Letter: Williams College's efforts benefit Lanesborough

Williams efforts benefit Lanesborough

To the editor:

Leading up to the March 15 vote in Lanesborough on the Mt. Greylock building project, some officials have suggested that Williamstown should negotiate a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) system with Williams College. The result, in their eyes, would be to change the allocation between Lanesborough and Williamstown of the cost of the Mt. Greylock School building project. There is no reason to think this will happen.

In the 33 years that I have served on the Williamstown Finance Committee PILOTs have been suggested from time to time but there has never been a consensus of the committee about the wisdom of pursuing this avenue of financial support from the college. Simply, the financial support that the town receives from Williams annually exceeds any amount that could be received from a PILOT. It is a negative incentive to alumni giving for a college to be bound publicly to a PILOT program. Therefore Williams has an incentive to give an amount that is at least equal if not more than would be paid by a PILOT.

Williams does make an annual contribution to the Fire Department and Mt. Greylock Regional High School. It also pays substantial real estate taxes as well as water and sewer user fees and roadway building and infrastructure on town property impacted by college building activities. They also make annual and capital contributions to a variety of nonprofits in Williamstown and beyond.

By its reporting, these come to about $900,000 in annual payments and over the last decade an additional $10 million in capital commitments. The latter includes the recently announced $5 million for the capital needs of the Mt Greylock School District.

The college's presence and financial contributions make Williamstown a more desirable place to live, which increases property valuations, which helps Lanesborough by shifting more of Mt Greylock's capital costs to Williamstown. The property valuations also boost the mandated contribution to Greylock's annual operating budget as assessed by the state. For Williamstown this contribution results in an ever increasing disparity in the per pupil cost as opposed to Lanesborough.

By far the most effective way to limit the property tax effect for our low income neighbors is to approve the proposed project. Because of state reimbursement, the projected project cost to the district is around $35 million. The cost of simply renovating the existing building is estimated at $58 million, with no state aid. The difference between the proposed project and the unreimbursed renovations would cost us $23 million. Failure to vote for the building project imposes this $23 million burden disproportionally on low income citizens.

K. Elaine Neely, Williamstown The opinions above are those of the writer and not necessarily those of the Williamstown Finance Committee.


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