Published 07/06/13

Updated statement from President Machtley regarding effort to change Bryant's tax-exempt status

President Ronald K. Machtley issued the following statement this evening (July 6, 2013), updating a University statement issued July 2:

Legislation approved by the Rhode Island General Assembly (S 0025 and H 5083) that imperils Bryant’s nonprofit tax exemption -- and has serious and wide-ranging implications for all nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island -- is now before Gov. Lincoln Chafee. Unless Governor Chafee vetoes this legislation, it will become law in just a few days. 

Bryant has been a nonprofit institution of higher education since 1949. Careful stewardship has allowed Bryant to thrive and develop into a powerful economic engine for Northern Rhode Island. Mindful of difficult economic times, for several years the University has held back on tuition increases and frozen operating budgets.

Bryant has been, and remains, a respectful and respected member of the Smithfield community. Since 1971, as the University has become one of the most significant economic drivers in Smithfield, we have sought ways to enhance and assist our hometown. We have established initiatives that are not required, but that do contribute to making Smithfield a fine community.

Here are the facts:

  • Bryant pumps more than $17 million in to the local economy, benefitting hotels, restaurants, retailers and other businesses each year. In addition, the University employs -- and educates -- many area residents.
  • Each year, Bryant contributes more than $800,000 in direct and in-kind support to the Town of Smithfield. More than $300,000 of that is voluntary.  Last year we provided approximately $300,000 of educational services and facilities use for the town. We grant a full four-year scholarship to the highest-ranked Smithfield High School graduate. Smithfield’s graduation ceremony is held on our campus. Bryant hosts the town’s annual Independence Day Celebration. Smithfield teachers and students participate in programs through our U.S.-China Institute and Confucius Institute. Smithfield’s teams use Bryant’s athletic facilities, when available.
  • This $300,000 in services and facilities use that Bryant provides the town comes on top of the nearly $1.5 million that the University pays Smithfield for sewer, water, and other services. In fact, Bryant pays a higher water rate to help subsidize the community rate.
  • Like other cities and towns where colleges and universities reside, Smithfield receives almost $500,000 from the state of Rhode Island through the PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) program. These payments were established to compensate municipalities for any costs associated with having a nonprofit, tax-exempt university in the community.
  • Mindful of the burden of student debt, Bryant, as a tuition-driven institution, is not in a position to make an additional, significant cash contribution to the town.  Any new sums Bryant is required to pay to the town of Smithfield will come from increased tuition at a time when students nationwide are struggling to pay ever increasing tuition costs. Several months ago, however,  we proposed donating 200 computers per year from our refurbished stock -- at an additional cost to Bryant of $80,000 to $100,000 -- to help make Smithfield High School a leading institution nationwide in the adoption of technology in support of student success. This proposal would have represented a 33 percent increase in our contribution to the town over the next 10 years.
  • All of this is in addition to the inherent cultural and educational advantage the University extends to the town and its residents, who are welcomed to events such as those featuring prominent speakers, noted authors, and premier musicians.
  • Unlike all other university campuses in Rhode Island, Bryant is self-contained. We are solely responsible for road and utility maintenance, trash collection, and general operational and administrative control of the 420-acre campus. The Town of Smithfield provides police and fire protection to Bryant and we do not contest payment for false alarms.  As you know, the University maintains an extensive Department of Public Safety that ably handles everyday issues on campus.
  • Much of the friction between many educational institutions and their host communities is the result of issues arising from students living off campus, disrupting local neighborhoods. Today 89 percent of Bryant’s students live on campus. Few students live in apartments in the surrounding community.
  • Some proponents of this legislation have noted that Providence colleges and universities paid significant sums to Rhode Island’s capital city. But that situation is drastically different from ours. Nonprofit institutions occupy almost 40 percent of the land in Providence, a city that was near bankruptcy.  Bryant occupies a mere 2 percent of the land in Smithfield and already voluntarily pays taxes for any property removed from the tax rolls.

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.