New City Councilors support taxing schools

by Beacon Staff • October 14, 2007

The four councilors-at-large, as well as several district councilors, said they believe local colleges and universities need to start paying property taxes, from which they are currently exempt.,Newly elected and re-elected city council members are eager to see Boston's colleges and universities start paying more in property taxes and in damages the councilors say students cause the city.

The four councilors-at-large, as well as several district councilors, said they believe local colleges and universities need to start paying property taxes, from which they are currently exempt. Currently colleges, including Emerson, make payments-in-lieu-of-taxes, known as PILOT, which are negotiated with the city independent of the tax code.

Newcomer John R. Connolly, who defeated incumbent Felix Arroyo for the fourth councilor-at-large position, highlighted the lack of cooperation between the colleges and the city during his campaign.

"The real connections between the institutions and the city.are too few in number and too limited in focus," Connolly told Boston University's Daily Free Press in October. "I believe that colleges and universities should pay their fair share of taxes."

He said increased property taxes would not likely result in an increase in tuition for students.

Seth Andrea McCoy, Councilor Stephen Murphy's director of media relations, said Murphy has been working with the mayor's office for two years to increase the percentage of taxes colleges pay.

"The problem is that colleges don't pay enough money to make up for all the property they occupy," McCoy said. She said Murphy will continue to work with the mayor's office, but does not yet have a proposal in writing.

Councilor Michael Ross of District 8 and Councilor Chuck Turner of District 7, whose constituencies cover Roxbury, Mission Hill, Fenway and both the South and West ends, agreed with the councilors-at-large.

"The councilor definitely believes that colleges should either pay their property taxes or provide some other service to the community in lieu of taxes," said Ross' Director of Community Relations Johanna Sena.

Other members are concerned with different areas of the colleges' contributions to the city. Councilor-at-large Michael Flaherty recently drafted a proposal that would hold colleges responsible for the damages that he says students cause, especially during sports celebrations like the World Series parade the Red Sox held in October.

An official assessment of student damages will be proposed at a hearing within weeks, said Andrew Kenneally, Flaherty's policy director.

Kenneally also said Flaherty intends to discuss new formulas for the non-tax payments schools make to the city. According to the proposal, taxes paid by regular citizens were being used for the extra security that comes with the out-of-control celebrations that often occur after a popular sports victory, which he said have happened six times since 2001.

"Students attending the city's colleges and universities are frequently the perpetrators of celebration-related disruptions, which often result in arrests, injuries and costly and extensive damage to nearby cars, motorcycles and trees," the proposal reads.

While admitting students are to blame for much of the damage caused to the city, Sena said she preferred to talk about them in a more positive light.

"Their vitality, the life these students bring to the neighborhoods-they're customers," she said. "While they are young and do cause problems that the city has to pay for, they still positively contribute to the community."

Councilor Turner said he agreed with Flaherty's proposal and expressed his displeasure with colleges expanding their campuses.

"There's a lot of wear and tear done to this city by students," he said. "It's only fair that they pay more than what they are now. Expansion is a major problem for the city. When colleges move into a community, they create a climate that leads to more destruction."

The councilor also said colleges are forcing up costs by using services for which they aren't paying taxes. Taxpayers, he argued, are the people being forced to pick up the slack.

Deanna Kaplan, a sophomore and member of the Emerson Democrats, disagrees with increasing taxes on colleges.

"I agree that colleges should be held accountable for any damage their students may have caused, just like any person should, but I don't think that raising property taxes is the way to go about doing it," the broadcast journalism major said. "I don't think it's fair to colleges in general."