Debate brewing over cost of Greek life in Vt. - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Debate brewing over cost of Greek life in Vt.

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Debate is brewing over the cost of Greek life, and some lawmakers believe it's time for sororities and fraternities at the University of Vermont to pay up. Hospitals, the American Red Cross, churches, and fraternities and sororities all receive a property tax exemption. But new legislation may force any fraternity or sorority that owns its own house to start paying its own property tax. It's a move that would hit 10 chapters, all at UVM, and could change Greek life in Burlington as we know it.

UVM Senior Matt Weston says there are many reasons he chose the fraternity Alpha Gamma Rho.

"You see that kind of family environment and a lot of homesick freshman, like myself, saw that and really wanted to join up with that. Family dinners and everything like that," Weston said.

He says the core of the brotherhood revolves around their house. It has been owned by the fraternity since the early 1960s and houses up to 22 members at a time.

"The importance of having a central meeting place that we can hold chapter meetings, the importance of knowing that we are sharing the same ground, the same rooms making history in the same house that the brothers before us have made history," Weston says.

But Weston says pending legislation in Montpelier would force them out of the house.

"YMCAs come to mind, American Red Cross, hospitals, but also fraternities and sororities was on that list," said Sen. Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden County.

For more than a century, fraternity and sorority houses haven't had to pay any property taxes. But that may change. Ashe says lawmakers are taking a hard look at which organizations in Vermont receive that tax exemption.

"And as we went through that entire tax code to do that, we tried to identify those exemptions or advantages which might not have a good policy justification anymore. Some of them made sense at a point in time, but they don't continue to have that kind of value," Ashe said.

Ashe says there are 10 properties that would lose this exemption-- all fraternity and sorority houses at UVM. If taxed normally, the chapters would have to pay a total of $160,000 a year. A price Ashe thinks is fair.

"The people they go to sit in class with all day in the next building over, as a part of their rent they have to pay property taxes. And so from the committees point of view, we couldn't quite see how that could be justified and how that could be viewed as fair," Ashe said.

"It's expensive for everyone and we are all paying for school as well. Some of us are working and paying rent and everything. I mean, I don't know everyone's situation but it just seems to me that it makes sense," said student Jackie Carroll, who is a Burlington renter.

But for Weston, he says his frat and many other chapters would be forced to sell their houses and Greek life at UVM would never be the same.

"Trying to get more than 5 percent at UVM with everyone scattered around in a house of maybe two brothers or three brothers something like that. And trying to expand a community that people want to enjoy it's not going to happen," Weston says.

The bill is currently in committee and lawmakers say there is support to allow fraternity and sorority houses to keep their exemption. But it is early and that could change over the next few weeks.

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