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A town-gown task force created to bring the municipal government together with Cambridge's five universities and colleges issued its final report to the Cambridge City Council last night, and recommended that the institutions work more closely together to help meet the needs of the city.
One year after it was formed, the Mayor's Committee on University-Community Relationships wound up its business by issuing a 44-page document.
The document is the final product of extensive meetings since early May between city officials, citizens' groups, and representatives of Harvard, MIT, Cambridge College, Lesley College, and the Episcopal Divinity School.
"We have done, I think, what we set out to do--open up communications and forge a new partnership between the city and its universities," said neighborhood activist James Stockard, the chair of the committee.
"This represents a lot of very exciting work for Harvard and Cambridge," said John Shattuck, committee member and Harvard vice-president for government, community, and public affairs. "Even from a sober point of view and admitting that we didn't accomplish all that we wanted to accomplish, we did a great deal."
The document discusses and makes recommendations on four aspects of university-community relations: growth and change, fiscal tax policy, educational issues, and universities as economic enterprises and neighbors.
The report includes suggestions for how Cambridge's colleges can help improve the city's public school system.
"We felt Cambridge's institutions of higher learning could be doing a great deal more by acting together," Shattuck said. "MIT, Harvard, and Lesley College will be asked to work much more closely under the terms of this document than they have been, in order to make Cambridge schools the very best in math and the sciences."
In addition, the report suggests that Cambridge and its universities consider pursuing increased state and federal aid for communities and their host universities.
"Such assistance would be recognition of the benefits, fiscal and otherwise, that are provided by the universities to the state and nation, and of the significance to these educational institutions of the municipal services provided by their host communities," the document states.
The 18-member committee approved the final report unanimously--an event so rare in Cambridge politics that Mayor Alice K. Wolf called it "almost miraculous."
But while the councillors praised the committee for their hard work, they found points of criticism as well.
"The big disappointment I had with the report was the housing issue," Councillor Timothy J. Toomey Jr. said. "I want to ensure that Cambridge's rent-controlled properties are truly benefitting the needy."
And Councillor William H. Walsh said the document's provisions allow the universities to get away with making insufficient payments to the city.
"Reality has got to set in to the universities," Walsh said. "Everyone seems to be waltzing around these financial concerns. Maybe it takes a suit by the city against the universities in order to find out exactly what is tax-exempt."
Both Harvard and MIT are exempt from paying Cambridge taxes because of their status as educational institutions, but they have negotiated in-lieu-of-tax agreements to compensate the city for the revenues it would earn if the properties were not tax-exempt
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