Rich in property wealth, Radnor Township reaps a harvest of tax dollars annually from its real estate. But from three owners of some of its most highly valued parcels, Radnor collects a grand total of $0.00.

Those properties are owned by Villanova University, Eastern University, and Cabrini College - all exempt from real estate levies because they are nonprofits.

Now Radnor is going after the schools to kick in to the township coffers, seeking nearly $1 million a year.

Similar conflicts between taxing authorities and owners of exempt properties have played out across the country, as towns and schools scratch for money.

But in the genteel Main Line community, the dispute has generated sharp criticisms from both sides.

Township officials argue that since the schools don't have to pay property taxes under state law, they should be making voluntary payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs, to help cover their shares of police, fire, and other municipal services.

The response from the three schools: Decidedly, no.

Recently they submitted a report to the township defending their exempt status, saying they help drive Radnor's economy.

"I would certainly never challenge the notion that they are wonderful to have in our town, that they bring economic benefit - great economic benefit - and that they are a positive addition to our township," said Elaine Schaefer, president of the board of commissioners.

"But you can say the same thing about every taxpaying entity in our township as well."

Representatives from all three schools say they are willing to talk with township officials about ways they can collaborate or contribute. But they remain unwilling to begin writing checks.

"If the township is simply going to reduce their request to a check in any way, shape, or form, then we're going to find limited ways to work together," said Chris Kovolski, Villanova's assistant to the president for internal and external affairs.

At least 70 colleges and universities nationwide have PILOT agreements totaling $56 million in annual revenue for municipalities, according to a 2012 report from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Most of those are in the Northeast, the report said, and the largest number are in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

Radnor, with 31,500 residents and a median home value of nearly $600,000, has three colleges in close proximity to each other. If they paid taxes on their properties, the schools would be among the largest taxpayers in Delaware County.

Villanova's $189 million property assessment, if added to the tax rolls, would be second only to Harrah's Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack's $218 million assessment, according to county records.

The township has suggested the schools pay roughly the same amount they would pony up in municipal property taxes, or $711,000 for Villanova, $148,000 for Cabrini, and $80,000 for Eastern. Those figures do not include the tax rates for the county and school district, which have not requested payments.

Radnor collects about $12 million in real estate taxes annually, which accounts for about half its tax revenue.

After repeated requests for PILOT payments from Radnor officials, the three schools hired Econsult Solutions, a Philadelphia consulting firm, to quantify the schools' contributions to the township.

The report states that the schools are among the township's largest employers, and bring students and visitors to Radnor. Econsult's analysis of real estate transactions suggested that proximity to one of the three campuses increased home values in Radnor. The schools provide their own trash and snow removal, and they hold that they also benefit Radnor through community service and scholarships given to residents, the report said.

Schaefer said she would be open to partnerships with the colleges to pay for infrastructure or beautification projects in Radnor, rather than PILOTs with set annual payments.

Two private middle and high schools in Radnor, Valley Forge Military Academy and College and Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, already have PILOT agreements. They pay a total of about $50,000, said Radnor's finance director, William White.

Robert Zienkowski, the township manager, said he still has "hope and trust that the colleges will do the right thing" and make the payments.

BY THE NUMBERS

$12M

What Radnor collects annually in property taxes.

$711,000

Suggested Villanova payment.

$148,000

Suggested Cabrini payment.

$80,000

Suggested Eastern payment.

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610-313-8116 @Lmccrystal