Where’s the PILOT cash?

John Ruch

Nonprofits could pay $15m-$30m more; task force meeting often

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While the city faces more budget cuts and possible loss of such services as branch libraries, city officials are notably quiet about a once-prominent and still ongoing effort to get local colleges and hospitals to pay an additional $15 million to $30 million a year into city coffers.

Many large nonprofit institutions make a “payment in lieu of taxes,” or PILOT, to the city in exchange for the basic city services they consume. PILOT payments are widely criticized as shockingly low—the total paid to the city is about $15 million a year—and for being negotiated in secret meetings by unknown formulas with few records. PILOT payments were a major issue in last fall’s mayoral election, but have received little attention since then.

Mayor Thomas Menino about 14 months ago formed a PILOT Task Force to reform the system and boost the payments. City Councilor Steve Murphy, a member of the task force, told the Gazette in November that he believed the total PILOT payment would be boosted to about $32 million to $46 million, with an announcement coming by this February. That announcement didn’t happen, but Murphy also said he expected some results in time for this year’s city budget process, which usually wraps up in April or early May.

Menino’s office did not respond to Gazette requests for a PILOT Task Force update last week. Murphy spokesperson Seth McCoy had no comment beyond saying the task force continues to meet.

The city’s PILOT Task Force web site (www.cityofboston.gov/assessing/PILOT.asp) includes a meeting schedule and a sketchy form of meeting minutes, showing that the group continues to negotiate.

The meeting schedule suggests that a new PILOT system could be on the way in time for this year’s budget process. The PILOT Task Force met eight times in all of 2009, but has six meetings scheduled in the first five months of this year. The last scheduled meeting is May 3, around the time the city budget will be finalized.

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