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Date

7/2/2013

Title

Bryant's unjust treatment of Smithfield taxpayers

ShortDescription

We have the utmost respect for Bryant University and know that the Town of Smithfield is pleased to have the school as a resident. But it is not equitable that a property owner exempt from paying what would be about $2 million yearly in property taxes should at the same time receive services that are paid for by all the other residents of the town, both homeowners and businesses. That is why we sponsored legislation (which has become law) that will require the school to reimbuse the town for the actual cost of police, fire and rescue services to the campus.

Description

In recent days, the Providence Journal has published an editorial and printed an op-ed piece castigating the General Assembly for passing legislation that would allow the Town of Smithfield to bill Bryant University for the actual cost of police, fire and rescue service to the campus.


We, the sponsors of those bills in the Senate and House of Representatives, obviously and strenuously disagree with the opinion of the Journal editorial board and Mr. Michael E. Fisher, author of the op-ed article that appeared on July 10.

Truth be told, we also had to stifle some laughter over a number of the claims made in Mr. Fisher’s article – specifically that Bryant has been “engaging in productive discussions” with the town. Is it a “productive” discussion when the Smithfield Town Council – twice – invites the president of the university to discuss the matter and – twice –he fails to appear? Does the university truly “seek compromise” when, rather than having a frank and honest discussion with the town, it instead writes letters to the governor urging him to veto the bill, threatens court action or submits an article attacking the General Assembly’s “ham-handed maneuver,” calling the legislation “an attempt to shake down the university?”
      
For many years, Smithfield legislators have worked with Smithfield town officials to reach an understanding with Bryant about paying some fair amount to the community, in lieu of taxes, to acknowledge that, while it is a non-taxable institution, it is also a resident of this town and receives services from this town that are paid for with tax dollars. In all the years that the talking has gone on – although the talks have been one-sided since Bryant officials will not come to the table – every other higher education institution in this state has crafted a payment agreement with its home community. These institutions – Brown University and Providence College among them – are making payments that acknowledge, simply, that they owe something for the municipal services from which they benefit.
      
Some say it isn’t fair to compare Bryant to the schools in Providence because the campus configurations are different and because the financial challenges facing Providence are greater than those of Smithfield. Yet Roger Williams University in Bristol – more similar to Bryant than to the Providence institutions --  has a memorandum of agreement to pay its host community $150,000 yearly and an additional $100,000 over a five-year period to purchase a rescue vehicle. In addition, RWU provides four full and eight $10,000 scholarships to Bristol residents, tuition remission for town employees (including police and fire) and $25,000 for the 4th of July parade.
      
Mr. Fisher wrote that “Bryant is a powerful economic engine for Smithfield, providing jobs, attracting visitors and stimulating the local economy.” So too are Brown, RISD and PC powerful economic engines for the city of Providence, perhaps providing more stimulation to the Providence economy than does Bryant for Smithfield. Yet those institutions understand their value to the community does not come without a cost to the community.

We also would like to remind readers that about $110,000 of state money has been allocated to Bryant University to fund such programs as the Small Business Development Center and the John H. Chafee Center for International Business.
      
This is not about Bryant’s ability to afford a payment to the community. Some feel that an institution that can afford a high-paid State House lobbyist can afford to help Smithfield. We readily acknowledge that Bryant provides a scholarship to a graduating Smithfield High School student, and sponsors the town’s Fourth of July celebration and has proposed providing laptops to support Smithfield schools. 
      
Yet as gracious as all that may be, the university could arbitrarily decide to stop doing that at any time. And still, the town’s police, fire and rescue runs to the campus will continue because the town feels a moral and humane duty to provide these services to every property owner, every resident of the community. 
      
We have the utmost respect for Bryant and know that Smithfield is pleased to have the school as a resident. But it is not equitable that a property owner exempt from paying what would be about $2 million yearly in property taxes should at the same time receive services that are paid for by all the other residents of the town, both homeowners and businesses. 
      
Two final points:  
      
The legislation as approved by the General Assembly and recently signed into law by the governor does not change the tax-exempt status of the university, despite claims to the contrary.
      
The original legislation had set a date of July 1 of this year for Smithfield to begin the billing to the university. That was changed to March 1 of next year, in an attempt to offer the university even more time to “engage in productive discussions” and “seek compromise.” The university did neither, whether as a matter of arrogance or stubbornness. 
          

      
-30-

(Stephen Archambault is the State Senator from District 22, which includes Smithfield, Lincoln and North Providence. Thomas Winfield is the State Representative from District 53, which covers Smithfield and Glocester. Gregory Costantino is the State Representative from District 44, which includes Smithfield, Lincoln and Johnston.)​

Op-Ed By

By Sen. Stephen R. Archambault, Rep. Thomas Winfield and Rep. Gregory J. Costantino

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Created at 1/20/2014 7:18 AM by spadmin
Last modified at 1/20/2014 7:18 AM by spadmin