Published 07/02/13

University statement regarding changes in Bryant's tax-exempt status

Bryant University today (July 2, 2013) released the following statement:

Today, the General Assembly passed a bill that alters the tax-exempt status of Bryant University. This heavy-handed legislation comes after several months of good-faith discussions with the Town of Smithfield and is not in the best interests of any of the parties involved.

Smithfield has been Bryant's home since 1971 and we are proud of the contributions we make to our hometown and the good relationship we have with its residents.  Each year Bryant University contributes more than $800,000 in direct and in-kind support to the Town of Smithfield.  Over $300,000 of this amount is voluntary, and includes our sponsorship of Smithfield’s annual Fourth of July celebration, use of Bryant facilities and athletic fields, and the annual awarding of a four-year full scholarship to the top-ranked graduate of Smithfield High School.

Bryant also pumps more than $17 million each year into the economy as our students shop locally and we employ area residents.  Events on campus fill up our hotels, and parents of our students – more than 85% of whom are from outside Rhode Island – spend money as they visit their children in Smithfield. As a self-contained academic community we use few town services. We construct and maintain our own roads, collect our own trash and recycling, and secure the campus with our own police force. We make cash payments to the Smithfield Fire Department that compensate the town for our fire and rescue use.

It should also be noted that because of Bryant's tax-exempt status the Town of Smithfield already receives nearly $500,000 each year from the State of Rhode Island through its PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program.  These monies are to compensate the Town for the public safety burden of Bryant. This legislation allows the Town to "double-dip"  and begs the question what are the PILOT funds used for.

In recent discussions we proposed additional support as well as a new program to donate 200 laptops each year to Smithfield High School, making it one of the leading institutions nationwide in the adoption of technology in support of student success.  Unfortunately this proposal -- representing a 33% increase in our contribution over the next ten years -- was never seriously considered by members of the Town Council and represents a  lost opportunity for Smithfield and its students. 

Since 1949, Bryant has been a nonprofit institution of higher education and this legislation not only threatens Bryant, but has wide-ranging implications for all nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island.  While we would prefer to negotiate in good faith with the Town of Smithfield, we are now reviewing all of our legal options and strongly urge Governor Chafee to veto this ill-conceived legislation.