2017-11-15 / Opinion

Non-Profit Means Big Savings


Jonathan Crimmins Jonathan Crimmins Far too often the story in Brunswick is that whatever Bowdoin College wants, Bowdoin College gets. They wanted Longfellow School and traded us the McLellan Building. They got a classically styled building and we got an 18- year-old building that is already looking haggard.

So, it was surprising that some members of the Council spoke against the recent idea by the College to shut down part of Pine Street in favor of expanding the Whittier Field complex. The College wants to build a large building on the property and decided that a street that has been in place for decades should be disrupted to suit their needs.

Never mind that there are unused spaces off Sills Drive that could accommodate the building and not encroach on Pine Street or Bowker Street. Never mind that the intended use for the road post construction is as a parking lot. Bowdoin wants it to happen, so they figured it would just happen.

During the Council meeting there was no formal plan. There was no conceptual drawing of the effort. There had not been a review by the Planning Board according to an article in this very paper. It was as though the College had gone to the line of scrimmage, called an audible and figured everyone would play along.

The effort may not be stopped but at least it was slowed down for now.

What comes to my mind is a bigger issue though. In an article in the college’s student newspaper from December 9, 1999 the “spirit of cooperation” between the town and the College was played up as the McLellan Building neared completion. Everyone worked arm in arm to develop the lot long unused. We were partners! Or were we?

Bowdoin’s relationship with the Town has always been one sided. The people of Brunswick give resources and amenities to the College and we are told that it is a privilege to have the nation’s top liberal arts college in our town. We are told that Brunswick would not be same place if the campus was not part of it. That may be accurate, but I think that there is much more that the campus can do to be a real member of the greater town of Brunswick.

Let’s review some information. For the tax year that ended earlier this year Bowdoin College had an overall value of land in town of $160,253,000. That is 160 MILLION dollars of value. Of course, a vast majority of the land is exempt when it comes to taxes. This means that Bowdoin College pays a mere total of $109,322.94 for all the property in town.

Being a non-profit seems to be pretty profitable.That is only one part of the equation. Bowdoin is quite proud of their endowment. Who wouldn’t be? Just last week in the Orient it was reported that the endowment had gained a rate of return of 12.4 percent for this past year. The endowment now has a market value of almost $1.5 Billion.

For a college known for their sense of social justice it seems that their desire to be a voice for the down trodden and economically disadvantaged does not extend to the neighboring streets. After all we are routinely reminded by students at Bowdoin that it necessary for the wealthy among us to pay a fair share.

Anyone happen to remember the Occupy protests from a couple of years ago staged by the students from Bowdoin? I do.

So now that we have seen what Bowdoin pays for the privilege of being in Brunswick, how does that stack up against other properties in town. The Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority has a healthy chunk of property. Like Bowdoin, a great deal of MRRA property is exempt from taxes. However, MRRA managed to pay more than seven and a half times what Bowdoin paid for taxes. MRRA’s payments come in at more than $821,000 for the year.

Mid Coast Hospital managed to pay at a rate that was more than double that of the college. For another organization that had a significant amount of exempted property they still managed to represent themselves well with the town.

Now, if we look at the world of the dreaded private sector the numbers become starker. When the non-profit classifier is removed the numbers go up, way up. For instance, you may be familiar with the McDonald’s on outer Pleasant Street. The total value of that property was $806,000 for which a total of $23,656.10 was paid in taxes. If Bowdoin paid at the same rate as McDonalds they would have paid more than $4,700,000 to the town. Think about how that would have affected our property taxes?

The trend is the same for many other businesses in town. White’s Beach Campground, Frosty’s, the Brunswick Business Center, Coastal Enterprises Inc., even Walmart, just to name a few. Each of these businesses pay vastly higher rates in taxes to the town for the privilege of doing business here. Some of these entities in town have resources that mirror those of Bowdoin, others do not, yet they continue to be good neighbors and good friends to the town.

Bowdoin could go a long way to living up to that “spirit of cooperation” if the relationship was not so one sided. The next time the Polar Bear gets that statement from the endowment maybe it would consider being as good a neighbor as we all are. Bowdoin can start by sending a bigger check to the Town of Brunswick. I am sure they know the address, they used to own the building.

That’s my two cents…

Jonathan Crimmins can be reached at j_ crimmins@hotmail.com

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