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As a result of what the town of Smithfield characterizes as a 17-year dispute over Bryant University’s tax-exempt status, legislation was passed by the General Assembly in the just-concluded session requiring the school to negotiate increased cash payments for town public-safety services by March or face taxation for those services.
One impression that this week’s Page 1 story on the topic leaves is that the town’s leaders are upset that Bryant President Ronald K. Machtley has not sat down in person to conclude long-running negotiations to update the school-town agreement. Really?
The town compares itself to Providence, which has reached agreements with its major universities within the last year to increase the payments in lieu of taxes the schools make to the city. But the comparison is not an apt one.
As has been reported often, 40 percent of Providence land is owned (and thus not taxed) by nonprofits. In Smithfield, Bryant owns 2 percent of the town’s land. In addition, Smithfield does not have the capital-intensive infrastructure and staffing needs of a city the size of Providence. And finally, the state already remits nearly $500,000 to the town as part of its payment-in-lieu of taxes program to make up for the money that an institution such as Bryant does not send to town coffers.
While Machtley last week was pushing for Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee to veto the legislation, the best long-term answer for this issue is for the town to back off its loaded-gun approach to negotiations and make a deal that improves the quality of life of its citizens – one that Bryant is willing to make – and stop trying to hurt one of its best residents. •