University officials are scheduled to meet today with Durham Mayor Sylvia Kerckhoff and members of the Durham City Council to discuss the possibility of making voluntary payments to the city in lieu of property taxes.
The University currently holds tax exempt status because it is a non-profit organization that performs a public service. But Floyd McKissick and Frank Hyman, Durham City Council members, recently suggested that the University make voluntary contributions to the city, which could help fund the Durham bus system frequently used by University employees and improve relations with nearby neighborhoods.
University officials planning to attend the meeting-Paul Vick, director of government relations, John Burness, senior vice president and Tallman Trask, executive vice president-disagree with Durham officials, pointing out that University employees are not the only people in Durham who ride the public buses. As a matter of principle, Burness said, if the University must make "voluntary payments," then all non-profit organizations should be required to do the same.
In addition to the more than $2 million in taxes it already pays for services such as fire protection, Burness said, the University also pays for its own utilities, police protection and road repair.
In support of his proposal, McKissick pointed out that other academic institutions, including Harvard University, Yale University and Cornell University, contribute annually to their respective cities. Furthermore, he has said that such a payment would uphold the quality of living for University employees, many of whom live in Durham.
Burness said, however, that the University already provides Durham with many benefits. For example, the University is the area's largest employer and attracts more than 1 million visitors a year, providing local businesses with millions of dollars in revenue. He added that the University has already donated a significant amount of resources to the community through various grants and projects supporting affordable housing and education.