Amherst Town Meeting backs PILOT bill

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Published: 6/6/2016 10:35:37 PM

AMHERST – Town Meeting overwhelmingly supports state legislation that would allow communities to collect payment-in-lieu-of-taxes on property owned by nonprofit organizations, including Amherst and Hampshire colleges.

At the ninth and final session of annual Town Meeting on Monday, members voted 146-7 in favor of having the state adopt a law that would give communities the option to assess payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) at 25 percent of the full value for property held by nonprofits. 

Vincent O’Connor of Precinct 1, who sponsored the resolution, argued that school funding cuts and a backlog of road repairs are attributable to the loss of taxes from nonprofits.

“There needs to be a carrot-and-stick approach to the nonprofits in Amherst that take up so much of the land base of the town that it is difficult for the town to not have what is really a structural deficit,” O'Connor said.

House 2584 was filed by state Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, on behalf of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, was sent to committee and will not be acted on by the Legislature before the end of the current session.

Bonnie MacCracken of Precinct 6 said Town Meeting action would encourage Kulik to refile the bill for the next ledgislative session beginning in 2017 so that towns like Amherst can begin paying for needs, such as a new fire station.

O’Connor said the bill is similar to the program started by Northampton Mayor David J. Narkewicz under which nonprofits are being asked to voluntarily provide payments to the city.

A second petition article sponsored by O’Connor asking the town to adopt a bylaw that would force the University of Massachusetts to cover the full costs of educating public school children living in tax-exempt housing  was defeated, 115-29.

O'Connor said this would give school officials a seat at the table to discuss with UMass the education of students who come from non-taxable student housing. There are about 45 such students in the elementary schools and six to eight in the regional schools.

But Select Board member Andrew Steinberg said the bylaw is unnecessary and not in the town’s interest, since “it would allocate revenue directly to Amherst’s regional schools.”

Peter Hechenbleikner, interim town manager, said under a strategic partnership signed in December between the town and university, UMass already has agreed to pay $120,000 annually to educate these children.

In other business, Town Meeting dismissed an article that would have compelled elected members to follow the same rules governing declaring conflicts of interest as all other town officials.

Kevin Collins of Precinct 5 submitted the petition, arguing that members should say if they have a conflict of interest when voting.

But Select Board member Constance Kruger said state law sets a different standard of conduct for Town Meeting members and that approving the measure would create too many gray areas for  members.

Arguing against the petition, Janet McGowan of Precinct 8 said Town Meeting members should not be forced to abstain every time they believe there might be self-interest in a vote.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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