Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Can government compete fairly?


UPDATE: 3:30 PM: I have only been doing PR for 25 years but does anybody else find it odd that Umass News Info Department (that I believe has three full-time spinmeisters and a Department Manager) only puts out the press release about the $9.2 million renovation project on the very day construction starts?

Hmmm….
What the Umass flacks wrote


(Original Post 6:00 AM) So Umass can spend $9.2 million tax dollars to better hustle for costumers private dollars? Unlike the Campus Center Hotel, those new and modern hotels that have popped up along Route 9, courtesy of Hampshire Hospitality Group, pay property taxes to the host town.

And in the People’s Republic of Amherst, if you simply construct a commercial enterprise valued at $9 million it would pay Amherst $135,000 annually in property tax plus the 4% Local Option Room Occupancy Tax on gross annual revenues.

Simply being owned by a tax-exempt does not necessarily keep the business off the tax rolls. Take Amherst College for instance: they own the apparently only profitable golf business in town, Amherst Golf Course, and pay Amherst the normal $7,000 per year in tax that a private, for-profit owner would pay.

And they own the historic Lord Jeffery Inn that not only pays property taxes ($32,000) but also honors the local room tax. They too are feeling the pressure from new modern hotels along Rout 9--as evidenced by their upcoming $20 million expansion--but at least they compete on a level playing field...well sort of, having over a billion in reserves is a tiny advantage.

Back in 2003 a ‘Special Committee to Recommend Mitigation for Local Aid Cuts’, chaired by State Senator Stan Rosenberg, an indefatigable Umass supporter clearly stated:

“Eliminate UMASS Amherst Campus Center's exemption from hotel motel tax (that tax doesn't cost the state anything, doesn't cost the university anything, shouldn't be an edge in competition against local hotels / motels). This could be a significant ($70,000+) help to Amherst.”

Since the Town Manager was already taken to the cleaners by Umass with their ‘Strategic Agreement’, The Select Board should appoint a “Blue Ribbon Committee” (better yet, an Attack Dog) to pursue this potential pot of tax gold.

Springfield Republican Reports (scooping the Gazette)

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Actually, the Gazette already had the story up gazettenet.com yesterday, so the Republican certainly didn't scoop the Gazette:

http://www.gazettenet.com/2008/08/22/umass-campus-center-hotel-will-get-9-2m-makeover

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, and about what percent of Gazette readers peruse that?

When they get around to the print edition (where they were scooped--Front Page no less) let's hope they talk to Curt Shumway and see how he feels about his state tax dollars being used against him.

Neil said...

Larry,

I couldn't agree more that Umass should pay real estate tax and room tax on their Umass Student Center Hotel.

Our Town Manager only has to write a letter to the chancellor of the University indicating the town has every intention of levying real estate and room tax on that property and the effective date.

Then, let the University decide how to respond. A letter, that's all it takes. Maybe Shaffer will post it on his blog.

Hmmm, why don't you? I have posed questions in the comment section and I have not received a response. I don't think Shaffer gets the blogging thing. He thinks its a one-way street. Give it a shot. Ask him why he doesn't notify them that he intends to charge real estate tax and room tax effective date ... say January 1, 2009.

Amherst College pays real estate tax and room tax on its hotel. What does the Amherst College private endowment have to do with that? Private individuals gave their private funds to support initiatives at the college. I thought conservatives believed in property rights not socialism.

LarryK4 said...

Hey Neil,
I wish it were that simple, but it is not.

It will take an act of the legislature to change the rules so they pay. So the first step is to get Stan Rosenberg and Ellen Story on board with it.

Neil said...

What is different about the case of the Student Union Hotel from the Lord Jeff Inn that the two are treated differently?

Anonymous said...

Three things.

First, I would want to see the actual financing of the campus center expansion. It isn't really a hotel in that it will rent rooms first come/first served to anyone. It also is a convoluted trust fund that is tied up in a 1970 act of the legislature.

