HOLYOKE — Responding to concerns Ward 3 Councilor David Bartley raised in mid-March that alleged some nonprofits are not contributing enough to the city’s payment in lieu of taxes program, Holyoke Mayor Joshua A. Garcia said his administration was actively negotiating with some of the nonprofits based in the city.
“We’re having discussions so we can come up with something reasonable and fair for our budgetary purposes and keeping up with services to the community,” Garcia said during a meeting Thursday.
The program, also known as a PILOT program, allows exempt organizations to pay the City of Holyoke annually, but they are not legally bound to pay property taxes as nonprofits.
During a March Finance Committee meeting, Bartley said he felt organizations like ISO New England, the Massachusetts Green High-Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC), and Holyoke Housing Authority needed to pay their fair share based on assessed property values.
Garcia said during the March 15 Finance Committee meeting that the organizations in question provide the community with valuable services and critical jobs. He added that his administration continues to meet and negotiate reasonable PILOT increases.
“We have these great organizations in the city that are paying a PILOT and doing good work in the community,” Garcia said.
He compared the ongoing process to navigating a minefield.
“We’ve been trying to understand where we are, as we have a new team. No one’s left us a playbook, and we’re putting the pieces of the puzzle together,” Garcia said.
City Solicitor Lisa Ball confirmed that the administration sought to formalize PILOT agreements, some of which began with a simple handshake decades ago. She wants proper documentation on file for future administrations.
“We just started to sit down, look at each of them and see what they pay. When was the last time this was negotiated? Are they in written agreements? Then start reaching out to each of them,” Ball said.
The city will review agreements with MGHPCC, Veolia, Housing Authority, Holyoke Water Works and other large nonprofits. Eventually, the reviews will include smaller organizations that pay a few thousand dollars annually.
“We’re also getting to see what they are doing for the community and what kind of business they have. We also get to know the people behind the name,” Ball said.
While Ball said she found little-to-no resistance to paying into the PILOT program, organizations cannot expect to pay past amounts. In addition, formulas for PILOT participants are unique and not the same across the board.
“We’re going to continue to reach out and try to negotiate what we think is fair for them and fair for us,” Ball added.