In the past year, Deerfield bought two parcels of land near the school: the Williams Farm and the Thorne Estate, for $1.5 million each. Although no purpose has been designated for use of these properties yet, Deerfield expects them to become either faculty housing or alternative spaces to current playing fields.
Director of Communications Mr. Thiel explained, “It’s a very typical process, not just for Deerfield, but for most independent schools. When property adjacent to campus becomes available, it seems like a wise choice to investigate. If that property has the potential to meet future needs of the Academy, whether planned or unplanned, then we often try to purchase it.”
From the school’s perspective, these acquisitions are part of the long-term planning that enables Deerfield to progress as an institution. However, there are some hidden consequences to buying local property. Deerfield Academy, like most prep schools, is a non-profit organization, exempt from taxation. This special status, while beneficial for the Academy, decreases the tax base of the surrounding area. This means that the property taxes paid by the previous owners effectively come off the local tax roll. The Greenfield Recorder estimates that the buying of the Thorne Estate removed $7,153.88 from tax revenues.
That doesn’t sound like much. But Deerfield already owns, according to The Recorder, $120 million of untaxable local property. At the current property tax rates, Deerfield’s bill would be as much as $1.65 million if it were a private entity. Of course, nearby Bement and Eaglebrook are also non-profits and have significant holdings, albeit smaller than Deerfield’s.
The budget of the local town of Deerfield is just above $14 million. From the point of view of the town, each additional acquisition reduces the property tax base in a time of tight budgets and the need to deliver a wide array of services (some of which benefit the Academy).
Day student Brian Persons ’16 noted, “The school isn’t looked so fondly upon by people in the town due to them not paying taxes on many of the things they buy. Some people see it as taking money away from the town.”
A Deerfield resident vocal in local politics, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, “The town opinion is not very good. There are discussions between the town and the school on the topic of expansion.”
While the Deerfield town office confirmed the tax numbers, it did not comment.
On the other hand, Deerfield makes an annual donation to the town of $91,000, although not required to by law. It also donates its expertise and underwrites significant projects in the community, from building a softball field for the town to the successful Big Brother Big Sister Program.
Another resident noted that even though the school and town share a tenuous relationship, “We are good neighbors. We get along well, we share facilities, the school helps us.”
Addressing the potentially conflicting interests of fiduciary responsibility and accountability to the local community seems an issue needing Deerfield’s continued exploration and attention.