Thursday, October 2, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

A town-gown clash over the costs of public services

alfred1W

Students hang out at Alfred State College, in Alfred, N.Y., in August. Alfred University is nearby. The dispute over paying for public services there mirrors disagreements nationwide. Brendan Bannon/New York Times photo

By
From page A5 | December 20, 2013 |

By Jesse McKinley

ALFRED, N.Y. — It was just about the time they were going to turn off the water that this village recognized it might have a college problem.

For years, residents have lived in symbiosis alongside two schools: the private Alfred University and Alfred State College, a part of the State University of New York system. The schools capitalize on Alfred’s small-town charms — the single stoplight, the deer wandering in the street — while the village enjoys thousands of students eating, drinking and spending at local establishments, an annual rush of revenue and revelry that arrives as autumn does.

But cleaning up after those students is less appealing, and made all the more difficult because the colleges, as nonprofit, tax-exempt entities, are under no legal requirement to pay anything for public services. A former tile-manufacturing town in western New York, Alfred has a shockingly skinny tax base: a whopping 90 percent of its assessed value is estimated to be tax-exempt.

So last year, to try to cover its costs, the village told the schools they would have to pay more for their water. SUNY balked. And that is when the village made a quiet but firm ultimatum: Pay up or go thirsty.

“It got their attention,” said Virginia Rasmussen, a Village Board member. “And we got the check.”

With increased financial pressures on municipalities across the country, as well as on places of higher learning, town-versus-gown squabbles over Pilot payments — an acronym for payments in lieu of taxes — are increasingly common and often contentious.

In July, Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island signed a bill requiring Bryant University to negotiate a payment for services with its hometown, Smithfield.

Pilot fights have also gotten testy in Pittsburgh — where the city and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have sued each other over the center’s tax-exempt status — and in Princeton, N.J., where the approval of a $300 million arts center for Princeton University was dogged by questions over how much the Ivy League institution should pay into local coffers.

Such disputes usually involve major institutions and the cities that host them. It is rarer for a battle to break out in a tiny spot like Alfred, despite financial strains that can be acute.

“It is a perennial problem in these communities,” said Peter Baynes, the executive director of the New York Conference of Mayors, which has argued — unsuccessfully — for changes in state law to allow local governments to require payments from tax-exempt entities. “And certainly while they wouldn’t want to trade those schools, there is this fiscal recognition that while 100 percent to the community is receiving the service, only a fraction of the community is paying.”

Tax-free policies have also been in the spotlight in New York. In June, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a new law allowing SUNY branches and some private colleges to offer tax-free zones for new businesses that open on or adjacent to their campuses.

While officials in villages like Alfred and other upstate college towns like the idea of more jobs, the idea of more tax-free property is less appealing.

“You’re taking more stuff off the table,” said Justin Grigg, the mayor of Alfred and a professor at Alfred University. “And it’s a pretty small table already.”

And it is not just in his town, he added. “This is not just an Alfred problem,” Grigg said. “This is a statewide problem.”

He mentioned Cuomo’s plan in a letter sent to Alfred State and Alfred University in June, asking each to voluntarily pay $75,000 this year for public services, saying “we are concerned about tax-free campuses being wrapped by tax-free businesses.”

But the governor’s office says localities do not need to worry about losing income under the new law because businesses that open on property adjacent to tax-free schools will not be automatically taken off the local tax rolls, although their employees will be exempt from state taxes.

In many ways, Alfred is much more college than village. The full-time, taxpaying resident population is only about 1,000, many of whom work at or make a living through business from the colleges.

During the academic year, some 6,000 students descend on the village, studying on the hillside campuses and playing in the village’s clutch of bars, restaurants and requisite pizza place.

For their part, students seem to sympathize with the village’s financial straits, saying its appeal — remote, quaint — is worth paying for. “Alfred is in the middle of nowhere, but the nowhere we are has the attraction of the scenery and vibe of the village,” said Derrick Parmer, a senior at Alfred State. “Alfred asking for money isn’t too bad, because without Alfred there will be no Alfred State.”

That sentiment was echoed by John Ninos, the owner of the Collegiate, a restaurant decorated with ceremonial paddles donated by fraternities, who said he thought the state school, in particular, should contribute more.

“It’s my money they are operating with, and they should be paying for assisting our community,” he said.

