Below is a letter to the editor that was published in The Independent recently.
Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding has been misrepresented. October’s Town Meeting voters clearly called for a 1% surcharge on real property, not the variable range of 1% to 3% as your front page article stated last week. Mass General Law (M.G.L.) Chapter 44B allows for up to a 3% surcharge, but Stoneham voters opted to restrict the surcharge at the minimum 1%.
Omitted from your coverage of CPA are some of the essential basics.
The average home owner, except for exempted seniors, makes a $4 to $6 per month investment in this community. Possible projects include public playground renovations, creation of a walking trail at Whip Hill Park, installation of handicap access chair lifts in Housing Authority buildings without elevators, conservation of historic town records, replacement of windows in our 97-year-old fire station, tennis court and athletic field upgrades, restoration of the mighty Wurlitzer theater pipe organ in Town Hall, and other quality of life enhancements. There is little or no other funding available. None of these projects are in the Town’s Capital Plan, except for the fire station windows that continue to get bumped down the list in lieu of more pressing needs. With CPA, state aid is available to assist with the project expenses and give us an opportunity to improve our community.
The town’s CPA account, like all other town funds, is kept in Stoneham, not sent to Beacon Hill. Actually, the money moves the other way. According to M.G.L., the state must match our CPA fund by at least 5%. In November, 2012 the match was 27% and, due to a $25 million influx of cash, the state match is expected to be between 35% and 40% this fall. So your annual $48 to $72 surcharge earns another $16 to $28. This scenario is why we invest in 401(k) retirement plans at work.
The matching state money comes from fees collected by the state for the registration of deeds ($20) and municipal liens ($10). Since the year 2000, Stoneham has never received a penny of this investment. Over $400,000,000 has been sent to other towns with CPAs. Stoneham home owners subsidize the 155 communities that have implemented the CPA. These other towns understand that a modest investment attracts matching funds, leverages federal, state and private grants, and gets them a good bang for their buck.
Stoneham is among the first towns in the Commonwealth to opt for the newly approved blended CPA. The blended CPA allows Town Meeting to accept donations or to allocate monies to the local CPA fund that the state will subsequently match. For example, a $10,000 gift could earn an additional $3,500 to $4,000. In today’s economy a return on investment like this is unheard of!
To revoke or change this 1% surcharge, the same two step process that created it is required. Town Meeting must vote in favor of a warrant article to place the revision on a Town Election ballot. The notion that Town Meeting can be ‘packed’ with voters to change the surcharge from 1% to 3% is inaccurate and illegal.
CPA projects must be presented for review and approval by a town Community Preservation Committee. Then a state non-profit coalition determines whether the project falls within mandated guidelines. For example, projects can never be requested for routine operational maintenance or repairs. Then the project list comes back to the town committee for recommendation to Town Meeting. Lastly, Town Meeting voters must approve the projects and expenditures. Money not spent in a given year is retained in the local CPA Fund and cannot be transferred to cover other town services.
I urge the Independent to invite the public to a free presentation on Thursday March 21 at 7:00 pm in the Middle School Auditorium to hear an overview by staff of the non-profit Community Preservation Coalition. This is an opportunity for voters to ask questions that will allow them to make an educated decision on April 2 and a chance for your publication to report both sides of the story.
Marcia M. Wengen