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Providence firefighters to lead protest this afternoon against Brown University

January 11, 2012

UPDATE: Brown responds.

Marisa Quinn, Brown’s vice president for public affairs and university relations, says Brown contributes $4 million to the City of Providence each year through voluntary payments and taxes. “Brown supports Providence and is committed to the success of Providence,” she says. Like other universities, Quinn says, Brown makes significant economic, educational and social contributions to the city.

She noted the 2003 memorandum of understanding with the Cicilline administration that committed Brown (with RISD, PC and J&W) to paying $50 million in voluntary contributions over 20 years. Quinn estimates the university has already paid $20 million. (She says, too, that properties purchased by the university since the 2003 MOU have stayed on Providence’s tax rolls.)

“We do think that a full and fair assessment  would show that we do pay our fair share. That said, we have also offered to do more,” Quinn says, including boosting voluntary payments by $10 million over the next five years.

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The Providence firefighters’ union plans to lead a protest against Brown University at 4:30 this afternoon to highlight what it calls a disparity between the university’s property holdings and its payment in lieu of taxes to the City of Providence.

The demonstration will take place outside a Brown-owned building (best known, perhaps, as the home of Hemenway’s restaurant) at 121 South Main St., during the annual meeting of the Providence Foundation. Brown President Ruth Simmons is slated to speak during the meeting; also, the foundation is chaired by Brown executive Richard Spies, who was reportedly part of an agreement, since undone, to raise the university’s financial assistance to the city.

Paul Doughty, president of the International Association of Firefighters, Local 799, says his union thinks it’s ironic that Simmons is slated to talk about Brown’s impact on Providence’s economy.

“Followed down to its logical conclusion, Brown could continue to buy and buy more and more prime property like that [building on South Main Street] and continue to reduce the tax base, shifting it over to the middle class, and South Providence and the West End,” Doughty says.

He adds:

It’s unsustainable. We recognize the value that Brown provides, and other nonprofits or tax-exempts as well, but we think there has to be a balance, and we think we’re past that and we’re getting close to the tipping point.

Doughty says members of the Providence Fraternal Order of Police and some community activists and city councilors are also expected to attend the protest. He puts Brown’s annual financial assistance to the city at about $1.2 million. 

I’ve requested comment from Brown and will update this post when I get it. 

Earlier this week, the City of Providence ramped up its effort to get more money from tax-exempt institutions.

At that time, Daniel P. Egan, president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Rhode Island (which includes Brown), defended the university’s contributions to the city.

Egan says local universities are open to more dialogue on the subject, but he pointed to the economy in calling additional cash payments in lieu of taxes unlikely in the short term.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. January 11, 2012 5:56 pm

    Well Done !

  2. January 11, 2012 7:24 pm

    perhaps i’m lacking in reading comprehension but it looks to me like VP Quinn’s numbers are off http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.112326308888054.15462.100003320565999&type=3

  3. Charlie Baker permalink
    January 11, 2012 7:38 pm

    Derek, I guess that depends on what numbers/statements that you’re questioning. What numbers are you comparing?

    She said they pay $4m in PILOT and taxes. The document you link to shows the $2m in PILOT. So are you questioning whether they pay another $2M in taxes?

  4. Charlie Baker permalink
    January 11, 2012 7:41 pm

    “Doughty puts Brown’s annual financial assistance to the city at about $1.2 million.”

    How does he come to that number? The very documents that his brother Silva linked to shows that Brown pays $2.1m in PILOT only. Plus the property taxes that Brown does pay. He’s off by about 1/3. That’s not a rounding error, that’s either malice or ignorance.

  5. Keith Fernandes permalink
    January 11, 2012 8:42 pm

    What property taxes does Brown pay?

  6. Charlie Baker permalink
    January 11, 2012 9:22 pm

    Google is your friend:

    http://brown.edu/web/ri/stimulus/government.html – $2.2M

    So that total puts us up to $4.3M. Not exactly the $1.2 that Doughty claimed.