Second, all the legislature has to do is create UMASS as its own municipality (which it sorta already has done) and not only would this end, but Amherst itself would be badly hurt. Federal and state aid, everything from Sect 8 vouchers to the cherry sheet, is based on per capita income of the town. Remove 12,500 people with virtually no income from the town population statistics (as these are now residents of the 352nd town) and Amherst would find LOTS of funds drying up overnight.

Or the legislature can take the Etna, Dana, Prescott & Greenwich approach - all it takes is a vote of the legislature and SCOTUS says that because MA is a Commonwealth, it can do this. No more Amherst.

Third, notice how Belchertown hasn't done well since the State School was shut down, how Springfield hasn't done well since the Armory was closed in the late '60s?

The ONLY reason why UMass is in Amherst is that prior to _Baker v. Carr_ the state Senate was by county (and not population) which means that the 3 counties of the valley had power in the Senate and passed a law in the 1820s stipulating that the university either be in a town contigious to the Connecticut River or one contigious to such a town.

It is worse now, with 90% of the state inside I-495 and Amherst being more than 30 miles from either *divided* highway heading east. Springfield, Holyoke and now Chicopee are openly recruiting and UMass Boston is building dorms.

I would like to see an actual study of how much Amherst benefits from UMass -- there are about 6000 employees and over 300 with six figure salaries and many live in Amherst. They raise property values, pay property taxes, and hire others who do as well. There are multiplier effects as well.

An Amherst without UMass would be like Greenfield's Cheapside. Property values would drop by about 90%, schools would need to be expanded as the lower priced available housing would attract single mothers from Metro Boston, there would be no money for all the stuff that the Amherst folk like to have, and there would be no Amherst Athletic Club, either....

Ed

LarryK4 said...

Umass Campus Center is a state owned non-profit tax-exempt, Amherst College's Lord Jeff is a PRIVATE non-profit, tax exempt.

If the state legislature wants to make Umass "its own municipality" then they would need to create their own Fire Department, one that currently costs Amherst taxpayers $4.8 million.

Anonymous said...

> Of the $9.2 million cost, about
> $2 million will be spent on
> upgrading the electrical system
> and installing new windows
> throughout the building.

This is something that the state should have paid for via tax revenue, aka E&G funds. Something that every other state university pays for this way.

But this whole thing is being financed by the UMass Building Authority whose sole authority is to build housing for UMass students. (That is why this is a hotel renovation and not a campus center renovation....)

And what is NOT being said here is that it really is being financed by the surcharges on the students living in the North Dorms. Lombardi/Gargano accelerated the repayment of those bonds so that they could be re-issued -- for this....

So Larry, this really isn't a hotel. It is a dorm and is similar to the guest dorm rooms that AC & HC have in their dorms. Facts matter...

Anonymous said...

> their own Fire Department, one
> that currently costs Amherst
> taxpayers $4.8 million.

On paper it does. In reality?
(Hint: why is Amherst so worried that Hadley will go independent for ambulance service?)

UMass already essentially has a fire department (EH&S) who are the first responders to any campus fire. They may have to buy a pumper or two (ladder truck not needed now that all the tall buildings have sprinklers due to new regs) but they could have a Hadley-style largely volunteer department. (Amherst would, of course, loose Engine Team #3 which are UM volunteers.)

This leaves the ambulance service. Amherst currently gets 100% AT BILLED RATE from the UMass Health Plan. No other insurance - anywhere - will give that -- every other health plan pays "reasonable & customary" which is far less.

And almost all the UM undergrads have the UM insurance, all have something. Compare that to the usual municipal demographics where you are dealing with low income and homeless folk using your ambulance.

So the cost of providing ambulance service to a UMass Dorm is far less than to 33 Kellogg Ave -- and there is cost shifting here.

It also may help that most of the UMass ambulance calls are basic transports to CDH (the UMPD, trained paramedics, again are the first responders). By contrast, the town calls are for stabbings, heart attacks and car wrecks which require more time and more resources.

Furthermore, there is economy of scale. Amherst currently can run three ambulances concurrently, has advanced life support and offers a level of service equal to that of Springfield or Boston. Should Hadley & UMass pull out, Amherst would either have to increase the town tax contribution to the AFD and/or reduce level of service.

