Mayor's task force to explore tax options for local nonprofit groups

Tuesday January 8, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi has begun assembling a task force to assess the potential for payments in lieu of taxes from nonprofit organizations in the city.

In mid-December, the City Council unanimously voted to request a study of the issue, based on a similar effort in Boston that resulted in 2011 in a more formal program for asking nonprofits to contribute on a voluntary basis in lieu of taxes. Property owned by nonprofits normally would not require payment of real estate taxes.

Bianchi said Monday he has confirmations from three members of the task force and has other requests out, including to the Central Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, which has a subcommittee on nonprofit organizations.

Raymond Costello and Robert Meyers, both retirees who worked in finance positions during their careers, and Shaun McHugh, commercial and industrial real estate specialist with the assessor’s office, will be on the committee, Bianchi said.

"I would like over the next month to get the committee [make-up] nailed down, and to have a meeting," he said.

Bianchi expects members of the study group will be volunteers who will have technical and other support from municipal staff members.

First, the group will assess "what it is in front of them to look at," the mayor said. Topics are likely to include determining how many nonprofits own property in the city, what are the current assessed values, and "what would be a reasonable approach" to asking nonprofits for annual payments.

In Boston, the effort led to the identification of all nonprofits in the city owning property and to a formula for requesting payments in lieu of taxes -- sought in essence because of the public services municipal government provides.

For fiscal 2012, so-called PILOT payments rose in Boston by 28.4 percent to $19.5 million, according to the city’s website, and the amount is expect to rise over the next few years under the formula used.

At some point, a framework for how such a program might be set up will be sent to the City Council for input, Bianchi said. "This should be a pretty dynamic process," he said.

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, who along with Councilor at-Large Melissa Mazzeo proposed a study of nonprofit contributions, said, "It’s good to see the mayor respond quickly to our request."

Krol said he hopes the task force model used in Boston is followed as a model as it produced a successful program there.

"I’m really glad to hear that," Mazzeo said of the task force formation. "I had wanted to touch base with the mayor about it."

She said she hopes the process includes input from area state lawmakers and research into what is being done in other states as well as in Boston.

As a bottom line, Mazzeo said she hopes the task force can determine the number and type of nonprofits as a basis for discussion about voluntary contributions from those organizations capable of helping the city meet it obligations.


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