Smithfield legislators state Bryant position

Smithfield legislators state Bryant position

Last week, Gov. Chafee signed into law legislation we sponsored which would require Bryant University to reimburse the town of Smithfield for police, fire and rescue services. It's based on a simple concept - even a tax-exempt institution, like Bryant, should pay for the public safety services it receives from the town.

Instead of dealing with the issue on the merits, the response from Bryant's leadership has been to fill the airwaves with misleading attacks and misinformation. The legislation has been called "unconstitutional, unwarranted and needlessly divisive," "heavy-handed" and "an arrogant assault on a private institution." Questions have been raised about the impact this would have on other non-profit institutions and it has been suggested that the measure ignores the enormous economic activity generated by Bryant.

It's as if Brown University, Johnson & Wales, Providence College, Rhode Island School of Design, Roger Williams University and Salve Regina don't exist. Because all of those institutions, which generate substantial economic activity also manage to make tax contributions or payments in lieu of taxes to their host communities. Bryant is the only private higher education institution in the state that doesn't do so.

As President of Bryant University, Ron Machtley has done a tremendous job in terms of building Bryant into a world-class education institution. He has overseen tremendous growth and expansion, not just in terms of new buildings, but innovative programs and course offerings. But as other private colleges and universities in the state began to recognize that the value they bring to their communities does not come without a cost to those communities, Bryant took a different tack.

Every time Bryant was preparing to launch a new capital campaign and build new buildings on campus, their lobbyists came to the General Assembly and sought an increase in the amount of the original tax exemption they had been granted. And every time, Bryant received that increase and went ahead with plans to improve their campus.

In recent years, when it became clear that the town of Smithfield needed to reach an agreement with Bryant the way the City of Providence had with its tax exempt higher education institutions, President Machtley took a hard line, refusing to sit down and negotiate. He took the approach that even agreeing to talk about having Bryant pay the town for the services it enjoys would be a sign of weakness and only open the door to a settlement he did not want to make...ever. So he chose not to talk and assumed he could continue to get what he wanted from the legislature.

But when we passed a bill that would bring him to the table and when the governor signed it into law, suddenly the man who had declined numerous offers to meet with the Smithfield Town Council and the town's legislative delegation is threatening legal action. Suddenly, the notion of Bryant paying for public safety services is shakedown and not the right thing to do.

President Machtley has been quick to argue that Bryant pays $800,000 annually to the town. But the lion's share of the money being included in that figure is what Bryant pays for sewer and water bills. And that argument gets to the heart of the matter and demonstrates the fallacy behind President Machtley's approach. Paying your water and sewer bills isn't a favor you are doing the town. It's your obligation. It's paying for services Bryant utilizes and benefits from having. It's what every other business owner and homeowner does in the town.

If you are serious about being a good neighbor, that means recognizing that it is in the community's best interest to have all residents pay their fair share for the services they enjoy. All we are trying to do is get Bryant to pay for the public safety services they receive. But President Machtley is playing politics, deciding not to negotiate in good faith, then feigning outrage when steps are taken to get force him to come to the bargaining table and acting as if the elected officials of Smithfield are engaging in extortion. That is an insult to the private colleges and universities in Rhode Island that have already stepped up to make contributions to their host communities and that is an insult to the businesses and homeowners in Smithfield who diligently pay their taxes because they know that's what good neighbors do.

We are grateful for the fact that Bryant continues to make significant contributions to the vitality of our community and we know the people of Smithfield feel the same way. We would like them to join us as partners in helping to defray the cost of the public safety services we all benefit from and rely on in times of crisis. We are all part of a community and we want the best for each other. We get there by working together, not setting ourselves apart.

THOMAS WINFIELD

Rep., District 53 Smithfield/Glocester

Gregory Costantino

Rep., District 44 Smithfield/Lincoln/Johnston

Sen. Stephen R. Archambault

District 22 Smithfield/North Providence/Johnston