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.