PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Residents got the opportunity to weigh in on the proposed payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement between the city and four institutions: Brown University, Johnson & Wales University, Providence College and the Rhode Island School of Design.
A public hearing on the proposed agreements lasted nearly three hours at Providence City Hall on Tuesday night.
The non-profit organizations, which are technically exempt from paying commercial taxes, have historically entered into the PILOT programs as a way of contributing to city coffers in exchange for taking up so much physical space throughout the city.
The city proposed two agreements: a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with all four institutions totaling about $177 million, and a supplemental memorandum of agreement (MOA) totaling about $46 million with Brown University.
Altogether, the city would stand to gain $223 million over the next 20 years under the proposed agreements.
A 20-year agreement entered into by then-Mayor David Ciccilline expired in 2023, and a 10-year agreement entered into in 2012 by then-Mayor Angel Taveras expired in 2022. Under the combined prior agreements, Providence chief operating officer Courtney Hawkins said the city received a total of about $94 million over 20 years.
Throughout the hours-long hearing, dozens of residents, business owners, community leaders, and college students gave up to three minutes of public comment each.
Michael DiBiase President & CEO of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, spoke in in favor.
“While the annual revenue from these PILOT agreements are not overly large in relation to the city’s budget, they are not insubstnatial and they will matter with respect to the ability to fund necessary public services.”
Sharena Razek, president of the Graduate Labor Organization at Brown University, said she didn’t feel institutions like Brown were contributing enough.
“These universities are operating like corporations. They are accumulating property like commercial real estate businesses, they are treating students like customers and grad workers like replaceable apprentices,” Razek said. “I say if Brown wants to work like a corporation, it should be taxed like one.”
Mayor Brett Smiley unveiled the proposal earlier this month.
“It is important to remember that these are voluntary payments and that these institutions are tax-exempt, meaning that they are not legally required to pay any amount of property taxes to the city,” Smiley said in a statement on Wednesday. “This proposed agreement more than doubles the financial contributions from the last agreement, representing a 138% increase and has the potential to become one of the most generous agreements in the country.”
The agreements are still subject to further review by the Council Finance Committee, which is set to discuss and vote on sending the proposals to the full City Council at a meeting on Thursday night.