By Frederic A. Wallace
FRAMINGHAM – On November 3rd, the citizens of Massachusetts will go to the polls in a General Election. Here in Framingham the last item on the ballot will be a referendum question specific to our city. Signs can now be seen throughout the city reading VOTE YES ON 3, COMMUNITY PRESERVATION ACT, referring to this. The referendum begins with these words: Shall this city accept sections 3 to 7, inclusive of Chapter 44B of the General Laws, as approved by its legislative body, a summary of which appears below.
This Act, when adopted by Framingham, will facilitate the funding for four types of projects: preservation of open space, acquiring land for parks and recreational uses, acquisition and restoration of historic buildings and sites, and community housing. These are often called “quality of life” projects because they make anycommunity a better place in which to live and work.
Briefly, the act allows a cityto set up a dedicated trust fund for these types of uses. It further provides a means for funding that involves adding a modest surcharge to the city’s property tax, in our case a 1% surtax, and a further provision that the state shall give the city a partial match of the funds thus raised. Based on current property values and tax rates here in Framingham we can estimate that this would generate about 1.5 million dollars per year and the match would produce an additional $300,000 dollars, for a total of approximately 1.8 million dollars per year going into the trust fund. Our City Council would have the final say on how the funds are spent.
Since its passage in 2000, the CPA as we like to call it has been a big success! One hundred and seventy seven municipalities have adopted it and thousands of projects have been completed. Furthermore not one municipality has ever withdrawn from it. Some have asked “why do we need CPA?” Their argument is if a project is worthy of our tax dollars, our elected officials should include it in the budget.
Unfortunately things are just not that simple. The never ending struggle between budget priorities and the pressure to control taxes means that these projects are given lower priority year after year and often end up being deferred.
So, on it goes. Think about it – school budgets, public safety, public works, labor contracts and on and on!. Our elected officials are constantly faced with this dilemma. It is for this very reason we need CPA. It ensures that funds for these projects will be there when needed. A more detailed discussion of the Act is available online, framinghamcpnow.org.
Others claim the CPA surtax will be burdensome for some taxpayers. I was a member of the study group which developed the specifics of the plan proposed for Framingham in Question 3. One of the guiding principles that we followed was to minimize the impact which the CPA would have on lower income households. The act allows communities to apply certain exemptions for taxpayers. We applied all available exemptions! The first of these is an across the board $100,000 exemption of the assessed values before calculating the surtax. We applied it to all property holders, homeowners, commercial and industrial.
What does that mean? Let’s assume your home is assessed at $400,000 (a fairly typical value for a home here in our city). Again now, assume that the tax rate for a given year is $15 per thousand of assessed value (also typical in recent years). Your property tax would be $6,000, and your CPA surtax
would be $45 per year. You receive tax bills quarterly, so you would see a surtax of $11.25 in each quarterly bill. I submit that $11.25 per quarter would not be a burden. We included further exemptions for lower income households and for modest income seniors as well. For many of them the surtax could be even lower,in some cases as low as zero.
Now let’s talk for a moment about the state match, a feature that most opponents of the CPA don’t mention. Let’s for example assume that we have
adopted CPA with a 1 % surtax. Together with the exemptions the study group has included for Framingham that would generate approximately 1.5 million dollars each year. The state match will vary from year to year. Recently it has been about 20%. So in our example Framingham would expect to receive about$300,000 in matching dollars! If we would not have adopted CPA, that money would go to other municipalities! I am reminded of an old saying about “looking agift horse in the mouth”! Without CPA we would never see those funds!
I have served on the city’s Historical Commission, and I’ve been the Town/City Historian, both for about 15 years. During that time I have witnessed many
cases where historic preservation needs, open space protection needs, etc. have gone unmet, or been deferred for reasons such as mentioned above.
The Athenaeum Hall in Saxonville is a good example. Built in 1848 to provide that neighborhood with its own “village hall” it served as a gathering place for community groups, such veterans, etc. for over one hundred and fifty years! In recent years it has been vacant and has suffered from deferred maintenance. Several plans have been drawn up for its restoration but have been tabled, the most recent just three years ago.
Another example is the City Hall in the downtown. Built in 1928, it includes a memorial to the men and women of this community who served in the military in all the Country’s’ wars. In recent times it has become apparent that in its present condition it no longer meets the needs of city government. Several solutions have been proposed for its restoration, and others calling for its demolition. None have addressed how the memorial portion
of the building will be preserved. These are perfect examples of how CPA funds would be used.
In summary, it is clear to me that the benefits of CPA far outweigh the cost. It will enrich the quality of life in our neighborhoods, beautify the community, enrich the lives of families, our youth, the elderly, and possibly even enhance property values. It is just good common sense to pass it.
Frederic A. Wallace is the Framingham City Historian and was a member of the Community Preservation Act study group.