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New England News

Panel Recommends Springfield Ballot Referendum On Community Preservation Act

City Hall in Springfield, Ma

Voters in Springfield this November may be asked to adopt a Massachusetts law that would raise their property taxes to create a local fund for historic preservation projects, protecting open space and supporting affordable housing.

An advisory committee voted Tuesday night to recommend that Springfield adopt the Community Preservation Act, and levy a property tax surcharge of 1.5 percent after excluding the first $100,000 of assessed valuation. The panel also recommended exempting low-income homeowners and low-moderate income seniors from having to pay the additional tax.

The vote came after members of the ad-hoc panel met with representatives from several neighborhood councils and community activists, who voiced concerns that the proposal was being rushed to the ballot.

Springfield City Councilor Ken Shea, who chairs the advisory committee, said the proposed surcharge would add $10.25 to the tax bill for an average home in Springfield and raise almost $1.2 million.

"I support it at these numbers because it is  a reasonable cost to the average taxpayer in the city of Springfield for the benefit they get," Shea said.

The issue is expected to be on the agenda for the July 18th meeting of the Springfield City Council. The council has until September 9th to decide whether to put a question on the November election ballot.

Municipalities must adopt CPA by ballot referendum.

" We had to compromise on the exemptions and the rate and still get enough money into the city to make it worth doing," Shea said of the work the ad-hoc committee did.

  The CPA authorizes communities to put a surcharge up to 3 percent on property tax bills and allows for certain exemptions. The money raised goes into a locally-controlled fund that is restricted for use in areas of historic preservation, open space, and affordable housing.

Carol Costa, president of the Armory-Quadrangle Civic Association, said the advisory committee, which was formed in late May to study the CPA and make a recommendation, is rushing the issue in front of the voters.

" It is really very little time for something that is, ultimately, money coming out of people's pockets," she said. " People deserve more time to learn about this program and to discuss it more fully."

Michaelann Bewsee, executive director of Arise for Social Justice, said that if CPA supporters have just a couple of months to make their case voters will reflexively reject it.

" There is more work to be done to think about whether it should be on the ballot in November, because people's first reaction without that is 'Oh no, just another fee'," said Bewsee.

Walter Gould, president of the Outer Belt Civic Association, believes the CPA will be a hard sell in a city where so many people live below the poverty line.

" You are putting a burden on people who are already being pushed to the limit and can't take much more," said Gould.

This is the first time Springfield has looked seriously at adopting the CPA.  Since it became law in 2000, 161 cities and towns, or 46 percent of the state’s municipalities, have adopted the CPA.

Most of Springfield’s suburbs including Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, Wilbraham, Hampden and West Springfield have adopted the CPA

Boston and Holyoke are scheduled to vote this November on whether to adopt the CPA.        

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