Northampton to Adopt Pilot Program

Laura Sheedy ’17Contributing Writer

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz proposed a pilot program, in which voluntary payment is requested in lieu of taxes. This new initiative requests that the city’s largest tax-exempt institutions, including Smith College, pay 25 percent of the amount that would be paid if the institution were not tax-exempt.

Northampton consists of a uniquely large number of tax-exempt properties. The pilot program was developed in response to the increasing budget pressure on the city and the growing need for property taxes to fund the city’s needs.

Narkewicz acknowledges that these tax-exempt institutions, including nonprofits, greatly contribute to the city’s community and people of Northampton, and he does not take this lightly. Narkewicz stresses that this program is “voluntary” and that the city is “not passing a law.”

“[Smith] comprises the largest portion of tax-exempt value in the city, with more than $420 million in tax-exempt land and buildings, or 45.40 percent of the total value of tax-exempt property in the city,” said Narkewicz.

Narkewicz recognizes that Smith provides many benefits and contributes hugely to the city. He feels that Smith students decide, in part, to come to Smith for the city of Northampton because the city has “the best of everything.”

The Smith community directly relies on many of the city’s services, such as streetlights, roads and the police and fire departments, while not being required to pay for such services. “It’s not like it’s done on a fee for service basis, but there is a cost,” Narkewicz.

The proposed plan allows tax-exempt institutions to donate services that directly benefit the residents of Northampton in substitution of a payment. Pilot programs in other cities such as Boston have proved successful in raising funds for the city and increasing revenue and participation over the years.  The city relies on data from these cities to draft their plans.

To ease the financial impact on institutions, the pilot payments will be phased in over the course of five years.

In order to discuss the proposed plan, three town hall meetings have been set up for Northampton residents to voice their opinions and address their concerns. Invitations to discuss the plan have also been extended to leaders of the impacted tax-exempt institutions, including the leaders of Smith.

A copy of the full proposal as well as information and data about other cities’ pilot programs can be found on the city of Northampton’s official website.