Friday, January 16, 2015

Higher Education Subsidy?

Ladder 1 at UMass HVAC malfunction fire 12/2/14

Undoubtedly the presence of Amherst College (our #1 land owner), Hampshire College (#3 landowner) and UMass/Amherst (#2 landowner) provide the #1 opportunity for employment in town while also providing boatloads of "college aged youth" for our anemic business sector.

But do these tax-exempt institutions really pay their fair share, especially considering property taxes are the #1 revenue source for municipal services?

 AFD Engine 1 at Amherst College Crossett Christmas disturbance 12/7/14

A look at the cold hard facts reveals a simple answer:  Hell no!

In his budget presented yesterday to the Select Board and Finance Committee (and almost certainly to be passed this spring by Amherst Town Meeting) Town Manager John Musante allocates to the Amherst Fire Department $4,466,729.

 2014 was busiest year in history for AFD medical runs (2nd busiest overall)

In 2014 AFD had their second busiest year in history with a total of 5,914 runs with 1,566 of those going to our three institutes of higher education, or 26.5%, which works out to $1,182,789 worth.

UMass paid us $350,000 for AFD protection via a "5 Year Strategic Agreement" (that is now 2.5 years past due for renewal) and Amherst College paid $90,000.  Hampshire College paid zero

So total intake to the town coffers is $440,000 on a fair share of $1.2 million!  All these monies simply go into the town's General Fund, not directly to AFD.

Based on service provided, UMass (19% of AFD runs) should have paid us $848,678; Amherst College (4.25% of AFD runs) should have paid $189,835; Hampshire College (3.18% of runs) $142,041.

Amherst College is our #1 landowner and #1 taxpayer because of all the houses they own and rent to professors, and some commercial property (Amherst Golf Course and Lord Jeff Inn).

Last year Amherst College paid around  $490,000.  Hampshire College is our #3 largest landowner, but only paid $67,000 in property taxes on all their holdings last year.

 AFD on scene Hampshire College 12/9/14 for minor fire

Amherst College donated $90,000 to the town last year for AFD protection while Hampshire College -- one of the most expensive liberal arts colleges in America -- donated zero.

If the Town Manager could get our Colleges and University to pay their fair share for vital services, we could easily add a few firefighters to that overburdened public safety department.

And have money left over for a downpayment on the forever talked about, new South Amherst Fire Station.


Anonymous said...


Does the FD keep any track of what portion of the Amherst calls are from students vs the year round population. It may be an interesting piece of data. That portion of the population that lives in property tax paying homes could be helping to reduce or increase the overall burden of safety services.

Anonymous said...


It is important for your readers to understand that the payments made by UMASS and Amherst College go into the town's "general fund" and NOT directly to the AFD. The same is true of the significant amount of revenue generated from ambulance billing. AFD had no control whatsoever over how these funds are utilized.

Jeff Parr

Larry Kelley said...

The majority of calls (3,291) to Amherst would include both students living off-campus in rental property and year-round taxpayers living in their homes.

Not sure, because of privacy issues, if there's a way to break out the difference between students and year rounders.

Tom Simpson said...

What percentage of AFD runs are ambulance vs. fire calls? I suspect the vast majority are ambulance runs.
Aren't virtually all ambulance runs compensated by someone- usually insurance companies? Is the cost of the ambulance service covered by the billed pricing- including an amount for capital costs, ambulance replacements, etc? It should be. The ambulance service should be priced to be self-supporting as closely as possible.
Which leaves the costs of the fire runs. The academic entities should certainly be making contributions to help offset those costs. There's a lot of fixed costs there that need to be covered.

Larry Kelley said...

Good point Jeff. Updated.

Tom: About 3/4 of AFD runs are ambulance. In fact this past year overall runs were #2 highest in history but EMT ambulance runs were #1.

Yes. insurance does pay for ambulance but not fire. I have a request into the town now for the amount paid to the AFD Ambulance Fund over the past two years.

Hampshire College however has a much higher rate of false fire alarms requiring fire engines to respond, vs UMass, Amherst College or the town.

Fire on the mountain said...

Query whether the town can stop taking the calls, and require the colleges (which are immune from our zoning laws and other bylaws, and pay no taxes) to have their own fire departments just as they have their own security forces?

I, for one, would love to see how a Hampshire College volunteer firefighting force looks looks and performs. [Insert witty rejoinder here]

Anonymous said...

A hampshire college VFD would be stopped in their tracks to watch the "pretty lights"

Anonymous said...

and what about the cost of educating the children of UMass students/grad students who live in (untaxed) UMass housing? Since our public schools costs are over $20K per student per year, these costs add up fast.

Larry Kelley said...

Yes, I believe the number is around 60. So that does add up.