  7. Keith permalink
    January 11, 2012 11:28 pm

    Im verifying that $2.2m figure. But let’s assume it’s right for a second. Brown owns $997 million worth of property in Providence. You think the $4mil ( assuming its that because as far as I know its less) they pay is enough? Considering non profits use 20-25% of the operations budget for city services?

  8. Mister Guy permalink
    January 12, 2012 7:04 am

    So, I guess the real question is…what would Brown be paying in property taxes on *all* their Providence properties instead of doing a PILOT for some of the older buildings?

    Recently, Brown was apparently paying around $4.235 Million per year in “real property taxes”, PILOTs & City of Providence Water Supply costs. I doubt that they were getting a break on their water bill, but who knows.

  9. January 12, 2012 2:07 pm

    “What property taxes does Brown pay?”

    Well, standard commercial rates at 121 South Main Street, for one, and for all of the commercial properties they own in the Jewelry District, plus the Medical School.

  10. Charlie Baker permalink
    January 12, 2012 9:41 pm

    @Ed: All the “commercial properties” they own in the Jewelry District? Such as where?

    @Mister Guy: I have to think that of all the property that Brown owns, it’d be worth billions, so figure about 1.5% of billions. But that’s not going to happen. If you start fully taxing schools, you won’t have any not-for-profit schools.

    Or are we in favor of also taxing everything in the city? Including the churches and soup kitchens and places like Save The Bay?

    • Mister Guy permalink
      January 12, 2012 10:29 pm

      “Such as where?”

      Hey, I thought you said that Google was your friend?

      “I have to think that of all the property that Brown owns, it’d be worth billions, so figure about 1.5% of billions. But that’s not going to happen.”

      Brown can’t afford around $15 Million in PILOT per year to the City of Providence, when they are the largest institutional landowner in Providence (over 230 buildings & over 6 million square feet of space)? I think they probably can, but they don’t want to, which I can understand of course.

      I get what the firefighter union is trying to do, but I don’t agree with it at all & I’m pretty pro-union myself. They see the writing on the wall when it comes to the financial “burden” that their employees & pensioners put on the City of Providence, and they are trying to shift that financial fight onto Brown now. While I agree that maybe Brown could well afford to pay more money to the City of Providence, making people choose literally between an Ivy League university & an organization that’s obviously taken advantage of some really bad local, political decisions when it comes to firefighter pensions isn’t really a smart play in the long-run.

      “If you start fully taxing schools, you won’t have any not-for-profit schools.”

      Sure, Brown puts a “burden” on the City of Providence, but it’s not like they are running groups of crack houses. I don’t have much of problem with an institution of higher learning expanding their building footprint on land that they’ve owned basically forever, but when an institution of higher learning expands out into the community (like Brown has in Providence over the last few decades) that will have an obvious negative impact on levels of local property tax revenue.

      “Including the churches and soup kitchens and places like Save The Bay?”

      I’m personally down for taxing churches & Save the Bay. 😉

  11. Keith Fernandes permalink
    January 12, 2012 9:48 pm

    Let me understand this correctly, Brown pays $4 mil for both PILOT and RE taxes on $997 million worth of property and people here think that’s ok? While my RE taxes on investment property ( which Brown competes with by building tax free dorms) pays $28 per $1000? And commercial pays higher? If Brown was taxed at full rate I believe they would owe about $90 million a year. Taveras asked for $7 million. And they don’t want to pay even that. Time to cough up charter or no charter. Or else stop using city services.

  12. Keith Fernandes permalink
    January 12, 2012 9:50 pm

    And Charlie, I believe Doughty was deducting Brown’s cost of city services rendered for a net gain of $1.2 from the 4 million.

  13. Johnny Jones permalink
    March 5, 2012 7:40 pm

    These greedy crooks (firefighter and police unions) rob the city they supposedly serve and then say it is Browns fault? The city has managed with Brown as tax excempt for as long as Brown has been there. Pension finance problems only arose when the city was given authority to negotiate and finance the plans themselves. Why is mismanagement and corruption Brown’s problem. Look to your “leaders” and ask them to share the millions they have and continue to steal from the tax payers. Disgusting…there is no honor in the Providence Fire Department or Police Department. If I were a firefighter I could retire with a disablity pension now…just hurt my pinky typing this.

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