Providence firefighters to lead protest this afternoon against Brown University
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.
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.
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.