These are tough economic times for colleges everywhere, but the city of Boston has been especially hard on Boston University compared to other Boston-area universities. BU and other nonprofit universities are exempt from property taxes, but BU pays $4.6 million to the city in lieu of property taxes, which is far more than other universities. Harvard University, on the other hand, gives the city $1.9 million a year annually, despite the fact that it owns twice the amount of land in Boston. The new Payment in Lieu of Taxes task force needs to fix the system so that BU is not paying more than its fair share.
In addition, the attitude toward the PILOT agreements must change. The notion that it is ‘unfair’ for BU and other Boston-area colleges to continue to buy land that will be tax-exempt is wrong.
This isn’t an ideal situation for either the city of Boston or BU, both of which are dealing with budget shortages. But the city of Boston is so concerned with the lack of money BU is giving the city in property taxes that it seems to be forgetting just how much revenue BU provides for Boston. BU alone brings over 41,000 students and employees into the city. All these people are stimulating Boston’s economy by eating, drinking and shopping at local businesses. They pay sales taxes just like the rest of Boston’s citizens. Essentially, students are semi-permanent tourists who provide a boost to Boston-area businesses whenever they are in town.
It’s not just consumer spending that BU brings to the city. The BU Community Service Center provides Boston with over 1,500 volunteers and thousands of hours of service. And while it’s true that students can be somewhat of a disturbance in Boston neighborhoods, there are plenty of students who volunteer their time to improve the communities they live in, such as the BU student-founded ‘Keep Allston Decent’ initiative. In addition, BU invests hundreds of thousands of dollars in Boston public high school students through the ‘Boston High School Scholarship,’ which will award’ 20-25 full-year, full-tuition scholarships.
The PILOT task force needs to restore some common sense to a current system that is senseless for overcharging BU. Despite its own financial shortcomings, the city of Boston should not be greedy and take more money from a university that already offers the city so much.