Some universities owe Boston more

October 9, 2009
By

The article about PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) in the Sept. 25 JP Gazette highlighted an opportunity for Boston’s City Council: When it comes to paying for the city services they benefit from, Boston’s universities are far below where they should be, paying only 4 percent of assessed value on the prime real estate they own. I believe the City Council should do more to help increase a revenue stream the city cannot afford to overlook.

Many institutions contribute fairly, but there are stragglers. The city assessor has made a good start at identifying them, and the council can help by putting pressure on schools like Harvard University and Northeastern University. Though it owns $1.4 billion in tax-exempt real estate, Northeastern paid a paltry $30,600 in Fiscal Year 2009, according to the assessor’s interim report online at Cityofboston.gov/assessing.

The city has no power to compel payment in lieu of taxes by non-profit institutions, but a good public reputation is precious to these high-profile universities. City councilors therefore have a bully pulpit to pressure schools to do the right thing. When a public light shines on the laggards, we can hope their faculty, students and alumni donors will pressure administrators to make things right with the city.

If I am one of the four at-large councilors elected this Nov. 3, I pledge to be an effective voice for fair and equitable PILOT contributions. With the cost of higher education beyond most families’ means, perhaps universities could offer a tuition discount to the children of Boston taxpayers.

Boston’s universities are a jewel of the city. But with our own public schools at the point of laying off teachers, the city can ill afford to let some universities skate on their obligations, while tax-paying families suffer.

Andrew Kenneally
Boston City Council candidate, At-Large
Boston