Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

News

January 2, 2014

Private schools may face tax

Town pursuing payments from nonprofit institutions

Andover could stand to gain nearly $1 million more in revenue if it started levying property taxes on the private, nonprofit schools in town.

With that knowledge, the Board of Selectmen recently OK’d a policy for the town manager to start negotiating with five schools that have property worth more than $4 million each — but pay no property taxes.

The schools being targeted are Phillips Academy, Pike School, Melmark New England, Merrimack College and Massachusetts School of Law.

Under the policy, the schools would be assessed 25 percent of what they would pay if they were for-profit institutions rather than tax-exempt educational facilities.

That would mean Phillips would owe the most at more than $700,000, followed by Merrimack College at $104,000, Pike at nearly $39,000, Mass. School of Law at $27,000, and Melmark at $16,000.

Currently, the only school that pays the town anything at all is Phillips, which for the past 15 years has made an annual, voluntary contribution to Andover. This year, the school paid $169,000.

Selectmen voted 5-0 last month to approve the policy, which was set into motion the previous year when they urged Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski to establish a Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT, program for nonprofits.

Last July, Stapczynski presented a document listing all the nonprofits in town and how much each would pay if charged property taxes. State and federal law allows nonprofits such as churches and schools to avoid the payment of most taxes so they can spend more on their programs.

The policy, while it sounds Draconian, is actually a starting point for negotiations, selectmen have said. In many cases, the 25 percent would be reduced if the school could prove, using quantifiable measures, how much value they bring to the community.

Pike Head of School John “Muddy” Waters said his school, which sits on 35 acres, much of which is unusable wetlands, offers a lot to the town that it doesn’t charge for.

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