RIPTON — Middlebury College has agreed to a new, 10-year agreement with the town of Ripton, through which the institution will make annual cash payments to the community and deliver free ski lessons to local school children in recognition of its non-taxable property.
“We’re delighted that we’ve completed the extension of our long-term financial commitment to the town of Ripton,” said Patrick Norton, vice president for finance and treasurer of the college. “Middlebury has deep roots in Ripton and we value that relationship greatly.”
It was on Feb. 25, 1994, that the then-Ripton selectboard and Middlebury College officials signed an initial agreement that resolved a pending town-gown property tax dispute and set up a series of annual payments — also termed in the document as “gifts in lieu of taxes.”
The initial 10-year term of the agreement ran from 1994 to 2003. It automatically renewed for a series of one-year increments from 2004 to 2013.
Middlebury College currently owns around 980 acres of property in Ripton that is exempt from property taxes because it relates directly to the institution’s educational mission. Those properties include the Bread Loaf campus off Route 125 and the Battell Park land along the Middlebury River, north of Route 125.
The college owns an additional 1,174 acres of land in Ripton that are subject to local property taxes. Those holdings include the Noble Farmhouse off Frost Road; the Brooks Schoolhouse off Route 125; and the Myhre’s Cabin off Steam Hill Road. Middlebury College has, and will continue to pay, property taxes on those holdings. Middlebury College is second only to the United States Forest Service in terms of land ownership in Ripton.
The recently expired town-gown agreement provided for an annual gift in lieu of taxes that gradually increased each year during the life of the accord. It most recently netted Ripton $113,337 (in 2013), funds the selectboard uses to stabilize the municipal property tax rate.
After months of what both parties described as amicable talks, the town and college finalized a new agreement — covering the tax years beginning Jan. 1, 2014, and ending June 30, 2024 — that calls for:
•An annual payment of $157,000 that will be “adjusted each year by taking the previous year’s payment and multiplying it by the municipal tax rate for the then-current year, divided by the municipal tax rate of the immediately prior year — except in the case of a town-wide reappraisal, in which case the payment will be adjusted by the percentage change in the municipal taxes to be collected,” according to the specific language of the agreement.
The payment will be due at the same time the college pays its regular property tax bill.
Since Ripton is now transitioning its budget cycle from a calendar year to a fiscal year, the first annual payment under the new pact will cover an 18-month period (Jan. 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015) that will reflect one and a half (1.5) times the $157,000 payment, for a total of $235,500.
•The college to continue providing free ski lessons at the Middlebury College Snow Bowl and Rikert Nordic Center to students enrolled at Ripton Elementary School.
•The college to work with Ripton to mitigate the impacts of any future development projects.
The agreement will not apply to any property or structures the college might acquire during the 10-year period. At the same time, the $157,000 base payment to Ripton will not be affected in the event the college sells or leases any of its property during the 10-year period.
Either party has the ability to terminate the agreement under certain defined circumstances — such as if there are changes in state/federal laws affecting the taxability of nonprofits.
Ripton Selectwoman Laureen Cox said she and her colleagues are pleased with the new pact with the college.
“It was a cordial negotiation,” she said. “We felt that at the end we came up with an agreement that would work for us, and obviously the college needed something that had to work for them. I think we reached that place.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]