Saturday, October 6, 2007
An expensive view
I honestly think our biggest landowner Amherst College, (named after the town not the General) doesn’t pay its fair share. And when you have $1.3 BILLION in reserves, it’s not like you’re forgoing food on the table. Then of course our #2 landowner, Umass, doesn’t carry its considerable weight either.
Since I live less than 10 houses down from this majestic view and cycle past it almost every day between St. Patty’s Day and Thanksgiving, I would certainly not want 20 houses to sprout or—God forbid—a neon, clownish Bank of America building.
Since my great, great Grandfather Tom Kelley, who carried Miss Emily—that would be Dickinson—to her grave, had a final job working as a night watchman for Amherst College, I take no joy in throwing stones their way.
And while I was impressed that Ms. Emily would honor Tom as her chief pallbearer, considering he only had one arm and a long way to carry her coffin; it also occurred to me that Amherst College showed him respect as well (ignoring his handicap) by giving him that night watchman job. After all, when was the last time you saw a one-armed security guard?
So I wondered how the newer property (Dakin Estate) Amherst College acquired 100 yards from this panoramic expanse could be valued at $1 million and this larger track owned forever by the college at four times less:
In a message dated 10/5/07 8:13:25 AM, BurgessD@amherstma.gov writes:
It consists of two parcels 1 at 20 Acres and under Chapter 61B is valued at $47,000 and the other at 30 acres at $189,500. These two properties would a lower value from the Dakin property as the rear portions are broken off by a brook and wetlands so we applied a discount to them. They also lack the access points that the Dakin property has so I considered that land more valuable.
(Chapter 61B means the property is used for recreation/open space and hence has a valuation of only 25% its real value).
Amherst College is, indeed, the #1 taxpayer in town. Homes they lease to professors at reduced rates are valued and taxed like any other housing in Amherst. And the Amherst Golf Course (unlike the town’s) pays taxes as does the Lord Jeffery Inn—unlike the Umass Campus Center Hotel.
Yet they rent their (untaxed) opulent recreation fields and dormitories during the summer to private businesses offering expensive summer camps for soccer, cheerleading, ultimate Frisbee etc. The assessor considers that “incidental use” and doesn’t pro rate the academic exemption to reflect this 2 or 3 months of business activity.
Of course the same scenario applies to Hampshire College, one of the most expensive schools in the country) and other non profits like Churches, the VFW, American Legion and the Amherst Women’s Club, for wedding receptions, anniversary parties, etc.
Umass, however, is a totally different critter. The assessor can’t tax them PERIOD (so that critter would be a Ten-Ton Godzilla). Thus removing Frat Row—that paid Amherst $32.000 in FY07—FOREVER eliminates that revenue no matter what Umass does with it.
Amherst College had two years to implement academic use of the Dakin Estate before the assessor hit them with a $1 million valuation, resulting in a $16,000 tax payment. Umass has no such deadline with the former Frat Row properties.
Although I still think odd to ONLY value the property at $1 million when Amherst College paid $4.3 million. My 25 years of selling experience tells me the value of something is whatever somebody is willing to pay. The assessor however considers Amherst College a “motivated buyer” that does not necessarily reflect the true value of the property.
But obviously others drove the bid beyond $4 million. If Amherst College dropped out and a private developer won the bid for the Dakin Estate, the valuation would instantly have escalated to $4 million (and then five times that when development occurred)
And remember, every $1 million of value equals $16,000 in taxes to the town.
To be continued: Immediately above (Yeah, I work Sunday's)