PILOT, for the millionth time

If you’ve lived in Worcester for at least a few years, you’ll notice that the City Council has a few favorite topics it revisits over and over again.

We’re a bit overdue for the annual saber rattling about how city employees should live in the city; presumably having both a DPW&P Commissioner and a City Manager who don’t live in the city will keep us from having to listen to that argument for at least another year or two.

On to our favorite biannual complaint: that the non-profits aren’t paying their fair share (on tonight’s agenda).

Item 13a asks that the “City Solicitor provide City Council with a history and explanation as to the legal / political process(es) implemented by the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts to no longer be subject to Mass. Gen. Laws. Chapter 40A, Section 3 (the ‘Dover Amendment’).”

I’ve looked into this a bit (though I’m not an expert OR a lawyer) and I think that this really applies to commercial properties owned by Harvard and MIT that are not exempt from property tax. So, MIT pays Cambridge nearly $40 million in taxes annually, and Harvard pays $5.5 million annually. (See City of Cambridge budget, page II-9)

Cambridge also receives $5.8 million in PILOT [City of Cambridge budget, page III-14], which is about 1% of its total revenue.

So why can’t we have that here?

Unlike Cambridge, Worcester does not have two large institutions with endowments larger than the GDP of a small nation and extensive commercial real estate holdings.

The original impetus behind the Dover Amendment exemption was that Harvard was Cambridge’s largest landlord, and that it continued to gobble up property and expanded beyond promises to neighbors and the city.  Worcester isn’t a city where the majority of residents are renters, many of whom pay rent to a non-profit.

So — good luck to the City of Worcester on this.  I doubt it will happen, I’m sure we’ll keep hearing about this every six months, and we’ll have devoted time to discussing a fruitless endeavor when we could be discussing other fruitless endeavors, like the $1 million+ we’ve spent in settlements due to complaints against the WPD in the past decade.

A word on PILOT

Pretty soon it will become obvious that we won’t be able to get millions in tax dollars from various universities and then the conversation will swing back to PILOT.

MIT pays Cambridge $2.3 million in PILOT a year; its endowment is $12.4 billion.  The yearly PILOT payment is 0.018% of its endowment.

Contrast that with WPI’s endowment, which is $360 million, and its PILOT payments are probably around $450,000, or 0.08% of its endowment.

Aside: your guess is as good as mine when it comes to PILOT payments.  The city’s budget doesn’t have any figures that indicate which institutions pay PILOT, how much they pay, and where those payments are directed.

A little less than a year ago, in what was quite possibly the most optimistic city document ever, the city assessor said we could be getting about $4.5 million more in PILOT than we currently do.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: PILOT happens when a non-profit wants something (a street closed, for example).  It’s not megabucks — in most communities, including ours, it amounts to less than 2% of the city budget.

I’ve got a proposition: how about we not sue Nga Truong’s attorney or the EPA for a whole year?

With the amount we save in legal fees, we’ll make up for what we didn’t get in PILOT, and we won’t look like fools in the local press to boot.

Coes Pond Meeting Tonight

via Gary Rosen; I will try to attend and take notes:

The Pond & Water Quality Committee of The Friends of Coes Pond has been meeting regularly. And now, through the efforts of dozens of capable, enthusiastic and visionary people, the rebirth of the Coes Pond Beach & Bathhouse soon will take place.

We are pleased that area residents, business owners, college professors, students and many others are excited about the Coes projects. Because of their work, we expect the beach and it’s long-abandoned bathhouse to be brought back to life within 1.5 years.

And the good news is that the blueprint for our work already lies in the 2005 Master Plan of Public Open Space Properties Surrounding Coes Pond. After 9 years on the shelf, we have decided to dust off that document and present it to the public for comments and input.

We invite and encourage you to attend this public presentation on MONDAY, NOVEMBER 24, at 6:00 PM at the IBEW Local 96 hall, 242 Mill St., Worcester. Thanks to Coes Pond neighbor, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, for its support of this project.

At this event, Assistant DPW Commissioner/Parks, Rob Antonelli will update everyone on the Master Plan for the beach. And several Coes Ponders will let you know what has been happening (PLENTY!) the past few months. Questions will be answered and support enlisted.

Friends of Worcester Public Library book sale today and tomorrow

Today, November 14, and tomorrow, Saturday, November 15, from 10am-4pm in the Saxe Room at the main branch of Worcester Public Library, the Friends of WPL will hold our Fall book sale.

Friendly reminder –

When you pay (incredibly low) yearly dues to the Friends, or make book donations, or purchase from the Food for Thought Cafe and Bookstore, or buy bags full of books at our book sales, you support the Friends’ many programs, including museum passes and the Give and Take bookcase at Union Station.

So please support the Friends as much as you can.  If you come on Saturday between 2-4pm, I’ll be working the sale.


Seats of power

At 10:30 this morning, Charlie Baker was meeting with the mayor of West Springfield at town hall.

An hour later, he was at Springfield City Hall to meet with the mayor of that city.

Come 1:15, he was in Worcester, meeting in a building that only reflects the image of our city hall, in a meeting led not by the mayor or the city manager, but by the head of the local chamber of commerce.

Some might find that odd.

But those would be folks who live in cities where the easternmost high school isn’t called “North High” and the westernmost high school named “South High.”

Worcester, as always, is the Uranus of the Commonwealth: off what should be a normal axis.

I suppose we should feel grateful that the mayor and city manager were invited to the meeting.

It’s unclear whether this means that we’ve dispensed with the pretense that either our elected officials or our city manager are running the city, or if Worcester is run by a Borg-like collective.

Which would make Ed Augustus Locutus.