There hasn’t even been a generic promotion of volunteering for Town Committee vacancies since the AG authorized its formation.

**Updated (2/3/23 9:16 am): In the story, I referred to issues on the Town website. As I noted above, this morning, Town Clerk Jim Hegarty told me that he fixed those issues and will be responsible for keeping those updated moving forward.

(image of hand from public domain image by Karen Arnold)

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