Many residents say they have more affection for Alfred University, which already pays the village about $135,000 a year under various Pilot agreements, including $65,000 to help finance the village’s six-person police force.

“We try to be a good neighbor,” said Sue Goetschius, the acting vice president for university relations. But she added that there were limits to what a private school could do. “There are a lot of pressures on the university budget, just as there are a lot of pressures on a municipal budget,” she said.

Alfred State’s interim president, Valerie B. Nixon, said she felt there was a good relationship between the college and the village, despite the threat to cut off the water.

“That was certainly one of the things they were going to do,” Nixon said. “And that was their right.”

In the end the water stayed on, and both colleges are facing a higher water rate this year. Alfred University has paid. As of Monday, Alfred State had not. As for the $75,000 requested by the village, Grigg was pessimistic after meeting with SUNY officials in August.

“I am confident getting them to write a check to the village for public safety is not in the cards,” he said.

Both Grigg and Rasmussen freely admit that without the campuses, Alfred might not have much more than that single stoplight and those pesky deer.

“Absolutely this village has definition, integrity, reputation, because of these schools and we all acknowledge that,” Rasmussen said. “But bottom line, we have expenses. And the fact that we are here because the institutions are here doesn’t help pay the bills.”

Comments

comments

New York Times News Service

.

News

 
Sunder wants to expand opportunities for all

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1

 
At Davis intersections, let’s be careful out there

By Kim Orendor | From Page: C2 | Gallery

 
Third-graders face high-stakes reading targets

By The Associated Press | From Page: A3

Learn how to ride a bike in Davis

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Feinstein, Boxer depend on red-leaning Senate races

By San Francisco Chronicle | From Page: A3

Gallery hosts poetry night

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

 
Oktoberfest features Grand Isle Fire Brigade

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Sunder supporters gather on Sunday

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

 
Trokanski discusses new project on ‘Davisville’

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

Learn more about Boy Scouts during upcoming events

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A3

 
Tour gives opportunity to watch moonrise in the bypass

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4 | Gallery

UC campuses aim to be more inclusive to LGBT students

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

 
Check out Soroptimists at info night

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Helping disabled ag workers stay in agriculture

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

 
Register to vote by Oct. 20

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Parenting advice on radio show

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

 
Archer event set for Sunday

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

Per Capita: Tales from the back burner

By John Mott-Smith | From Page: A4

 
Sunflower power at the Winters Community Library

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Unitrans persists through changing times

By Lily Holmes | From Page: C6 | Gallery

 
Up for a fun day trip? Take a bike to Bike Dog

By Elizabeth Case | From Page: C8 | Gallery

Volunteers are trained to help with train questions

By Bob Schultz | From Page: A10 | Gallery

 
There are plenty of fun activities around town

By Enterprise staff | From Page: C13 | Gallery

Getting from here to there by buses, planes and trains

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: C14 | Gallery

 
.

Forum

‘Maupin’s Law’ 2.0: Prevention is better than punishment

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

 
Tom Meyer cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

Choose Archer, Sunder, Adams

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

 
Barbara Archer for school board

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

Vote for change on board

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

 
Poppenga considers all students

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

Climate change is coming for you

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

 
A true vision for peace

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

Drivers, just follow the rules

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

 
Let’s fix the park deck

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

.

Sports

Despite 168 points allowed, PSU defense may not be lousy

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Bumgarner, Crawford help Giants slam Bucs

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Cheung paces Devils past Pacers on the pitch

By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
DHS JV runners shine in varsity events

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

 
Youth roundup: Diamonds swing to victories at Vineyard Classic

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Sports briefs: DHS girls tennis goes three for three

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B8

.

Features

Davis robotics team pays it forward

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A7 | Gallery

 
.

Arts

Wineaux: Picking the last rosé of summer

By Susan Leonardi | From Page: A9

 
Natsoulas to host mural conference

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9

Robbie Fulks will visit ‘Live in the Loam’ on KDRT

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

 
Odd Fellows to screen classic Westerns

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

Old Macs get new life at art exhibit

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

 
Woodland Opera House rounds up cowboy poetry, music

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

Music for brass, choir and organ set at DCC

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

 
.

Business

.

Obituaries

.

Comics

Comics: Thursday, October 2, 2014

By Creator | From Page: B6