Politically UMass won't do it on its own, but the individual student revenue stream that goes to the AFD could pay for a UMass-run fire/rescue that would also better meet the university's own needs. Be careful, they might just do it...

Ed

Anonymous said...

Remember too that if UMass to have its own fire department and ambulance, the AFD cutbacks would affect the town's fire insurance rating and homeowner/business fire insurance rates....

The INCREASE here would be greater than any property tax savings...

Ed

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, facts matter:

If it's only a freaken "dorm" then why did the Campus Center Hotel generate room sales last year of $919,382?

Anonymous said...

regarding blue ribbon commissions:

stan gawle's column last week was spot on, as they say, save one important detail: the commission met twice LAST FALL and that's it. they requested the town manager provide/obtain some benchmarking data, and guess what, no data. there isn't anything to show, as mr. gawle rightfully demands, because the emporer, or in this case town manager, has no clothes.

mr. shaffer is very adroit at saying he's doing things, when in reality, he's not. this is yet another in a long list of examples. and, his handler, mr. weiss, and the board, have no accountability mechanisms in place, so he's allowed to provide fluff responses (last night's "explanation" of why our million dollar playing fields have gone to seed is the most recent and glaring) at will, with no consequence.

tony marx told me earlier this summer that amherst college is willing to fund an economic development director for the town; the town manager has indicated he's not ready for one.

mr. marx also indicated that amherst college would be willing to put up some "venture capital." he was very explicit that he's not interested in being presented with a bill for operating expenses.

so, the white knight is in the corner, but the town has an inept day-to-day operations guy who was hired by the(?) wackiest select board (hubley, awad, greeney, kusner, weiss) in the town's 250 years? shafffer is awad's legacy, which like the bush supreme court, will require us to live with the consequences for a generation, at least.

Neil said...

I want to thank the most recent anonymous for his comments about Tony Marx's position and other insights.

I want to thank Larry for he concise answer to my question.

I want to ask Ed Cutting to stop posting his long, rambling rants. They are useless and amount to s self-serving, off-topic, distractions that is worse than no comment at all. Ed start your own blog. I'll put it on my blogroll and read it when I want to catch-up on all your theories.

Anonymous said...

> If it's only a freaken "dorm"
> then why did the Campus Center
> Hotel generate room sales
> last year of $919,382?

First, define "room sales" -- which would include interdepartmental transfers. In other words, when they have the whole thing full of students for the first couple of weeks in the fall, Conference Services is billing Housing Services (on paper) for room sales at full price. What then happens is that the accountants sort it out - but the "room sales" are kept on the books for the APRs of the hotel staff, who are evaluated on that.

So what was the actual CASH revenue?

Second, there may be cost shifting involved (there IS with the athletic department). Does the revenue from outside room sales go back to the Housing Trust Fund which is being charged for the UMBA bonds that financed this in the first place?

Third, every college has some "swing space" -- an overcapacity buffer that is used when the campus dorms are above 100% occupancy. I think you will find that the private colleges in the valley have a greater *percentage* of overcapacity resources than UMass does.

Now if you really want to talk about UMass and private business, look at the very real case of OIT and private companies ranging from Verizon to Crocker Comm. UM doesn't *require* people to use the hotel, they *do* require folks to use OIT...

Ed
(doing what he can to irritate Neil with facts...)

Anonymous said...

Neil said...

What is different about the case of the Student Union Hotel from the Lord Jeff Inn that the two are treated differently?
-------
Looks like a question to me.
Methinks I answered it, with facts.

What does Neil and certain Amherst Selects have in common?

Could it be not wanting to hear those answers they don't want to hear?

Just wondering....

Ed

Neil said...

Ed,

Assume my questions are for Larry Kelley.

Take some constructive criticism. Your responses are long rants. Nobody cares to hear it. You can't stay on point.

Assume my questions are for Larry Kelley.

Consider getting your own blog.

Anonymous said...

Ed, due to your recent post about Umass/AFD I now doubt most of your past posts.
SO many errors there it isn't even worth debating.
Neils right, get a blog.

