PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence City Council Finance Committee pushed forward a proposal that could more than double how much four private higher-education institutions contribute to Providence over the next two decades.
The committee voted 2-1, without recommendation, to send two proposed payment in lieu of taxes agreements, also known as PILOTs, forward to the full City Council.
The agreements were drafted between the city and four institutions: Brown University, Johnson & Wales University, Providence College, and R.I. School of Design.
The city’s proposed agreements include a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, with all four institutions totaling about $177 million, and a supplemental memorandum of agreement, or MOA, totaling about $46 million with Brown University.
While technically exempt from paying commercial taxes, the nonprofits have historically entered into the PILOT agreements as a way of contributing to city coffers in exchange for taking up so much physical space throughout the city.
Altogether, the city would stand to gain $223 million over the next 20 years under the proposed agreements.
A majority of the committee had to vote in favor of sending the plans to the full City Council for final review. The five-person panel is currently down two members.
Chairwoman Helen Anthony has been recovering from injuries sustained after being hit by an ATV in California in June, while Council Pro Tempore Juan Pichardo resigned from his position as vice-chair in July after getting hit with a campaign finance violation earlier this year.
Councilwoman Sue AnderBois voted to allow the matter to go to the full council but without a recommendation to approve or not approve the deals.
“I don’t feel great about this,” AnderBois said. “But I do think it’s better. It’s okay. There are parts I don’t like but that is the difficult decision-making that we have before us.”
Mayor Brett Smiley unveiled the proposed PILOT agreements earlier this month after two separate agreements expired in 2022 and 2023. Under the combined prior agreements, Providence chief operating officer Courtney Hawkins said the city received a total of about $94 million over 20 years.
Smiley calls the proposal “one of the most generous PILOT agreements in the country.”
“Tonight’s vote is an important step forward in codifying this historic agreement,” Smiley said in a statement after the meeting. “I am thankful for action from the members of the Providence City Council Finance Committee and I am pleased with the progress we have made in developing an agreement that is a significantly better deal for Providence.”
Councilor Miguel Sanchez was the one vote in opposition of sending the deals to go before the council.
“This does not feel like a partnership between the council and the schools,” Sanchez said. “When we have three or four weeks to work on it and most of our concerns, questions are not being answered and that’s not something that I feel comfortable moving forward.”
Earlier this week, the Finance Committee heard from dozens of residents, business owners, community leaders, and college students in a nearly three-hour public hearing.
Most of the speakers who signed up to give testimony were against the agreement.
On Thursday, more students attended the public meeting, holding signs that read things like, “Pay your taxes!”
The PILOT agreements could be up for discussion as soon as next Thursday’s City Council meeting. An agenda has not been finalized yet.