Bryant should definitely help pay local taxes

Bryant should definitely help pay local taxes

When I was campaigning in Smithfield last year for the Senate District 22 seat in the General Assembly, I met many wonderful people who care about their town and its schools, and who, like many other Rhode Island residents all around the state, are working hard to live within a budget in the face of a heavy tax burden.

I can't help but believe that many of those Smithfield residents had the same kind of reaction I did to two items that appeared in a recent Valley Breeze/Observer. One article reported on a recommended municipal budget that will increase the Smithfield tax rate by 1.63 percent to $17.47 per thousand. The other was a letter from Smithfield residents who are employed by Bryant University, criticizing members of the town's General Assembly delegation for seeking payments from the university to help support the town services the institution receives.

My reaction - I find it highly ironic and altogether unfair that Smithfield residents are facing a property tax hike while a very wealthy private university located in the town pays nothing. Nothing.

For many years, Smithfield legislators have worked with Smithfield officials to reach an understanding with Bryant about paying some fair amount to the community, in lieu of taxes, to acknowledge that, while it is a non-taxable institution, it is also a resident of this town and receives services from this town that are paid for with tax dollars. In all the years that the talking has gone on - although the talks have been one-sided since Bryant officials will not come to the table - every other higher education institution in this state has crafted a payment agreement with its home community. These institutions - Brown University and Providence College among them - are making payments that acknowledge, simply, that they owe something for the municipal services from which they benefit.

This is not about the Bryant's ability to afford a payment to the community. Some feel that an institution with a Statehouse lobbyist can afford to help Smithfield, if for nothing more than the many thousands of taxpayer dollars used to respond to fire drills and rescue calls on the campus property each year.

Like those who signed the letter who work for Bryant, I, too, have the utmost respect for the school and I know Smithfield is happy to have the school as a resident. But it is not equitable that a property owner exempt from paying what would be about $2 million yearly in taxes should at the same time receive services that are paid for by all the other residents of the town, both homeowners and businesses. Residents whose taxes are apparently going to be going up.

Will Bryant making a payment to the community eliminate the need for a tax hike? Probably not, but it could mitigate it somewhat. That would mean a savings for every taxpayer in the town. If Bryant wants to portray itself as an important part of this community, as an institution that helps the positive image of Smithfield, it should do what is fair and help support the town financially.

Stephen R. Archambault

Smithfield

Archambault is the state senator from District 22