Jul 25, 2014

Community Preservation Act On Nov. Ballot

Residents will vote on real estate sale surcharge to fund preservation, affordable housing.

Now that Belmont voters will have an opportunity to adopt the Community Preservation Act, the committee that worked to get the question on the Nov. 2 ballot will begin a second chapter of hard work.

On Tuesday, Aug. 24, Town Clerk Ellen O'Brien Cushman informed Paul Solomon, chairman of the CPA Ballot Question Committee, that her office certified 954 signatures the group turned in, 130 more than required to place the question on the ballot.

The state mandates that five percent of registered voters must sign the petition in order to vote on it this coming fall and the committee needed 821 with 16,412 registered voters in Belmont.

"Obviously, we are thrilled," Solomon said on behalf of the committee which includes treasurer Ann Verrili, secretary Allan Vanderley, Sue Bass, John Dieckmann, Judie Feins, Anne Covino Goldenberg, Peter Gunness, Lisa Harrington and Martha Moore.

"The work ahead of us will involve all aspects of a political campaign," he said.

"We will do everything we can to get into the public eye including having a web site, placing articles in the newspapers, sending out mailings, having people host coffees to explain the act as well as going door-to-door to discuss it with residents."

Despite speaking to a number of people in the community about the act while collecting signatures, Solomon said there are a lot of residents who do not understand what it actually will mean for the town.

The CPA was signed by Gov. Paul Cellucci, a decade ago on Sept. 14, 2000, to help communities set aside money for open space, historic preservation, and community or affordable housing.

"Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been left on the table in the past which we could have used for preserving open space, historic sites and creating affordable housing and recreational facilities," Solomon said, explaining the state reimburses towns who adopt the CPA $32 for every $100 spent under the dictates of the act.

 "We've delayed this long enough in Belmont and it's now time to try," he said.

If the voters decide to adopt the CPA, Belmont can raise real estate taxes up to 3 percent but the committee is asking that they be raised 1.5 percent. 

According to the committee's citizen petition, there would be exemptions for the additional 1.5 percent tax increase: property owned and occupied by people who qualify for low-income or moderate-income senior housing in the town and $100,000 of the value of each taxable parcel of residential real property. A taxpayer receiving a regular property tax abatement or exemption would also receive a pro rata deduction in the surcharge.

Solomon said such projects the town could spend CPA funding on include work on the Underwood pool, creating a recreational area at the incinerator site off Concord Avenue as well as creating affordable housing which is seriously needed in Belmont.

He is well aware that there are those in town who say adopting the act is another attempt at a liberal tax hike.

"It is a surcharge on property and it is a tax," Solomon said. "And tax is a bad word."

But, he pointed out, adoption of the act will be totally different from an override for many reasons:

  • Belmont could repeal the CPA in the future by a simple majority vote of the town meeting;
  • CPA funds are directed to specific projects that result in visible improvements to the community and cannot be diverted to other uses; the state matches local CPA revenues, currently at 32 percent but, in the future could be more; low-income residents and senior citizens with moderate incomes would be exempt from any charges;
  • The CPA would pay for projects outside the town's normal operating budget;
  • Belmont could bank some of the money for the future or borrow against it to finance larger projects;
  • An independent committee appointed in accordance with the CPA statute would recommend allocation of funds for Town Meeting approval.

"Adoption of the CPA would allow the town to spend funds in places where it is needed that are so often placed on the back burner due to other pressing financial concerns," he said.

Cushman, who met with the Registrars of Voters this afternoon, said after the four members sign the petition, she will compose a letter to the Secretary of State's office, a copy of which she will send to Solomon, asking that the question whether or not to adopt the CPA be on the ballot Nov. 2.

(Editor's note: In an earlier version of this article, it was stated that "The town can vote to revoke the act at any time" which was incorrect. Rather, it is a simple majority of the town meeting.)

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