The Geneva City Council recently dissolved several committees, boards and task forces which had fallen out of use, including the “College Area Livability Task Force”. According to Becca Barile, Vice President of Campus Life this task force was made of city residents and officials and representatives of the colleges with the goal to “develop communications channels for issues to be reported and addressed, and build community within the neighbors where College students live alongside Geneva area residents.”
The dissolution follows a long period of inactivity in the task force, with the last minutes available on the city website are from the end of 2019. While the relationship between a college town and the college it hosts can be incredibly mutually beneficial, they can also be quite fraught. College students can be loud and disruptive, especially when off-campus houses sit on otherwise quiet residential streets.
When asked how well she felt the task force achieved its goals, Barile said, “During the time in which the committee was active, we worked with Geneva Police Department to create better area coverage on the weekends, we increased communication between Geneva area residents and Campus Safety if an issue had occurred, and we created an online reporting mechanism so that the Colleges could be aware of incidents. We also worked closely with the Geneva Neighborhood Resource Center to create education for students who were applying to live off-campus during the years where many senior students resided off-campus.”
Another point of contention is financial. Colleges and universities, as nonprofits, are generally exempt from paying local property taxes. In college towns, this can often mean a large portion of property is exempt and so the amount of income available to the city can be greatly reduced. While the Colleges’ will point to the other contributions made to the economy —including a report which suggested the school boosted the local economy by $200 million— the City of Geneva established a “Transportation Benefit Assessment District”, which would have imposed some taxes on the school’s property. The colleges (among others) sued and eventually settled with an agreement that the school would make yearly donations to support the city. The agreement was renewed in 2019, and the agreed upon donation for 2023 was $223,946.47.
Although the committee no longer exists, the colleges continue to work closely with city officials to address concerns. Administrators are not solely responsible for this either; when asked if there was anything students could do to benefit the town-gown relationship, Barile said that “We want our off-campus students to know that when they live off-campus, they’re part of the greater Geneva community, as well as HWS community. Remember that your neighbors are part of this community, too. They’ve been living here for years, raising families, and working here. Take the time to get to know them, share your contact information, and be respectful if they ever have concerns; problem solve together. If Campus Safety visits your off-campus house, they’re there to help and support you with any issues.”