By Nancy Donchin
FRAMINGHAM – In the 30+ years that I have lived in Framingham, I’ve always voted to provide extra financial support for the schools and my community except one time. That happened in 2001 when Framingham voters were first asked to support the adoption of the Community Preservation Act (CPA) and the question failed.
Fast forward to November 2020 and Framingham voters will again be asked to adopt the CPA in Question 3. If passed, Question 3 would levy a 1% surcharge on property taxes for city residents and businesses.
To some people, 1% may not seem like a lot of money and the CPA does help protect or expand historical properties, open space, and affordable housing. Still, why are Framingham taxpayers being asked to pay higher property taxes for these projects when they can be funded through private fundraising, public/private partnerships, and developer give backs?
Question 3 supporters call CPA “found money” and adopting the CPA a no-brainer since the money awarded in the past has surpassed what the cities and towns raised for the fund over the years. Yet the CPA matching rate has dropped from 100% in fiscal year 2002 (the first year of trust fund distribution) to an estimated 22.5% base matching rate for fiscal year 2021 (as of 9/30/2020, according to www.mass.gov). There are two additional rounds of CPA funding added to the base rate, but all the communities in the greater-Framingham area that have adopted the CPA received, in total, less than 30% state matches annually the last few years (also according to www.mass.gov).
Although an up to 30% state reimbursement sounds nice, cities and towns are restricted from spending the money on anything but a CPA-approved project. Then who pays for the remaining 70% of these project costs? That would be the city, of course, which means that Framingham taxpayers fund these projects.
As the number of communities that have adopted the CPA has risen, the amount of money returned to cities and towns has continually dropped. The state legislature has responded by “adjusting” fees charged by the Registry of Deeds, again taxing residents selling or buying homes. Will the state even be able to maintain today’s matching levels if more communities adopt the CPA and Covid and its devastation of the economy continues?
Framingham already has a surcharge in place for the new Fuller middle school. In addition, the city is considering major projects such a gut renovation of city hall, purchase of additional space for city departments, and a new elementary school for south of Route 9. These projects will require additional and likely greater local tax increases as state monies available to Framingham for government and school building projects are growing scarce, too.
There’s no easy way to explain why adopting the CPA is a costly idea for Framingham taxpayers despite the small financial benefit that it might provide the city for historical properties, open space, and affordable housing
Nancy Donchin is a Framingham resident.