Thursday, May 6, 2010

The PILOTs are Coming: Use Sustainable Practices to Pay your Payments in Lieu of Taxes

The PILOTs are coming; the PILOTs are coming – even to little Concord, Massachusetts.

As more financially-stressed municipalities turn to PILOTs – Payments in Lieu of Taxes – and other nonprofit fees to build revenue, wary nonprofits are exploring ways to respond. ‘Right’ or ‘wrong’ is no longer the discussion; mitigation is.

I believe that by using sustainable practices to reduce demands on municipal utilities and services, museums could challenge their costs to the city: measure the reduced demands you make on city services through your green practices, and use that to stave of requests for PILOT fees.

Municipalities including Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Indianapolis and even Concord, Massachusetts, are beginning discussions about PILOTs and asking mostly large, but even small nonprofits like Concord’s Emerson House to make payments to the municipality. What’s a museum to do? No, it’s currently against the law to tax a nonprofit, but these requests are in lieu of taxes; they are pressure points, not tax bills.

Now I’m all in favor of responsibility, but I’ve been preaching the green practice is a museum’s responsibility and that green practice reduces museums’ costs to the municipality. I think it’s our responsibility to reduce those costs, but I also think that museums should get credit for those savings in lieu of Payments in Lieu of Taxes!

Since PILOTs are about money, the negotiations between the museum and the city will require quantification: the value of your services, the cost of your demands on the municipality, and fair compensation on both sides of the equation. Measuring the benefits of environmentally-sustainable practice is your ace in the hole:

- how much has waste-reduction reduced your museum’s demand on municipal disposal services?
- how much has water-use reduction and stormwater management reduced water flow from your site?
- how much have energy-saving measures reduced your demand on public utilities?
- how have your museum’s transportation policies and practices reduced demand on transportation infrastructure?

If you’re using this tactic now, or if you do decide to use it, please let me know. I’d love to work with you on this!

A few links for the curious:
Concord and the Ralph Waldo Emerson House

Boston’s Task Force and plans for
- creating “a consolidation program and payment negotiation system, which will allow the City and its tax-exempt institutions to structure longer term, sustainable partnerships focused on improving services for Boston's residents”;
- clarifying “the costs associated with providing City services to tax-exempt institutions” and - developing “a methodology for valuing community partnerships made by tax-exempt institutions.”

Overview of Cities asking for PILOTs: Boston, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, British Columbia

Hawaii, Kansas, Pennsylvania, etc., etc.

The Situation in St. Louis.

A Blog Post suggesting students might help measure the value for Penn:

Call for Nonprofits Participation in Policy Discussions

The National Council of Nonprofits report “State Budget Crises: Ripping the Safety Net of Nonprofits”

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