The Colgate Scene
September 1999
Table of contents
Good Neighbor
An investment in community
When those 13 Baptists gave a symbolic dollar apiece to found Colgate in 1817, they might have imagined their investment would prove to be good not only for the college, but for their hometown, as well.

     Today, Colgate may be one of the most civic-minded colleges in the country. Layered over the efforts of students, faculty and staff who volunteer by the hundreds to fill needs that range from church organist to firefighter, the college annually contributes $350,000 or more to sustain local government, support Hamilton Central School, and underwrite important local services, at the same time it opens its facilities, events and classrooms to the community.

     The college's long record of financial support for its neighbors is the most unusual aspect of that equation. "In the real world, it just doesn't happen like this," said the college's treasurer, Elizabeth Eismeier. Though recent pressures are leading some institutions to rethink their policies, few private colleges and universities have a history of paying taxes on their buildings and properties. In contrast, following a policy that has existed for more than 30 years, Colgate keeps a number of its facilities on the tax rolls, and on its exempt properties makes generous payments in lieu of taxes to the village, town and school. The college is also a major supporter of key services and causes in its neighborhood.

     In 1998-99, for example, the college paid Hamilton Central School $189,000 in property taxes and payments in lieu of taxes. "The additional revenues given by Colgate have allowed us to purchase new equipment, particularly technology to support students," said the school's superintendent, Edmund Backus. "Without Colgate's support, district taxpayers would certainly bear a larger burden." The college also provides a wealth of resources for students at Hamilton Central, including enrollment in Colgate classes at nominal cost, access to the college's libraries and the Internet, use of athletic facilities, and admission (usually free of charge) to cultural events and speakers.

     In 1998-99, a typical year, Colgate paid the Village of Hamilton a total of $94,600 in property taxes and payments in lieu of taxes -- 12.5 percent of the village's tax receipts, according to Village Clerk Paul Kogut. (Taxes paid by fraternities and sororities account for another significant percentage of the village tax levy.) The college also supports the Town of Hamilton with payments of more than $75,000, and even provides an annual payment to the neighboring Town of Lebanon of $2,425.

     Colgate's financial support also extends to a wide range of other important activities and services that directly benefit the community.

  • Dating back to the 1940s, the college has been the lead contributor in every major fund drive for Hamilton's Community Memorial Hospital, and in fact gave the land on which the hospital is located. During two hospital fundraising campaigns in the 1990s, Colgate contributed $170,000 and the land for a new parking lot. "The close relationship between Colgate and the hospital has been a key factor in building what was, 20 years ago, a small rural hospital into what today is a model rural health care system," said the hospital's president, David Felton.

  • When a contract ambulance service pulled its franchise and left the town with a critical need, Colgate was instrumental in starting the Southern Madison County Ambulance Corps (SOMAC). Over the years the college has been a major contributor to SOMAC's capital needs, as well as paying an annual subsidy. Students, faculty and staff are among the roster of volunteers.

  • Two years ago, with a pledge totaling $350,000, Colgate was the lead donor toward the purchase of a new ladder truck for Hamilton's Volunteer Fire Department, the membership of which is bolstered by Colgate people.

  • Colgate's support was instrumental in establishing Chenango Valley Nursery School, and for many years has provided an annual subsidy to the not-for-profit parent cooperative that served 78 students last year. A new program also provides day-care scholarships at CNS for children from low-income families.

  • When Hamilton celebrated its Bicentennial in 1995, the college was the principal sponsor; Starr Rink was the site for a community-wide party.

  • When the village rallied to build a Community Playground at Hamilton Central School, the college was once again the lead donor.

  • In the past year, the college has underwritten the lion's share of the startup expenses of a local economic development effort called the Partnership for Community Development, with $150,000 invested in the first year, and additional support promised.

     Colgate is the major customer of Hamilton's Municipal Utilities Commission, spending more than $900,000 per year on water, sewer and electricity. The relationship with the Municipal Utilities Commission is a microcosm of the college's symbiotic relationship with the village: the commission provides the lowest rates available and the college, as a major customer, establishes the volume that makes those rates available to the community.

     Colgate has made direct investments in the community with facilities that enhance the quality of life for town and gown. In the 1970s the college rescued the Colgate Inn, a separate for-profit corporation. The college's Seven Oaks Golf Course, which has functioned for years as a public facility, enjoys a reputation that attracts many golfers to the village from outside the area. More recently, the Barge Canal Coffee Company on Lebanon Street has become a popular place for village and college folks to gather downtown.

     The college's investments in the community are longstanding, and Colgate expects to build on that commitment with a new interest in enlivening the village's commercial district.

     The college also freely shares many of its cultural and recreational events. Concerts and lectures on the Hill are generally free and open to the public. The college-sponsored Chenango Summer Music Festival has brought national artists to village venues for the past three summers. Colgate has sponsored Hamilton's Independence Day fireworks display on campus for more than 40 years. For a nominal fee that covers the cost of lifeguards, the college opens Lineberry Natatorium to the Chenango Water Exercise Program, raising the quality of life for an important segment of the community.

     During his term as Hamilton's mayor, Ed Vantine '56 once returned from a mayor's conference at Cornell University and reported that he had astounded the audience there with his description of the relationship between Colgate and the village. Years later, as some major universities are stepping forward to help their communities, Colgate's contributions to its hometown continue to be a model, Treasurer Eismeier said.

     A statewide survey conducted in the early 1990s showed Colgate to be more financially supportive of its community than virtually any other private college in the state; Eismeier suspects that assessment holds true nationally today. "By any measure I have ever seen," she said, "I know of no college that is as consistently open and generous in support of its community."

     There is a quid pro quo, of course. In a village with 2,000 permanent residents, a college of 2,700-plus students is a major factor. So, for more than 30 years, one Colgate administration after another has been willing to have the college do its part to sustain the quality of life for its neighbors, just as the village provides a quality of life for the college's students and employees. People in the community are touched by Colgate's involvement in any number of ways, and Colgate students and employees enjoy the benefits of life in this small town. The goodwill that results from those interactions is one of the joys of life in Hamilton. JL

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