Times are changing, and Groton must adapt or die.
Groton faces a few significant challenges, and the greatest is school funding. Groton must increase funding to the G-DRSD and decrease its municipal budget. The total dollars available are based on the amount of money Groton will receive over the year. Most of this is property tax. Some of it is car taxes and dog taxes. And some of the money comes from gifts or PILOTs, payments in lieu of taxes, from nonprofit organizations.
Groton is a community. If the town thrives, all members benefit, including our educational institutions, our religious institutions, and our scientific institutions.
The Town of Groton is in partnership with GELD and MIT and Grotonwood, Groton School, and Lawrence Academy, etc. The town provides services, and these organizations try to compensate us in a reasonable manner.
GELD is an incredible partner. Beyond all of their service to the town, even a reduced PILOT payment in FY13 was still more than 40% of its land assessment, and their projection for FY14 is at 83%.
MIT is already beyond the 25% level with their payments — clearly a good neighbor, a good partner.
Even under the strain of increased health care costs to its clients, Seven Hills contributes 20%. As a policy, the people of Groton should certainly not ask this facility to contribute more.
The Groton School gives the Town of Groton the most of any nonprofit organization — $100,000 per year. This is 6% of its assessment. Lawrence Academy and Grotonwood Baptist Camp also pay around that 6% number. Should they pay more? It doesn’t seem reasonable to demand 25% from these locations. Is there a more appropriate number than 6%?
We would have an answer if Groton had a defined policy on this matter. We need a defined policy, because times are changing.
1) In 2011, the city of Boston asked organizations to voluntarily agree to a PILOT at 25% of assessed value. Boston University President Robert A. Brown understood the partnership between the city and the organization, stating “My primary goal in life is to make Boston University a better institution, but it can only be a better institution if the city thrives.” If the president of Boston University recognizes this inherent partnership, we must assume that our esteemed academic and scientific organizations recognize it as well.
2) In 2013, both the MA House (H2642) and MA Senate (S1308) proposed a limit to the exemption for those organizations covered under Clause 3 of Section 5. (A call to the State House for status indicated that The Joint Committee on Revenue should be reporting on this next week.) This bill, if allowed to proceed and passed, would allow the Town of Groton to collect up to 25% of the assessed amount! Of course, the people of Groton would be able to make specific exclusions — and this is where a defined policy matters.
You see, these organizations are good partners, and raw money cannot determine this. They donate funds to specific projects through out the town. They provide day care services, summer camps, community gatherings, and even tennis courts. They increase our prestige, which helps Groton attract new residents. They are good neighbors, and many of us would love to live next to them.
Right now, the tax payers of the town are being asked to pay more and more of their income to support our schools, our infrastructure, and our safety. This leaves less for ourselves, less for our kids. We do this because we participate in the Groton community. These nonprofit organizations are parts of this community, and they do benefit the town. Groton must thrive for them to fulfill their goals.
The Board of Selectmen must work with the nonprofit partners to develop a PILOT policy. This policy cannot be based simply on numbers. It must also be based on qualitative values. If we get wrapped up in the quantity, we can lose sight of the benefits and non-monetary contributions these organizations give to our town.
The Board of Selectmen must form a special commission to determine Groton’s policy on PILOT. This commission must involve our nonprofit partners, members of the public, and appropriate critical thinkers from the Groton Finance Committee and Board of Selectmen.
If elected in May, I will champion such a commission, and make sure that the result is a reasonable and effective policy. We must allow Groton and its nonprofit partners to thrive by working together for a better tomorrow.
Barry A. Pease
Candidate for Board of Selectman, Town of Groton.