Town considers fair association’s tax payments
As the Hopkinton State Fair Association and the Board of Selectmen renegotiate the fair’s tax contribution, both parties are trying to agree on a formula to measure the value of one of the town’s most established traditions.
The fair association has been paying the town $31,000 per year in lieu of taxes for the last seven years under what’s called a PILOT agreement. According to minutes from a July 15 selectmen’s meeting, the assessed value of the fair association totals $1,555,300. Without this agreement, the association would be paying the town about $46,000 per year under the current tax rate.
The fair association’s five-year agreement expired in 2011, Town Administrator Neal Cass said. It has continued to make the same payment the past two years while waiting to renegotiate its tax contributions with the town. The board will revisit this issue again at its regular meeting tomorrow.
Jim O’Brien, chairman of the board of selectmen, said the board will now have to consider how much benefit the fair brings to the town – and whether that benefit is worth a $15,000 tax break.
“The town finds value in having the fair for the economic activity it brings. . . . I think the conversation that the board wants to have is, what are those values that they provide?” O’Brien said. “Should we have the taxpayers of Hopkinton subsidize in some ways the operation of the fair association?”
George Saunderson and Deb Curtis of the fair association first appeared before the selectmen in July to discuss a formula for future payments. Neither Saunderson nor Curtis could be reached for comment, but minutes from that meeting state they have asked to make the same $31,000 payments – no more, but also no less – each year under a new PILOT agreement.
Saunderson explained to the selectmen that the fair has more than 100 years of history in Hopkinton, but its land is also used for other purposes such as athletic fields and high school graduation, the minutes state.
“He also stated the fair is a cultural education and any shows the fair has help pay for the agricultural things that go on at the fair,” the minutes read. “He further stated the fair association is not a rich entity. Mrs. Curtis stated the money goes back into the fair.”
O’Brien, who was not on the board in 2007 when this agreement took effect, said it is unclear how that board set the original payment amount of $31,000. He and other selectmen will need to establish their own method for measuring the fair’s value and future tax contributions.
“People could make the argument that the fair association, they make money,” he said. “They’re a nonprofit but they do charge admission. They are able to pay the full assessment on their property value, and like any other taxpayer in town, they should be doing so.”
But they also have to consider the flip side of that argument, O’Brien said. The annual fair is a boon for local businesses, and the association puts the money it makes into maintaining the fairgrounds and expanding its Labor Day weekend festivities.
“No one (at the fair association) is getting rich off this.
. . . We get tens of thousands of people over the weekend coming to visit the fair. There’s a value to other businesses and individuals who use the fair to make money. It’s enough of a benefit to the town that we should be helping them keep their operations moving.”
The fair association is exempt from federal taxes. Prior to the 2007 agreement, Cass said the state fair association did not have a PILOT agreement with the town and was making full tax payments each year.
Hopkinton has six other current PILOT agreements, including one with the St. Methodius Faith and Heritage Center for $41,500 per year. The five other agreements all make payments of less than $3,500 per year. Those agreements have traditionally been negotiated using a certain percent of an entity’s taxable value, Cass said, though the state fair association’s agreement is for a set value rather than a percentage calculation.
The board will pick up its discussion of the fair association’s payments at its meeting tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. in town hall.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@
cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)