Town Council delays vote on Bryant compensation offer

Town Council delays vote on Bryant compensation offer

This revised story offers an update of the Town Council's Tuesday night meeting.

SMITHFIELD - Town Council members Tuesday voted to take more time to review a plan offered by Bryant University that would compensate Smithfield on a per-run basis for police, fire and rescue calls to the campus.

The offer, delivered about a week ago from the university's president, Ronald Machtley, meets the dollar amount suggested by Smithfield for the actual cost of the emergency responses although he expressed "serious issues" with the way fire, rescue and police response costs were calculated by the town.

According to the proposal, Bryant would pay $756.67 for every fire or rescue call and $194.62 every time a police cruiser was dispatched there.

However, third-party payment for the rescue runs would be subtracted from the bottom line as would fees the university pays for false alarms.

Council member Suzy Alba told The Breeze & Observer after the meeting the majority of councilors wanted more time to have their questions answered.

She noted, "I'm personally very pleased that Bryant has made this offer and hope that now that the consultant study has been performed and a proposal has been offered by Bryant that Bryant's negotiating team will sit down with the council to iron out the details of the agreement."

The item is now on the March 18 agenda of the council. A counter-offer may be made, she said.

In Machtley's Feb. 25 letter to Town Manager Dennis Finlay, on behalf of the university's board of trustees, he said, "We will agree to this compensation in the spirit of resolving this matter - despite the serious issues we have with your proposed rates."

An estimate by a consulting firm retained by Bryant, Charles River Associates, pegs the proposed annual payment to Smithfield at $236,203 based on the 107 police calls to the campus and 286 rescue or fire responses in 2013.

After subtracting estimated third-party payments, the amount is $179,378, according to CRA. The amount is further reduced once the fees for false alarms - $17,600 last year - are subtracted for a final $161,778.

The largest area of dispute is over the $250 per hour price tag Smithfield officials put on responding fire or rescue trucks to the campus.

Although accepting the figure, CRA calculated it costs half that amount, or $125 per hour, to run the fire and rescue department - everything from building utilities and vehicle maintenance, to the radio, capital expenses and more. Police car costs were pegged at $20 an hour.

CRA's report to the town also makes note of the payment in lieu of taxes Smithfield receives from the state because the campus property is exempt from local property taxes. That amount was $522,049 in 2013, according to the report.

Machtley is estimating the 20-year value of the agreement at approximately $10 million.

Bryant, which has been in Smithfield for 43 years, has been described by university officials as an economic engine that generates some $17 million a year for the local economy in addition to in-kind services it supplies the town.

The agreement, if accepted by the Town Council, could put to rest years of wrangling between the university and town over the cost Smithfield bears because it hosts the tax-free university.

Smithfield had been seeking a flat $300,000 a year plus $150,000 every four years to help cover the cost of new emergency vehicles.

Smithfield leaders have been noting that other colleges and universities in Rhode Island agreed a while back to begin compensating host communities for the financial burden they represent.

Last year, the town won a General Assembly support in a bill that gave Smithfield permission to "bill the actual costs for police, fire and rescue services supplied, unless otherwise reimbursed to (Bryant) commencing in March 2014."

Machtley told the town in a letter, "The role that Bryant plays in the Smithfield community is important to us and important to Smithfield. We believe this agreement is more than fair and reasonable and that it will fulfill all of the university's obligations under the statute."