Anonymous said...

Ed-you can post anything you want as far as I am concerned. However, you made so many factual errors in your fire deparment post that it would take days to enumerate them all. A few highlights....

UMPD has no ALS Paramedics. Most are not even BLS EMT's.

EH&S is not a first responding agency and has no capacity to do so. It is an inspection and regulatory office.

A ladder truck would be absolutely neccessary at Umass. Sprinkler systems have nothing to with the necessity of a ladder truck. A ladder truck is used for forced entry, overhaul, high angle rescue, overhead fire supression.

Ed, post whatever you like, but don't let your strong opinions be mistaken as factual statements.

Anonymous said...

> UMPD has no ALS Paramedics.
> Most are not even BLS EMT's.

And the university lied to the students yet again. I do know, as an absolute fact, that if I dialed 911 right now for a medical emergency, (blood all over everywhere, whatever) all I would get would be a UMPD officer who would evaluate the situation and then could perhaps request an AFD ambulance. There is absolutely no way I can directly request an ambulance.

They tell us that the cops are EMTs, I have that somewhere in some handout literature, and perhaps they lied... They do have lots of new young guys who might sometime get these qualifications, you simply can't double the size of your department in 5 years without some training issues...

> EH&S is not a first responding
> agency and has no capacity to
> do so. It is an inspection and
> regulatory office.

How many UM fire alarms have you been physically present at? For that matter, how many working fires on campus have you been physically present at?

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard a fire alarm go off, and have been present (in some capacity) at about a dozen working fires -- about six as a university employee.

EH&S (UMPD radio code "F-1") has trucks with red lights and a siren and they use both, they have a vehicle on call 24/7. If it is not a real fire, sometime in the next 10-15 minutes an AFD engine will show up because regs say that they have to and eventually someone will figure out how to shut off the alarm which really gets annoying over time.

(I distinctly remember one incident where I inquired if anyone had bolt cutters to cut the damn lock off if they couldn't figure out who had the key to the padlock, but I digress....)

I will never forget the accidental alarm (wet wires and I had already written two memos on the issue) where the AFD engine GOT STUCK in a snowbank because UMass hadn't plowed the road. This was at 3AM mind you, and it wasn't a working fire so it didn't make the paper, but I heard later that words were exchanged (yes, AFD, go for it, vehicular access does need to be maintained on campus even if the school is "closed"....).

I was present when the old DU frat had visible flames going up the whole north side and the UM EH&S guy was calling for help in the radio. It was a good 5 minutes before I heard a siren from the North station and had the initial response been with a pumper and not pickup, I think the building could have been saved. And that was a three horn blast everyone-out fire...

I remember one brush fire where it was UMPD officers in cruisers who were rolling for hot spots and flying embers -- you do what you have to do (and they were responding to a DMR group home that was near - but off - campus, but when things are going downhill, you don't worry about technicalities like jurisdictional issues....).

At least the good cops and firefighters don't. The shop steward might file grievances later but when folks can get hurt, the *good* folk don't worry about other stuff...

I have been here. I see that some are again trying to see the story that they tried to sell to the _Globe_ last fall and in this context I cite that as evidence. I DO know what I am talking about because I have seen it happen.

We won't even get into how the AFD dispatch somehow managed to get my UNLISTED personal HOME phone number (on a UM PBX) but as I later told a really upset bureaucratic supervisor, the woman asked me nicely if I would come down with my keys and unlock a few doors and I went because not only was it a perfectly reasonable request but I really was tired with trying to figure out the nuances of the APA citation system anyway....

I do know what I am talking about.

I will also state for the record that the only reason why Jason Vassall isn't looking at two homicide charges (having stabbed one man four times and the second five) is that the AFD is really good. Other departments likely could have gotten the bodies to Bay State but there is a very real advantage of having the ALS and such.

Argue that I am wrong in interperting facts is fine, but do not ever assume that I don't know my facts.

Ed Cutting
who knows that the primary/ground voltage in Amherst is 8700 volts (13,500 between primaries) *and* has seen when someone finds such a line with a backhoe. (I am ever so glad that (a) it was a dry summer that year and (b) I had gone to lunch late that day and thus wasn't standing next to the backhoe....)

