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City asks for payments; most colleges don’t pay in full

People walk through the Harvard University campus.Joe Raedle/Getty Images

For the fifth year in a row the majority of colleges in Boston did not pay the city the full amount it requested to help cover the cost of municipal services, newly released city data show.

Of the 19 colleges and universities in Boston, 14 paid less than what was requested in fiscal year 2017, which ended in June.

None of the eight colleges with the most valuable real estate paid the full amount requested by the city, including Harvard, Boston University, and Northeastern. Tufts is the only major university that did.

“It’s disappointing, obviously, that these schools continue to not do it, in particular Northeastern,” said Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim.


Harvard paid 53 percent of its assessment. Northeastern paid 24 percent, and Boston College 19 percent.

Under a six-year-old program — called PILOT, for Payment in Lieu of Tax — the city asks nonprofits with more than $15 million worth of tax-
exempt property in Boston to help offset the cost of police and fire protection, snow removal, and other services. The payments are voluntary.

The total value of the land owned by the 19 colleges is $7.2 billion, according to city data. If that property was taxable, the city would be entitled to $223.7 million. Instead, the city requested PILOT payments totaling $26.9 million from colleges and universities and received $13.4 million, data show.

Zakim said the PILOT payments requested are reasonable because they take into account the intangible assets the universities provide the city. But, he said, the city relies primarily on property taxes to pay for city services, and when so much city land is tax-exempt, it makes things difficult.

“City services cost money, and everyone benefits from the services,” he said.

The city also requests PILOT payments from a few private high schools as well as large medical and cultural institutions. The Boston Symphony Orchestra and WGBH paid in full. So did Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston Medical Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary.


Among those that paid nothing: Franciscan Hospital, Joslin Diabetes Center, the Museum of Science and the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Boston Children’s Museum, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Overall, the city received $32.4 million of the $49.5 million it requested in PILOT payments from all institutions, or about 65 percent. That is about $300,000 more than it received last year.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh called the PILOT program a “vital partnership used to fund important city programming.” In a statement Friday, he said the city is encouraged by increased participation and is evaluating the program.

“We will continue to work with all institutions to maintain and increase this program’s success,” the mayor’s statement said.

Five colleges paid in full: Boston Architectural College, MCPHS University, New England College of Optometry, the Showa Institute, and Tufts.

Most schools paid in part. The city’s smaller colleges generally paid a smaller percentage of their assessment. Emerson College paid 15 percent and Emmanuel College paid 11 percent, according to the city.

Fisher College, New England Conservatory, Simmons College, and Wheelock College paid nothing.

For decades, Boston negotiated payments individually with nonprofits when they built a facility or acquired property. But starting in fiscal year 2012, the city established a structured system and began to incrementally increase the amounts requested from the institutions.


Institutions can fulfill up to half of their obligation through a “community benefits credit” — demonstrating that they provide services that benefit Boston residents.

The rules were drafted by a task force that included representatives from an assortment of nonprofits, including leaders of city colleges.

The schools that paid in full generally have done so for the past six years. Other schools, like Northeastern, paid 100 percent five years ago but their payments have dwindled, data show.

Simmons paid 100 percent of the city’s request in fiscal year 2012, but this year paid zero. BU also paid in full the first year of the program and this year paid 76 percent.

Harvard spokeswoman Melodie Jackson said the school tries to strike a balance between paying taxes on its taxable property, making some PILOT payments, and funding programs in the neighborhoods where it owns land.

According to the school, it also paid $7.8 million in taxes in fiscal 2017. Harvard is in the midst of a major expansion into Allston and now owns more land in Boston than it does in Cambridge.

A spokesman for Boston College said the school does not participate in the PILOT program. He said the school pays $335,250 to the city of Boston and $125,000 to the city of Newton for fire protection services.

“As a Jesuit, Catholic university committed to service, we believe that the best way we can assist the city of Boston is through the more than $30 million in community benefits that we provide to the city and its residents each year through scholarships, jobs, volunteer outreach, community grants, and the public and private grants we procure for Boston’s public and parochial schools,” spokesman Jack Dunn wrote in an e-mail on Friday.


Emerson College President Lee Pelton defended its low payment by mentioning other ways the school has contributed to the city.

Emerson is in the third year of a four-year, $270 million facilities upgrade that includes a new dormitory and renovation of an old dormitory that by 2019 will remove 700 students from off-campus apartments, Pelton said in a statement.

He also said the school’s partnership with Ambassador Theatre Group will revitalize the Theater District, create new jobs, and help other local businesses.

Boston nonprofits' payments in lieu of taxes Figures are for fiscal year 2017, which ended June 30.
Nonprofit Type Would owe, if taxable Requested % paid
Boston University College $64.31m $8.05m 76%
Mass General Hospital Medical $55.44m $7.04m 98%
Harvard University College $48.08m $6.09m 53%
Northeastern University College $44.19m $5.48m 24%
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical $25.24m $3.17m 100%
Brigham and Women's Hospital Medical $24.55m $3.09m 98%
Boston College College $16.33m $1.75m 19%
Tufts Medical Center Medical $12.45m $1.54m 77%
Museum of Fine Arts Cultural $8.77m $1.06m 6%
Emerson College College $7.79m $938k 15%
Dana Farber Cancer Institute Medical $7.7m $927k 100%
Boston Children's Hospital Medical $20.51m $808k 100%
Wentworth Institute of Technology College $6.46m $769k 49%
Emmanuel College College $6.04m $714k 11%
Suffolk University College $5.78m $681k 66%
Faulkner Hospital Medical $5.03m $584k 98%
Tufts University College $4.91m $570k 100%
Spaulding Rehab Hospital Medical $4.78m $553k 98%
Boston Medical Center Medical $8.69m $519k 100%
Simmons College College $4.34m $496k 0%
Berklee College College $4.64m $467k 53%
New England Baptist Hospital Medical $4.1m $466k 80%
Mass Eye & Ear Infirmary Medical $3.63m $405k 100%
Harvard Vanguard Medical $3.41m $377k 55%
MCPHS University College $3.39m $375k 100%
Shriners Hospital Medical $3.29m $362k 0%
Joslin Diabetes Center Medical $2.68m $284k 0%
New England Aquarium Cultural $2.18m $219k 0%
Wheelock College College $1.7m $158k 0%
Roxbury Latin School School $1.64m $150k 0%
MASCO Cultural $1.58m $143k 100%
Franciscan Hospital Medical $1.56m $141k 0%
WGBH Cultural $1.55m $139k 100%
Fisher College College $1.39m $118k 0%
Showa Institute College $1.33m $110k 100%
Winsor School School $1.28m $105k 0%
Institute of Contemporary Art Cultural $1.15m $88k 0%
Museum of Science Cultural $1.08m $79k 0%
Children's Museum Cultural $963k $64k 0%
Bayridge Center Cultural $925k $59k 16%
New England Conservatory College $923k $59k 0%
Boston Symphony Orchestra Cultural $906k $56k 100%
Hebrew Rehabilitation Center Medical $1.3m $53k 48%
Gardner Museum Cultural $865k $51k 0%
Boston College High School School $844k $48k 0%
New England College of Optometry College $778k $40k 100%
Boston Conservatory College $706k $31k 0%
Boston Architectural College College $592k $16k 100%
Catholic Memorial School $506k $5k 0%
SOURCE: City of Boston

Matt Rocheleau of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.