Providers are waiting to see what comes out of meeting Tuesday, August 16, 2005
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Local social service providers are tightlipped over whether they are willing to dole out payments in lieu of taxes, and at least one is pushing the town to approach all nonprofits for money.

Officials from three agencies yesterday said they want to see what proposals a new study committee comes up with.  That group, which meets for the second time tonight, is charged with researching a possible program for getting payments in lieu of taxes.

"I would have to see what the committee proposes," said Eric Masi, president of Wayside Youth and Family Network.  "I would assume they would take into account the extensive free services for Framingham residents that agencies like Wayside provide."

The committee, which is also examining the impact social service agencies have on Framingham, is showing division over whether to consider all nonprofits in town, not just social services.

Town Meeting defeated an effort to broaden the committee's work to include all nonprofits, but some committee members argue a broader review is the only way to create a complete picture.

One member, Dawn Harkness, has also questioned whether approaching only social service providers for payments would be legal.

"Are we singling out social services for a reason?" said Wes Ritchie, a member of the committee.  "The answer may be perhaps we are, and there are reasons to that, but until we do (a broader review), it's an incomplete committee."

Gerard Desilets, planning director for the South Middlesex Opportunity Council, yesterday pushed for the committee to tackle all tax-exempt organizations.  SMOC, he said, is not outright opposed to providing a payment in lieu of taxes.

"The caveat of that is we want to see any such proposals include nonprofits in general," he said.

Advocates Inc. President Bill Taylor refused to say whether the agency would rule out or even consider payments.  "I really look forward to the conversation about the benefits we provide to the community as well as conversation about real estate taxes, and I'm sure we'll come to a mutually satisfactory conclusion," he said.

Committee member Laurie Lee countered that Town Meeting rejected a motion that would have required a review of all nonprofits, limiting it to social service agencies only.  Tonight, the committee is set to work on how it will define a social service agency.

When asked if establishing a payment in lieu of taxes program is possible, Lee acknowledged social service agencies have a right to say no, but a responsible business that is concerned about the community they are living in would say yes."

Framingham does not pocket any such payments from tax-exempt property owners.  The state, however, provides money for land it owns at the prison, the state college and Callahan State Park.  In fiscal 2005, it paid $358,000, covering the value of the land, not the buildings.

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