(Update) PILOTs…maybe not such a crazy idea after all!

Those of you who have been following bloggingbelmont.com for the last couple months will, no doubt, recall the Eight Crazy Ideas (that just might work) for ’08 series we ran. This was an effort to throw some out of the box ideas about how to improve life in town to the proverbial wall and see what stuck. Well, one idea that appears to have stuck — in the mind of our Board of Selectmen, anyway — is #4: PILOT agreements
. Folded into Selectman Angelo Firenze’s address to the assembled masses at the March 1 meeting on School Department funding was a brief aside that the town was in the process of negotiating PILOT — or payment in lieu of taxes — agreements with one or more of the tax exempt entities that call Belmont home. Mr. Firenze declined at the meeting or in a subsequent email exchange with B2 to name which organizations the town was negotiating with, or to comment on the status of the negotiations. But the list of possible parties to a PILOT agreement is short: The Belmont Hill School, a major landowner with a $47 million endowment is certainly likely to have received a phone call. Belmont Day School is another– perhaps even the LDS (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) Temple. McClean Hospital contributed to the town’s coffers under a PILOT agreement for years. My understanding is that the agreement expired or was canceled at some point, though I’m still trying to confirm this with Tom Younger.

[UPDATE: According to Town Assessor Richard Simmons, McLean is scheduled to make its last PILOT payment to the town, for $99,000, in FY08.]

Belmont Municipal Light Department currently makes payments to the town under a PILOT agreement as well.

Selectmen Firenze was careful to point out that these organizations are under no obligation to agree to PILOT arrangements with the town — and would do so only to be good neighbors and show good faith with the town. It’s also unclear, at this point, how much additional revenue we’re talking about. As I noted in my original Crazy ’08 post, after Harvard University bought the Arsenal on the Charles office complex from O’Neil Properties in 2001, our neighbors in Watertown were able to negotiate a PILOT agreement with Harvard that started from that $3.8 million base rate and increased 3% per year through 2054, in addition to one time payments of $600,000 for community development and educational enrichment activities in Watertown. But the Arsenal is a huge complex and the lynch pin of Watertown’s commercial development. Harvard also has a $30 billion + endowment to play with. I may have misheard Selectman Firenze at the noisy March 1 meeting, but if I’m not mistaken, the figure $100,000 was thrown out as a possible addition to the town’s top line as a result of the PILOTs under negotiation — though it’s not clear whether that was a total, or the figure from one tax exempt organization, or a reference to the McLean annual PILOT contribution. Of course, the devil is in the details, and it will be interesting, when the details emerge, to compare the PILOT payment with an estimate of what the land, etc. would fetch the town were it to be turned into commercial or residential development. Let’s not flatter ourselves that it was the Crazy ’08 feature that put the idea of PILOTs on the table, but kudos all the same to Mr. Firenze and the Selectmen for picking up the ball on PILOTs and running with it!