Bryant fights bill to boost payments to Smithfield
AT A PRESS CONFERENCE ON SUNDAY, Bryant University President Ronald K. Machtley urged Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee to issue a gubernatorial veto to the bill the General Assembly passed last week that altered Bryant's tax-exempt status.
COURTESY ROCKARHO MEDIA GROUP INC./VICTORIA AROCHO
SMITHFIELD – After the General Assembly passed a bill last week that would require Bryant University to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to Smithfield in compensation for using the town’s fire, police and rescue services, Bryant President Ronald K. Machtley urged a gubernatorial veto and threatened to sue in its absence at a press conference on Sunday.
In a release, Machtley declared the bill “ill-conceived” and argued that Bryant already contributes significantly to the town. In an interview with Providence Business News, he said that “we would go to court and challenge the constitutionality” of the bill if it became law.
The legislation in question would change Bryant’s tax exempt status and compel it to pay Smithfield each year, beginning in March, if they did not broker a memorandum of agreement before then. It follows months of negotiations, thus far unsuccessful, between the university and the town.
Machtley told PBN he is trying to set up a meeting with Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee for Wednesday, but he has been given no indication of the governor’s plans to sign or veto the bill.
Machtley said the bill “is a frontal attack on a single nonprofit to try and change the nonprofit status.” And in the statement, Machtley warned that the bill would have “serious and wide-ranging implications” for other Rhode Island nonprofits.
He wrote that Bryant brings $17 million into Smithfield’s economy each year, in addition to $800,000 in direct and in-kind donations and $1.5 million for water, sewer and other similar services. Machtley also cited the cultural and educational benefits of the university, its self-operated trash collection and road maintenance services, and its high proportion of students living on campus.
The bill’s supporters have cited the hundreds of campus incidents to which Smithfield police must respond each year, saying taxpayers should not shoulder the students’ burden. They have also pointed to Providence, where several colleges recently struck significant deals to contribute to the city.
In his statement, Machtley responded to those claims, saying that Providence offers a poor comparison because nonprofits take up 40 percent of the city’s land, while Bryant occupies 2 percent of Smithfield.