Dr. Ed said...

That portion of the population that lives in property tax paying homes could be helping to reduce or increase the overall burden of safety services.

Property owned by the Amherst Housing Authority is tax exempt and generates a lot of both police and fire ambulance calls...

And where is all the fee money going? AFD does *not* transport UM students for free, they bill, they get well paid for it and where does that money go?!?

Dr. Ed said...

Jeff Parr said:

The same is true of the significant amount of revenue generated from ambulance billing. AFD had no control whatsoever over how these funds are utilized.


Assuming this means that 100% of the billing revenue doesn't go to ambulance-related expenses, there likely are some laws being broken here. And I don't mean to the AFD, the money has to go directly to the ambulance service -- equipment, supplies, personnel, fuel, maybe even licenses. The actual (documented) billing expenses could also be included -- but that is IT. Nothing more.

This is like using the Water & Sewer money to plow the roads -- you simply can't do that, an Enterprise Fund has to pay for the Enterprise and it alone.

There are laws that mandate this.

And notwithstanding contract language either way, isn't management's violation of state law grounds for a grievance under general state labor relations law?

Notwithstanding that, anyone can request an accounting of any town fund, I presume the union can find a non-town photocopier somewhere, and handing that information out at Town Meeting would likely get some questions asked.

And notwithstanding that, anyone can ask the State Auditor to look into things. An allegation that an enterprise fund was being misappropriated is the sort of thing that gets the attention of an auditor -- and I'm not so certain it is even legal to put the UM money into the general fund, not when UM is specifically paying for guys staffing an ambulance -- ethically and I believe legally, the Town has got to use their money for what they gave it to the Town for.

Jeff Parr: I'd call at least the state if not national union affiliate -- they've got to have a lawyer or two kicking around somewhere and they ought to be able to advise you on this...

Anonymous said...

This is like using the Water & Sewer money to plow the roads -- you simply can't do that, an Enterprise Fund has to pay for the Enterprise and it alone

Then why do i see trucks that say water department plowing my road?

Anonymous said...


I could be mistaken, but I don't believe Ambulance receipts go into an enterprise fund. I believe they go into the general fund. If they did go into an enterprise fund, your comments would be correct. Good luck getting the town to agree to set one up... they'd loose all their spending money!

Larry Kelley said...

Actually the town does have an "Ambulance Fund," but it is still money that has to be appropriated by Town Meeting, so pretty much the same as General Fund $.

In 2013 it generated $2,183,551 and in 2014 $2,201,177 not counting the $372,265 per year paid into the fund by UMass for AFD protection via the "Five Year Strategic Agreement" that is now 2.5 years past due for renewal.

Anonymous said...

Just to correct, the primary beneficiaries of the students' money is the institutions' employees themselves. As an owner of a number of local business, I would point out that many of us profit from those employees and support staff providing these empty educations. In the end those that really benefit are the firefighters and other town employees who get to be paid through the roof for services that could be provided at a value privately. In stead they just demand a share of the work that all the rest of us do in the private sector.

No colleges and universities, taxes or not, and Amherst would look like Turners. There would be far less to complain about and if you did, people could hear you because you would not longer be sitting on top of a high horse.

Amherst is nothing without UMASS, there is no need to tax it more, it already pays pretty much everyones' salary - primary, secondary or tertiary. There would not even be that many yuppies to blog too locally without it.

I get it though, we all lust after other peoples' money. For the govt. employees and their worshipers, it is literally their job. If they could not find a way to get money without earning it freely, they would have to go out and get competitive jobs and actually build wealth to be wealthy. Nah, just taking it is easier.

Larry if you want more money for your firefighters and crimefighters, the long term residents of Amherst should pony up. It is actually really quite simple. You are too focused on UMASS when all students literally cost double what they should. You firefighter money is already in town hands, all you have to do is get the extra $10,000 per student out of the school system and into community protection or gasp, back in the hands of those that earned it - the private sector.

How about a poll tax. Then all those pumping out babies can pay their fair share.

Anonymous said...

How about a poll tax. Then all those pumping out babies can pay their fair share.

You raise the issue that Margaret Sanger did a century ago -- the people "pumping out the babies" are the ones we least want to have reproducing.

I know one woman who spoke of the four (different) fathers of her four children with such third person terms that I honestly wanted to ask her if she'd been present when the children were conceived.

THC gets into breast milk and smoke (of any kind) is not good for young lungs. I've seen so much pot smoke in a (subsidized) apartment that it was building down from the ceiling the way smoke does in a working fire. She's breastfeeding the infant, 2-year-old sitting next to her, those kids don't have a chance.

There are people who think that they are entitled to our money....

Anonymous said...

Your precious little town would be a shithole if it weren't for the colleges