Anonymous said...

A ladder truck would be absolutely neccessary at Umass. Sprinkler systems have nothing to with the necessity of a ladder truck. A ladder truck is used for forced entry, overhaul, high angle rescue, overhead fire supression.

-----

I am talking the 11 story ladder truck which - allegedly - Amherst had to buy because of the UMass buildings (22/26 stories). I also like to remind folks that it is either 11 stories up, or 4 stories at a 45 degree angle, such as going over a building fire in a congested area (such as downtown Amherst) and protecting the adjacent buildings around/behind it....

It has been 24 years since I have been on the roof of a burning building and I freely admit this. And I am willing to say that, overall, the AFD is damn good.

Neither precludes my facts from being accurate. And as an aside, I had a scanner on the night that Adam Prentice died and we won't even get into that mess....

Ed

Anonymous said...

Wasn't there an incident where a firefighter tripped over a can of kerosene and made a fire at an off campus student apartment a whole lot worse?

Anonymous said...

Ed- Your passion is obvious, but you still are not right about a lot of things in your rebuttal. If you want to believe all you said is correct that is fine, but believe me it is not.

maryd said...

I must put in my 2 cents here. If someone calls UMPD and says its a medical emergency an ambulance is sent, they dont wait for an on scene evaluation. If a fire alarm goes off AFD is sent, they dont wait to see if its "real" or not. They know the value of time. By the way, a scanner does not tell the whole story, even if you listen to fireground.

None of the colleges or universities I just looked at with my child said all their police were EMTs, and most parents choose to keep their kids on their health insurance and opt out of the high college fee for it.

Neil said...

Considering Larry's post was about Town of Amherst real estate and room tax revenue and Amherst's ability to collect on those, Ed Cutting's headlong dive into a thesis about the emergency services provided and by whom only illustrates my point ... if he finds something interesting as a parallel topic, he might consider doing so on his own blog.

Anonymous said...

Maryd wrote:
If someone calls UMPD and says its a medical emergency an ambulance is sent, they dont wait for an on scene evaluation. If a fire alarm goes off AFD is sent, they dont wait to see if its "real" or not.

----

All I can say is what I observed on the deck. There was an incident years back where a woman's baby stopped breathing or something and there was an issue as to why the first responder was a UMPD officer and not AFD - although the officer did a good job and the child was OK.

I have been on the deck (not listening to the scanner) and all I can say is what I saw and heard.

Maybe AFD is dispatched on alarms, but they arrive quite a bit after both UMPD and EH&S -- and they aren't driving the truck like they need to get there in a hurry. I have *seen* this, not heard it on a scanner.

And I stand by what I saw when DU burned - yes, they had covered the smoke detectors with plastic (so they could smoke dope) and it was EH&S dispatched and I would have had a picture of that were it not my desire to keep going and thus not block the road and thus hinder the responding equipment.

And I know what the response from all was in the followup to the concerned mother's concerns and what we were told to tell people like her...

Ed

Anonymous said...

One other thing: when the kid fell from Sylvan, it was a janitor (who was a volunteer EMT in her hilltown hometown) who found him and saw that nothing could be done for him.

My point: UMass could redirect all the funding lines that currently go to the AFD and establish its own EMS services for less. It wouldn't be as good but it would meet code with trained professionals -- many of the hilltown EMS folk work here on campus already.

My caveat - be careful what you ask for because the university might just do something like this, particularly in the coming hard fiscal times. A UMass campus split off from Amherst would hurt Amherst more than the very real savings that Amherst would enjoy...

Ed

Anonymous said...

0ne other other thing:
> most parents choose to keep their
> kids on their health insurance
> and opt out of the high college
> fee for it.

Health fee is mandated, supp insurance is optional. I *think* that the former pays AFD.

Ed

Anonymous said...

Health fee isn't insurance but supplimental. Basicly charging for what most insurance already covers.
See
http://www.umass.edu/bursar/explanation.html
for facts to end this matter.