Friday, September 28, 2007

TEXT: Fohlin statement on town relationship with Williams College

Williamstown Town Manager Peter Fohlin made public on Friday a letter he had written to the North Adams Transcript clarifying his views about the nature of the relationship between town government and Williams College. The context of the letter is many years of discussion about whether taxpayers would be better off if the town requested from Williams an annual "payment in lieu of taxes" rather than periodic requests for one-time capital-spending or grant assistance.

Here's the letter, as supplied via email to by Fohlin:

By Peter Fohlin

For years I have been proud to say that I have never been misquoted by the media. While that remains true in its narrowest sense, I was not accurately served by the article in Thursday's Transcript. Readers should know that I did not utter nor did I approve the story's headline: "College pays its share." It is also not accurate to say that I "have rebuffed the idea that the institution should increase its payout."

Listeners of WAMC with good memories know that I have said that there is more that the college can do with the town and more that the town can do with the college. We can never say that we have done "enough." It so happens that immediately prior to my Transcript interview I had spent three hours with Bart Mitchell, Mark Paresky, Jim Kolesar, and others brainstorming ways in which Mitchell Properties, Marlap Management, Williams College, the Town, and the State can contribute to a better downtown for us all. I want each and every one of them to do everything they can to make Williamstown a better place to live.

Whether an annual payment in lieu of taxes or project by project grants is better is debatable. I have favored the grant system since I learned as a kid that I got more money from my father by asking for ten and twenty dollar handouts at random times. He quickly learned that a regular allowance was cheaper for him. And after each grant I have always told President Schapiro the same thing I used to say back then, "Thank You" and "I'll be back."

Do the majority of taxpayers really want Town government to receive a yearly stipend? Don't you think that town and school officials would find new and creative ways to spend found money so that the effect on your taxes would be lost over time? Or would you rather see the College's money invested where you can see the impact of tax relief at the elementary school, Spring Street, and a new high school?

I also believe that Williams deserves credit where credit is due: approximately a million dollars toward the new elementary school construction, a million and a half dollar endowment invested on behalf of our public elementary school as though they were a privileged private school, three quarters of a million dollars toward the reconstruction of Spring Street, and innumerable infrastructure partnerships that we don't bother to keep track of or brag about but they save the taxpayers money.

That being said it's fair to ask "What have we done lately?" Pine Cobble subdivision was built a decade ago. The elementary school is five years old already and Spring Street even older. There are plenty of opportunities to consider: replace or refurbish our forty year old high school, rebuild our vintage police station, provide more parking on Spring Street. My first choice would be to purchase and donate a tract of land where the Town could build modest size starter homes on modest size lots that people can afford.

Peter L. Fohlin
Town Manager
31 North Street
Williamstown MA 01267
tel: (413) 458-3500


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