Twelve years ago the Massachusetts legislature passed the
Community Preservation Act. Its purpose
is to assist Massachusetts communities in preserving their history and open
spaces, as well as to enhance the affordable housing stock for town residents.
Tomorrow on your election ballot will appear Question 4, a
vote on whether Milton should adopt the Community Preservation Act.
The CPA is funded by a surtax on local property taxes,
matched at varying percentages by additional money from the state. Although the
law permits a surtax as high as 3%, Milton is proposing a 1.5% charge. This would cost the owner of a median priced
home ($507,054) $86 per year. Our proposal also includes exemptions for the
first $100,000 of property value as well as exemptions for low income
homeowners and low to moderate income seniors. For each $100,000 raised through
the surtax, the state would add an additional $25,000 under current levels of
state matching. You can find out more about the CPA in Milton here: http://www.preservemilton.org/
Since the law was passed in 2000, 148 cities and towns (42%
of Massachusetts communities) have adopted the CPA. Ever cautious and prudent, Milton has watched
and studied the law’s implications and uses. In 2006 a study committee appointed by the
Board of Selectmen filed its report concluding that Milton should adopt the
CPA. You can find it here: http://www.townofmilton.org/Public_Documents/MiltonMA_BComm/BOS/selectmen
An organization called the Community Preservation Coalition
maintains an invaluable website on the CPA.
It includes an easily searched database of every project undertaken in
every CPA community since 2000. You can search by community, by project type
and by keyword within these categories.
When you spend some time looking at the wide variety of uses to which
CPA funding has been put, you begin to understand why no community who has
adopted the law has ever chosen to rescind it.
I can’t think of a stronger endorsement of its worth. The Coalition’s
website is here: http://www.communitypreservation.org/
Opponents have raised a number of claims in their campaign
against the CPA. It’s a tax; it’s an end
around on Proposition 2 ½; there is no comprehensive list of projects; we could
fund desired projects out of our current operating budget; it takes spending authority away from Town
Meeting and places it in the hands of a small committee; and the CPA means 40B
Yes, the CPA is a tax. That should only be a problem if you
have a philosophy that finds taxes somehow wrong, and reflexively opposes them.
It’s hard to see how a requirement for the same town wide vote as practiced
under Proposition 2 ½ is a way around it. And all spending under the CPA must
be approved by Town Meeting, as all spending must.
If it were possible for hundreds of communities to
accomplish what the CPA has by merely rearranging their operating budgets, why
is it no one has done so? The answer is
quite simple. These budgets are carefully crafted by local governments and they
represent the level of services residents’ desire. Only by cutting those
services could you fund other initiatives. As for assertions that the CPA increases the
likelihood of 40B developments, the opposite is the case. Milton has an
Affordable Housing Plan, but no funding to implement it. Funding this plan
provides the town a reprieve under state law from unfriendly 40B developments
that we are currently subject to because less than 10% of our housing units are
The call for a comprehensive list of all projects we wish to
undertake betrays a misunderstanding of the Community Preservation Act. The Act isn’t to clean up a backlog of
current and past needs. It recognizes that preservation, open space and housing
are ongoing issues in the life of a community, stretching into the future for
as long as the desire for preservation exists. Appropriate opportunities arise
over time as structures age, land is placed on the market, athletic fields or
ponds need care, and as housing needs change.
That is not to say that some immediate needs have not been
identified. Two of our fire stations need repair and our parks and athletic
fields always need help. Looking back, the CPA could have helped preserve the
St. Elizabeth’s Rectory. We might have
saved the old Town Hall. The experience of 148 communities gives ample evidence
of the types of opportunities that will arise. We have a 340 year old cemetery with
stone walls, Iron fencing and historical gravestones. Pope’s Pond and Turner’s Pond are important recreational
landmarks. There is no shortage of needs
and each will be studied by a committee and debated by Town Meeting before
We live in a region rich in history and culture. We cherish it. We choose to govern ourselves by
the original form of government, now almost 400 years old, that developed here,
and remains unique to the New England region. The Community Preservation Act
increases our ability to pass on an historical legacy as well as to undertake
needed projects that serve today’s residents. We gain this at a very reasonable annual cost,
with generous exemptions for those who would be burdened, and with significant matching funding from the state. I
urge you to support the Community Preservation Act with your vote when you go
to the polls tomorrow.