Monday, November 05, 2012

Community Preservation Act Perfect for Milton

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:

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:

In 2010 on the tenth anniversary of the Act’s passage, a dissertation by a Tufts graduate student examined the CPA’s impact on selected, representative communities. You can read it here:

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:

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 developments

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 affordable.

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 receiving funding.

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.


Anonymous Marvin Gordon said...

Over many years I have disagreed with you on may town issues. However, now I have to comment because on your last 2 blogs I think you are ON TARGET 100%. - Your endorsements and the underlying town issues (e.g. the CPA) which are the foundation for your thoughtful choices, are reasoned opinions. I am hopeful that your favored candidates win, but am not optomistic.

7:21 PM  

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