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Deborah Denhart: Northampton should receive more financial help from Smith College

To the editor:

A property tax override need not be the only strategy for securing additional revenue for the Northampton public schools. I believe it is time for Smith College to voluntarily make an annual, financial commitment to help support the public schools.

There is no doubt that Smith contributes to the intellectual and creative vibrancy of Northampton in many ways and pays some local taxes and fees. However, what Smith contributes to the city is minimal compared to the multi-million dollar annual property tax break it receives via its nonprofit status.

Across the country there is growing research and recognition that colleges like Smith should do more to contribute to local revenue to help support public schools in their communities. In over 120 cities across the U.S., colleges and universities are making voluntary payments in lieu of taxes, also known as PILOT payments. In Boston, under the mayor’s leadership, Boston colleges and universities make annual voluntary financial PILOT payments to the city that equal 25 percent of the property taxes they would owe if their real-estate holdings were fully taxable (in fiscal year 2011 that totaled $10 million, with Boston University alone providing $5 million). Those colleges will continue these voluntary payments annually, thereby contributing to the long-term fiscal health and stability of the public schools.

Revenue from Smith College will not solve the schools’ financial problems, but should be one component of a long-term revenue-generating strategy that will reduce the need for a property tax override every several years. PILOT payments from Smith will help relieve the strain on residential and commercial taxpayers and improve the fiscal picture for the schools.

I hope the college will partner with the city and schools to provide financial support in a manner that is voluntarily, transparent and reliable over the long haul.

Deborah Denhart

Northampton

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