Boston authorities are planning to launch a review this summer of voluntary payments that key tax-exempt institutions such Harvard University and other prominent nonprofits make to the city, officials announced Monday.
City officials plan to launch a task force this summer to examine Boston’s payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, program. For years, the city has asked dozens of major educational, medical, and cultural nonprofit institutions to make voluntary payments under the program.
Under the current PILOT initiative, certain institutions with at least $15 million worth of real estate are expected to make payments instead of property taxes, though the program is voluntary. Last year, 47 institutions were identified by the Assessing Department to participate in the program. The list included some of the city’s best-known higher-education institutions, such as Boston University and Harvard University; cultural institutions including the Museum of Fine Arts and the New England Aquarium; and hospitals including Brigham and Women’s and Tufts Medical Center.
Recent city data show most of the contributions from the PILOT institutions have not been in cash, but in community benefits, such as free summer academies for underserved students, discounted or free admission to events, scholarships, donated office space, or the construction of playgrounds.
The last time a task force looked at PILOT payments in the city was a decade ago, and the community benefits, or noncash, contributions will now be re-examined, with officials looking at how to make the program’s benefits most equitable.
“It’s time to look back … at what’s worked and what hasn’t,” said Casey Brock-Wilson, the city’s director of strategic partnerships.
Brock-Wilson said now is a good time to “look at how we can proactively address the common needs of Boston residents, better incorporate community voice, strengthen the partnership between the city and institutions even more, and kind of examine the nuts and bolts of the program as well.”
The PILOT program has produced more than $30 million in cash revenue for the city for each of the past five years, according to Nicholas Ariniello, the city’s assessing commissioner.
“Those are great figures and we are very appreciative of those institutions,” said Ariniello recently.
The goal, said Brock Wilson, will be to launch the PILOT task force in the summer with aim of having recommendations in the spring of next year. Community stakeholders including representatives from PILOT institutions, labor leaders, local advocates and residents, and elected lawmakers will be invited to take part in the process, she said.
Both Brock-Wilson and Ariniello were slated to testify this afternoon before a City Council PILOT committee chaired by Councilor Kenzie Bok.
In a statement last week, Bok said, “We learned by necessity in the pandemic what we can achieve at our best when Boston’s city government, large institutions, and community partners work together and coordinate resources.”
She continued, “I’m excited to work with Mayor Janey, and local advocates to bring that level of targeted coordination to PILOT program community benefits, so we can better tackle our city’s continuing crises around racial and economic inequality, educational opportunity, and housing affordability.”