Tufts faces pressure to raise its annual payments to Medford and Somerville
Tufts University has been one of the few nonprofits in Boston that has forked over the full amount City Hall has requested of organizations that own tax-exempt property.
The school made the requested $570,000 payment in lieu of taxes, known as a PILOT agreement, in the last fiscal year for its medical campus in Chinatown and provided an equivalent amount of community benefits.
But at its main campus straddling Medford and Somerville, Tufts makes much smaller PILOT contributions for its tax-exempt properties: $275,000 to each city.
And now a group of activists is pressing the university to substantially step up its payments when those agreements expire June 30. Members of the Our Revolution Somerville and Our Revolution Medford met with Tufts representatives earlier this week to try to persuade the school to triple its payments to Somerville and nearby double its Medford contributions.
They want those two cities to use the Boston model, adopted seven years ago under then-mayor Thomas Menino. The city asks larger nonprofits to pay 25 percent of what the tax bill would be if their properties were owned by a for-profit company. Half of that can be credited to the value of community benefits the institutions provide, and the remaining 12.5 percent would come in cash. That formula increased PILOT payments to more than $32 million a year, from $15 million in fiscal 2011.
Yet only a few educational institutions pay the full amount of the cash portion, Tufts University among them. (Tufts Medical Center is a separate organization that makes its own payments.) Other universities that own more land in Boston pay less than what City Hall has requested, including Boston University, Harvard, and Northeastern.
In Somerville, activist Rand Wilson said Tufts is paying only about 4 percent, compared to the 12.5 percent in Boston.
"All we want is the same deal that Boston has," Wilson said. "I'm very hopeful that I think we've got their attention, and we've also got the attention of our elected officials in both communities."
Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone said he plans to push for the higher contribution during negotiations with Tufts, which would increase the school's cash payments to about $840,000 a year.
Curtatone also wants Tufts to help address affordable housing and quality-of-life issues as part of a new agreement. He recently hired a consultant to solicit suggestions from residents, and a forum on the matter is scheduled for May 29.
"The main goal is to grow and strengthen the partnership between the university and this community, not just by writing checks," Curtatone said.
A spokeswoman for Medford Mayor Stephanie Burke would say only that the mayor plans to negotiate a new deal with Tufts. (Activists estimate the cash portion should be around $490,000.)
"Everything's on the table right now," spokeswoman Lauren Feltch said.
For its part, Tufts said it already makes hefty contributions to the two cities. In addition to its PILOT money, spokesman Patrick Collins said, Tufts pays about $1.25 million a year to the cities for other properties it owns. Tufts also provides other community benefits, such as intersection improvements and contributions to local high schools.