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Community Preservation Act On Ballots In Three Massachusetts Cities

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     Voters in three Massachusetts cities this November will decide whether to authorize a property tax surcharge to finance a local fund that could pay for historic preservation projects, protecting open space, and building affordable housing.

       Along with the election for president, members of Congress and the Massachusetts legislature, and some local offices, voters in Springfield, Holyoke, and Boston will decide whether to adopt the Community Preservation Act.

      The 15-year-old state law authorizes communities to put a surcharge up to 3 percent on property tax bills. The money goes into a locally-controlled fund that is restricted for use on such things as creating community gardens, putting walking trails in public spaces, repairing historic structures, and building affordable housing.

      Bob McCarroll, who served for a decade on the Springfield Historical Commission, said this will be the first time the city has considered adopting the CPA.

     "It is an option we have failed to avail ourselves of while almost half the other communities in the Commonwealth have decided to do that," he said.

     161 communities, or 46 percent of the state’s cities and towns, have adopted CPA.   Municipalities must adopt CPA by ballot referendum.

     Earlier this year, Springfield City Council President Mike Fenton appointed a five-member advisory committee to research the CPA, how it might be used in Springfield, and make a recommendation to the city council.

   " I stand behind CPA," declared Fenton. " There are a lot of moving pieces to making this work such as the size of the levy and whether we approve any exemptions and the like."

    The ad-hoc committee recommended asking Springfield voters to adopt the CPA with a property tax surcharge of 1.5 percent after excluding the first $100,000 of assessed valuation. Low-income homeowners and low-moderate income seniors would be exempted from having to pay the additional tax.

    The city council voted 11-1 to adopt the recommendation for the ballot question.

    The proposed surcharge would add $10.25 to the tax bill for an average home in Springfield and raise almost $1.2 million annually, according to the ad-hoc committee’s report.

    City Councilor Ken Shea, who chaired the special committee, said the recommendation tried to strike a balance between not overburdening taxpayers while still raising enough revenue to make adopting the CPA worthwhile.

   " But I want to be clear that I think it is definitely a decision the voters have to make," Shea said.  " I don't want to be a strong advocate one way or the other. I certainly want to put the correct information in front of the people and answer all their questions, but it is something they have to come to a conclusion on."

    Other members of the ad-hoc committee, which has now been dissolved, said they plan to do education and outreach in each of the city’s neighborhoods to encourage voters to pass the ballot question.

    " In a  lot of communities that do this it is a citizens' group that brings it forward," explained Shea. "In the last few years more and more cities have  adopted this."

    Municipalities that adopt the CPA are eligible to receive matching funds from the state financed by transaction fees at the Registry of Deeds.

   Advocates for Springfield adopting the CPA argue that city residents who paid fees for recording deeds, in effect, subsidized projects in neighboring communities.

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

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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