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Amherst to consider raising preservation act surcharge

But 13 years after approving the 1 percent surcharge, which was later adjusted by voters to 1½ percent in 2006, many other communities have adopted it and set their rates at the 3 percent maximum allowed by the state.

Town Meeting, which begins April 28, will have an opportunity to begin the process of doing that, too, on a proposal from Vincent O’Connor of Precinct 1.

The first $100,000 of each residential property’s assessed value would continue to be exempt from the surcharge, along with properties of low-income residents.

This year, the town collected $400,000 from the Community Preservation Act surcharge and received a state match of $120,000, or 30 percent. If the surcharge is increased to 3 percent, it would double the amount collected locally and could sizably increase the state match.

As written, O’Connor’s petition article suggests that the proceeds from the additional 1½ percent be applied to affordable housing to the extent allowed under state law.

Peter Jessop, chairman of the CPA Committee, said members recently voted unanimously to support the article, as long as O’Connor removes this condition.

Town Manager John Musante said the town attorney has reviewed the petition and suggested that O’Connor amend the article because of its possible conflict with state law. The state legislation requires that at least 10 percent of the money raised annually be dedicated to each of three categories, open space, affordable housing and historic preservation, with the remaining 70 percent spent however the community chooses.

If Town Meeting approves the article, the CPA surcharge adjustment would then go to a townwide ballot vote, likely as part of the November general election.

In November 2008, Amherst voters narrowly rejected increasing the surcharge to 3 percent, even though Town Meeting approved the higher surcharge.

With $285,539 remaining in the account from last year, the CPA Committee has $778,539 to spend this year, and is bringing $603,058 worth of proposals to Town Meeting.

Three of these are related to affordable housing projects.

∎ $80,000 would go to Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity to construct two affordable housing units at 235 East Pleasant St., the Hawthorne Meadow site.

∎ $154,000 would be provided to the Amherst Housing Authority to cover a projected deficit in its Housing Choice Voucher Program, also known as federal Section 8 vouchers.

∎ And the committee wants to borrow $750,000 to assist town officials with the acquisition and predevelopment costs for preserving long-term affordable housing at Rolling Green Apartments. The CPA account would begin paying that back next year.

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