WILLIAMSTOWN -- For fiscal 2013, about 36 percent of the town's total property value will be exempt from taxes.
According to records from the Assessor's Office, the total value of taxable real and personal property is about $995 million, and roughly $356 million of that is tax exempt.
While about 67 percent, or $240 million, of that tax-exempt property falls under the ownership of Williams College, the remaining 33 percent, or $116 million, is divided among about three dozen entities, including the town, the state, the federal government, other municipal entities, nonprofit organizations, private schools and religious institutions.
The town doesn't have a formal payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement with the owners of any of these tax-exempt properties, even though the lack of such agreements have been questioned over the years.
Such PILOT agreements aren't required by law, but are utilized by communities across the state for activities such as funding annual budgets and lowering tax rates.
Town Manager Peter Fohlin said Monday that the town's last PILOT agreement was with Northern Berkshire Healthcare, when Sweetwood and Sweet Brook were tax exempt. The agreement was negotiated at the time of the sale of the assisted living facility and nursing home, which were privately owned, he said. When the facilities were sold to CareOne in 2010, they became taxable again, he said.
Fohlin said whenever a PILOT
"To be fair, such a discussion needs to include the [Sterling and Francine] Clark Art Institute, Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation, Buxton School, open space and agricultural land, all the churches in town, and every other tax-exempt organization that consumes public services at reduced or no cost," he said.
While Williams has the largest value of tax-exempt property, it's also the largest taxpayer in town for property it owns that doesn't fall into the educational-use category.
Fohlin said that historically, the college has contributed financially to the town on a project-by-project basis, including a gift of $1.5 million toward the construction of the new elementary school. The arrangement has served the town well, as an annual PILOT payment would likely be absorbed into routine operating expenses, he said.
"As a result of the $1.5 million gift from Williams, Williamstown Elementary School has a $1 million maintenance endowment they never would have had via a PILOT," he said.
He added that a contribution from the college to the Mount Greylock Regional School District to put toward the construction of a new high school or a renovation of the existing building has been discussed "pending more precise estimates of the cost of construction."
James Kolesar, assistant to the president for public affairs at Williams, said by understanding that the health of the college and the health of the community are intertwined, the college actively donates to a variety of community enterprises.
"We have annual commitments of more than $500,000, and in addition, have made over the past decade one-time gifts and pledges of around another $5 million," he said.
Besides the construction of the elementary school, Williams has also contributed to the capping of local landfills and the reconstruction of Spring Street, he said. It has also contributed to the construction of the new Williamstown Youth Center, he said.
"College financial engagement of this kind has enabled some projects to happen that may not have otherwise and enabled others to be completed to a higher standard. I'm not sure that would be the case if some annual payment from the college to town government merely became part of the town's budget base," he said.
Following Williams, the property owner with the next highest value of tax-exempt land is the Clark Art Institute. While the Clark pays property taxes for five properties with a total value of about $3.9 million, its main property on South Street, which is valued at about $32 million, is exempt.
Victoria Saltzman, director of communications for the Clark, said Tuesday that from time to time, as different requests come to the Clark, it has made contributions toward civic projects.
"We, historically and currently, have always tried to be very good citizens of Williamstown," she said.
After the Clark, the owners of the tax-exempt properties with the next highest valuations are the state, the town, Willowood of Williamstown, the Mount Greylock Regional School District, Buxton School and Pine Cobble School.
Janet Saddler, treasurer and tax collector for Williamstown, said Monday that the town is projected to receive $119,567 from the state in fiscal 2013 as a payment for tax-exempt state-owned land, though the town does not classify this as a PILOT agreement.