Hillsdale did not compensate for lost taxes, but plans donations | News

SOMERS — Hillsdale College officials said more than three years ago that the nonprofit college, which opened its satellite Blake Center for Faith and Freedom on Hall Hill Road in 2020, has pledged to compensate the city for lost tax revenue, but Somers has yet to receive funds or a firm commitment of when that might happen.

But first coach Timothy RE Keeney said the college intended to contribute money to some community projects, including a paddling pool and the purchase of police body cameras.

The college does not yet have access to a $25 million trust that will help pay for expenses, he added.

The 100-acre Blake Center property was given to Hillsdale, along with $25 million, in 2019 by the late S. Prestley Blake and his wife, Helen, who wanted to establish a nonprofit educational and business center affiliated with a college on their behalf.

The center includes the Blakes’ former home at 732 Hall Hill Road, a replica of Thomas Jefferson’s 18th-century Monticello mansion that the Blakes built in 2014, and their daughter’s home, also on Hall Hill Road.

Because Hillsdale is a non-profit college, it is exempt from paying taxes to Somers.

The Blake Center began its programming at the mansion this spring with a guest seminar April 29-30.

Tax assessor Walter Topliff Jr. said this week that the city has not received any donations from Hillsdale College, adding that it is an “evolving situation.”

At present, he said, the loss of tax revenue from the property the Blakes donated to Hillsdale is about $80,000 because Helen Blake still owns her home at 700 Hall Hill Road. , for which she pays $21,000 in taxes. S. Prestley Blake passed away on February 12, 2021.

When Helen Blake hands over ownership of the home to Hillsdale, the lost tax revenue would be around $100,000, Topliff said.

Keeney said this week that Hillsdale College wants to be a good neighbor and he has no doubt the school and the Blake family will honor their promises to Somers.

It may take a while, he said, because the Blakes have established a $25 million revocable trust to support the Hillsdale real estate in Somers. However, Keeney said, that trust only becomes available upon the death of the late S. Prestley Blake and Helen Blake, who is still alive.

It costs Hillsdale about $1 million a year to maintain its properties in Somers, and Helen Blake has made substantial donations to the college to help with that upkeep, Keeney said.

It’s not up to him, as the first coach, to insist that Hillsdale or the Blake family donate to the city, Keeney said. It would be insulting to do so with a school and family that have already been generous enough, he said.

The Blake Center plans to make a donation to support the Macie’s Place wading pool, Keeney said. Longtime Somers residents Wendy and Bill McCloskey lost their daughter, Macie Grace, in December 2007 to Trisomy13 when she was just six days old. In his honor and to recognize the town’s outpouring of support for their family, they worked to install a wading pool on Field Park Road for the children’s enjoyment.

Additionally, Keeney said, the Blake Center plans to make a donation to support the purchase of police cameras now required by law.

“Hillsdale College has a tradition of working closely with sidewalk and school projects in Hillsdale, Michigan,” he said. “That’s the relationship college officials want to have with Somers.”

Once the trust fund is available for Hillsdale, Keeney said, there will be less financial pressure for maintenance and more donations to the city could be received.

For the past few years, Hillsdale College officials have said in town hall meetings that either the school or the Blake family will find a way to repay the city.

At a March 2019 briefing held at Joanna’s restaurant on Main Street, Hillsdale Chief of Staff Michael Harner estimated that the city’s lost revenue would be around $100,000 per year.

“That’s a concern we’re trying to address,” he said, adding that the college has committed to replacing those funds, but college officials have not determined exactly how they will do so. .

Former coach Timothy Potrikus, who attended the event, said at the time that it was concerning that Harner had no concrete plan to replace tax revenue.

“He answered the question without answering it,” Potrikus said. “There were no details.” Potrikus also said the state has a payment-in-lieu program that the college could use as a model. He said the city would gladly accept the money.

According to the minutes of the January 7, 2019 Economic Development Commission meeting, events to be held on the property would attract an estimated attendance of 50-75 people and there would be 15-20 events per year.

The minutes also state that while the impact of the Blakes’ plan on the city would be the loss of tax revenue, it would also create jobs for the community and result in maintenance of the property. The minutes also state that possible returns to the city would be “jail programs” and pre-kindergarten reading programs.

In a public hearing before the Zoning Commission on January 7, 2020, attorney Ryan Walsh, a Hillsdale alumnus who also represented the college, addressed issues previously raised by residents, including the loss of tax revenue due to the creation of the tax-exempt religious. center. He said the Blakes intended to fill the tax gap by donating to the city.

Hillsdale officials did not respond to requests for comment.

For more Somers and Enfield coverage, follow Susan Danseyar on Twitter: @susandanseyar, Facebook: Susan Danseyar, journalist.

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