In response to a letter from Mayor Gary McCarthy seeking payments from Union College, President Stephen Ainlay said the college makes “massive” economic, cultural and philanthropic contributions to the city.
Ainlay sent a letter to McCarthy on April 5 in response to the mayor’s March 17 letter that asked the Union president to consider tax payments for the school’s off-campus properties and payments for the cost of city fire, police and ambulance services.
Ainlay’s letter makes no mention of future payments to the city. Ainlay argues that Union is a “catalyst for economic growth” and is “rightly” a not-for-profit, tax-exempt entity.
“Union is proud to have been a catalyst for economic growth and a source of cultural enrichment for Schenectady these past 221 years,” he said in the letter. “A Union education offers benefits to society as a whole and not just the students who receive the education. The city of Schenectady has and continues to benefit educationally, economically, socially, and culturally.”
Ray Gillen, chairman of the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority, sent the letter to The Daily Gazette Thursday after McCarthy failed to send the letter after repeated requests for two weeks. Gillen also sent The Daily Gazette McCarthy’s letter to Ainlay last month.
In addition to his role with Metroplex, Gillen serves as the county’s commissioner of economic development and planning.
McCarthy declined to comment for this story and directed comment to Gillen. Gillen said he would prefer not to comment and directed comment back to McCarthy.
In his letter last month, McCarthy said he is “very concerned” about Union’s off-campus properties not paying taxes and said it’s a “recurring loss of revenue that is damaging to city taxpayers.”
Read Union College’s letter to Mayor McCarthy here.
The total assessed value of Union property off-campus is more than $31 million, McCarthy said in the letter. He added that would be $1.35 million a year in additional revenue for the city, county and Schenectady City School District.
Ainlay described Union’s purchase of off-campus properties as “modest” and that the college “converted far more property to tax-generating homes and businesses than we’ve removed from the tax rolls.”
“While it is true that the college has purchased properties, we have also sold properties to add them back onto the city’s tax rolls,” Ainlay said in his letter. “We donated college-owned properties on Barrett Street and Park Place to Habitat for Humanity and our students and employees helped renovate the properties before they became private homes. In recent years alone, we have also sold properties to private owners on Union Street, Wendell Avenue, Rugby Road and Park Place.”
McCarthy also asked Ainlay to reconsider a payment agreement for city costs associated with police, fire and ambulance services. He estimated that cost “in excess” of $600,000 a year. City Council President Leesa Perazzo said it’s about $700,000 a year.
The Gazette asked the city last month for a breakdown of estimated costs associated for those services a year. McCarthy said city staff was working to calculate a more accurate number “by next week.” That was three weeks ago.
Ainlay said that Union’s economic impact to the Capital Region in 2013 was estimated to be nearly $300 million. On top of that, he listed financial contributions made by Union for city projects.
He said the college invested $160,000 in the “C Diamond” in Central Park, $135,000 for enhanced crosswalks at the intersection of Union Street and Nott Terrace, $40,000 to keep the city swimming pool open, $25,000 for the Live In Schenectady project and more than $144,000 for the city to install security cameras in surrounding neighborhoods.
He said in 2013-14, about 1,300 students contributed more than 27,500 hours in local community service projects, which he estimates as a $247,500 financial contribution.
He pointed to the college’s chamber and international concert series, Union College Academy for Lifelong Learning (UCALL), the Adirondack Research Library and Kelly Adirondack Center as ways Union “contributes significantly to the educational and cultural richness of the city.”
Ainlay said the partnership between the city and the college has contributed to the revitalization of the College Park neighborhood, which “undoubtedly” led to future investments and developments.
“I must also take issue with your portrayal of the investment Union College made in our western neighborhoods,” he said. “While it is true that history can be viewed from many different perspectives, I believe it is a mistake to describe the college’s work with the houses on Seward and the development of the College Park area in that way that you do in your letter.”
Ainlay ended his letter saying he hopes the city and the college could continue to work together.
“Please know that we will honor your request to keep the interests of Schenectady in mind as we continue to strengthen Union College,” he said. “We hope that the city will keep the college — as an educational, financial and cultural asset — in mind as efforts are made to revitalize and enhance life for all.”