Westborough Select Board approves payment in lieu of taxes agreement with Mass General Brigham

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By Dakota Antelman, Managing Editor

The Westborough Office Park winds off Route 9 in Westborough. Mass General Brigham is now seeking to build an outpatient care clinic within the office park. (Photo by/Dakota Antelman)

WESTBOROUGH – Mass General Brigham (MGB) took a step forward in its efforts to open a new ambulatory care clinic in Westborough when the Select Board approved a community service agreement in lieu of taxes on Sept. 14. 

The agreement, in part, sets out a 20-year plan of payments to the town from Mass General Brigham, which as a non-profit, does not need to pay taxes.

Mass General Brigham would pay the town $35,000 in the “fiscal year following the issuance of a certificate of occupancy” according to a copy of the agreement. It would then make additional annual payments increasing by 2.5 percent per-year through the term of the agreement. 

That would translate to a $56,752 payment in year 20, sending a total of just over $900,000 to Westborough over two decades. 

“It means a lot to MGB and MGB integrated care in particular,” Mass General Brigham Director of Real Estate Robin Berry said of the agreement in comments to the Select Board. 

Site plans approved back in July envision a three-story outpatient center sitting on 9.4 acres of land in the Westborough Office Park. The facility would offer day surgery, primary care, behavioral health, orthopedics, neurology, diagnostic imaging and other specialty care. 

As Select Board members reviewed those plans, officials also noted that negotiations were in progress regarding a payment in lieu of taxes agreement. 

On Sept. 14, that agreement came before the board, which approved it unanimously. 

“I think we all feel that we reached a place that is right for the project and, more importantly, for Westborough,” Berry said.

The agreement will send money directly into the town’s general fund. 

Agreement is first of its kind in Westborough

This is Westborough’s first such agreement. As such, Westborough’s Chief Assessor Jonathan Steinberg said the town examined similar agreements in other towns. 

“This is a very unique property for Westborough,” he said. “We don’t have anything like it. So, in terms of looking at what it would prospectively be valued, it’s a little bit more of a challenge.”

They also reviewed taxes on similarly sized properties to determine a fair rate for MGB. 

“That’s where this came from,” Steinberg said.

The agreement calls for renegotiation as it reaches the end of its 20-year term, Town Manager Kristi Williams said on Sept. 14. It also includes terms to carry through the term of the agreement if ownership of the property in question is ever transferred to another nonprofit.  

“It was important that the town be protected going forward in the event of the sale of the property as well as as this term expires,” Steinberg said of those parts of the agreement. “I think we were successful in doing that.”

MGB proposal sparks discussion, debate in region

MGB’s Westborough plans have sparked conversation throughout the region through much of this year. 

In April, the Select Board lent its support in the form of a letter filed as MGB navigates state approval processes. 

MGB Integrated Health Care President John Fernandez laid out his case for the clinic in comments to the Select Board and in a letter to the editor published in the Community Advocate on July 8. 

He said more than 40,000 Mass General Brigham patients live within 20 minutes of Westborough, arguing that the proposed facility would decrease care costs and improve accessibility. 

“It’s clear these services are needed and wanted,” he wrote in his July 8 comments. 

Before any of that, though, officials in Marlborough raised concerns, taking their own action after officials at UMass Memorial Marlborough Hospital said the MGB proposal could spell major financial problems for their institution. 

“[MGB] has the highest costs in the state,” UMass Memorial Health Care Vice President James Leary told the City Council on March 8. “[That] will drive up costs at Marlborough and UMass Memorial Worcester, which have the lowest costs.”

The city registered to participate in a Department of Public Health hearing on this matter earlier this year. 

The city also sent a resolution to the state calling for an independent cost analysis studying the impacts MGB’s facility would have on care costs.

MGB continues to seek state approval of proposal

The Department of Public Health held a hearing on the MGB proposal on April 6.

As of Sept. 14, though, MGB remained in the process of securing necessary state approval through the state’s “determination of need” process according to Berry.

“They’re taking longer than we imagined,” she told the Westborough Select Board. “So we sincerely appreciate your support.”