Colby backed FirstPark, the 285-acre business and technology center in
Oakland, investing $500,000 in a still-vacant office building that went
up in 2005. The business park is a regional initiative in which 24
central Maine municipalities committed development funds and share in
revenues from tenants like T-Mobile USA, which employs about 700 at its
customer service center.
Adams was an initial member of a revitalized Waterville Development
Corp., which is helping the city market a downtown 12-acre parcel on
the Kennebec. Through its financial support for the operating costs of
the WDC, Colby has indirectly assisted the project conceived by real
estate developer Paul Boghossian '76, who wants to transform the vacant
Hathaway factory buildings into a mixed-use complex with offices,
artist lofts, student housing, and artisan shops.
"We are trying to play an active but reasonable role in economic
development,— Adams said. "We are players. We see it both as being in
our interest and our obligation.—
Despite Colby's involvement in the local development scene, its
tax-exempt status rankles some residents, including psychologist
Richard Staples, who moved to Waterville in 1978 and can see the
college spires from his Johnson Heights home. Staples, whose office is
located in the original Foss Hall on College Avenue, pays $5,000 in
property taxes on a home that's valued at $200,000.
"If we get there and there is alcohol and they are under twenty-one, we can't ignore it. ... It's our responsibility to uphold the law."
Waterville Police Chief
"Waterville has become an expensive place to live,— said Staples. "I don't see it as a major concern for Colby. It makes me wonder if I'm going to stay here or move to Oakland or Winslow, where taxes are lower.—
Maine's colleges are of two minds on property taxes. Bowdoin and the
University of Maine make payments in lieu of taxes to their host
communities. In 2007 Bowdoin will give Brunswick an annual $100,000
unrestricted gift while the University of Maine will give $625,000 to
the town of Orono. Such payments provide general funding that the
municipalities can use as they please.
Colby and Bates, meanwhile, make their community investments on a more
deliberative basis, finding projects they deem worthy of support. In
2002 Colby decided to split the cost of a rescue truck, to pitch in for the protection it receives from the Waterville Fire
Department. The last of five $20,000 payments will be made this year.
Colby also directs $60,000 year—in $15,000 grants—to the Waterville
Opera House, Waterville Main Street Inc., the Maine Independent Film
Festival, and the Central Maine Growth Council.
"When we see these opportunities, we invest in them,— said President Adams.
Waterville City Councilman Steven Aucoin for years has railed against
the city's myriad tax-exempt institutions, which include its hospitals,
churches, and colleges. But he has yet to find much support for his
call for payments in lieu of taxes.
"I bridle at the unfairness,— Aucoin said. "I have people on
fixed-income paying those people's way. It confounds me that I can't
get a dialogue here on this issue.—
Colby, meanwhile, stresses its involvement beyond the property-tax
issue. Its $120-million annual budget supports about 700 full- and
part-time jobs, making it Waterville's second-largest employer. Its
1,800 students come to town with money to spend, as do their parents
who frequent places like the Holiday Inn, where housekeeper Margery
Grenier has worked since 1995. "The Colby people are polite and they
are big tippers,— said Grenier, of Winslow. "It works well for us.—
Colby's students also bring their talents to town, both through
volunteerism, and through work in civic engagement courses, which
extend classroom boundaries into the greater Waterville community.
About 300 Colby students volunteer through Colby Cares About Kids,
mentoring youngsters in the Waterville schools, with students like Zach
Ezor '10 going twice weekly to Albert S. Hall School on Pleasant
For Ezor, volunteering is an opportunity to connect with fourth-grader
Colby Robertson, a towheaded 10 year old. The student volunteer group
also provided a community for Ezor when he arrived on campus. "It was a
way to meet like-minded people,— he said. "It's nice to be around
people who volunteer.—