Strategic Partnership Agreement between UMass and town of Amherst serves as ‘framework for moving forward’

By Marie MacCune

Daily Collegian Graphic
(Collegian Graphic/Randy Crandon)

The University of Massachusetts agreed to pay the town of Amherst more than $3.6 million over the next three and a half years in the Strategic Partnership Agreement signed in late December 2015. The agreement expires June 30, 2019.

Negotiations on the agreement started in 2013, according to a University press release. During this time, UMass followed the terms of the previous agreement that had expired the year before.

Under the document, UMass is set to pay $120,000 for various town services annually. This includes the K-12 education services provided for children who are part of families affiliated with the University and living in tax-exempt housing.

Part of the agreement is a collaboration between the town and the University to study the implications of this education program.

After collecting sufficient data, UMass officials and the superintendent of Amherst public schools will meet to discuss the impact of providing these services on the Amherst school system and propose changes and improvements for the future, according to David Ziomek, interim Amherst town manager.

In fact, that’s how Ziomek characterized the whole agreement, as creating “a framework for moving forward.”

Ziomek described town-gown relations as critical.

“This agreement is one of the many things we do to improve our community,” he said.

Ziomek emphasized the goal of improving the experience of residents, faculty and students working and living in Amherst.

He also mentioned the University/Town of Amherst Collaborative, established before the start of the fall semester, as another example of teamwork between the town and the University. UTAC is composed of Amherst residents, UMass students and town and University officials, and serves as an advisory council to the town manager and University chancellor, according to the press release.

Other payments under the agreement include those for fire, ambulance and emergency services. For fiscal year 2016, UMass will pay $80,000 to fund additional details necessary during the first and last weeks of the semesters. Last fiscal year, UMass paid $381,344 for ambulance support from the town.

According to the press release, the amount paid for these services each year is “based on a formula that factors in the complete cost of providing services minus state payments-in-lieu-of-taxes to the town.”

The third major payment source is a six percent occupancy fee that the University pays for each room occupied at Hotel UMass each night. The University is not obligated to pay the fee under law, while other lodging businesses are obligated to pay the room tax. This fee is something paid voluntarily, according to Ziomek.

“Financially, it is equivalent to what we receive from other hotels in Amherst (under the room tax),” Ziomek added.

The University began collecting the fee in 2014 and its first payment was about $257,000. Payments from the fee will be made quarterly.

Ziomek explained that money from this fee goes into the town’s general fund.

The agreement was signed under acknowledgement that UMass is the second largest employer in western Massachusetts and cited the $1.9 billion impact it has on the state economy as well as the $30 million it spends in the local area annually.

The language of the agreement itself emphasizes the economic stability the University brings to the town and region.

As Ziomek put it, “It’s all about partnership.”

He echoed UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy’s words after the singing of the agreement, saying, “The fate of the University and the town is intricately linked.”

Marie MacCune can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MarieMacCune.