House votes $36M to Community Preservation Act

  • The land around the Conway pool, shown in the background, preserved using Community Preservation Act money. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/30/2019 11:06:43 PM

Rep. Paul Mark said the House recently voted a budget that puts the Community Preservation Act back on the path to adequate and sustainable funding.

Mark, D-Peru, said the House budget provides an additional $36 million to the CPA to fund member cities and towns across the state. He said if that is the amount that ends up in the final budget when the new fiscal year begins July 1, cities and towns across the state that have adopted the CPA will be eligible to receive matches at the increased level.

The seven Franklin County towns that adopted the CPA are Conway, Deerfield, Leverett, Northfield, Shutesbury, Sunderland and Whately. In Worcester County, Royalston, Templeton and Phillipston participate in the program. Many of them have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on projects since they adopted the act.

The Senate will have to approve that number in its budget, and then whatever compromise the House and Senate arrive at will go to Gov. Charlie Baker.

The $36 million would come from a $30 increase to most recording fees at registries of deeds. The increase would more than double the base percentage match for CPA communities beginning November 2020.

The budget also includes $10 million from the state’s budget surplus, if there is a surplus, which would be transferred to the CPA in time for the October distribution. Mark said he would like to see the CPA budget funded at an even higher level in fiscal 2020.

“This should result in a state match of 30 percent for local investments in open space, affordable housing and historic preservation projects,” Mark said. “More than half of the municipalities in Massachusetts have adopted the CPA over the past 20 years, which has resulted in a much bigger pool of applicants that has spread the funding too thin.”

Dwindling state funds have had some town officials in the area towns that adopted the CPA concerned about what will happen to future projects they have planned.

Under the CPA, communities in the program impose a surcharge on local property taxes — anywhere from one-half to 3 percent. Then, the state matches the amount by a certain percentage, depending on where the town or city decides to cap their contribution. The state receives money from each town — a $20 fee assessed on certain real estate transactions through registries of deeds — and that money goes into a pot and is redistributed according to what each town is raising itself.

According to the state, Massachusetts started out, for instance, matching 100 percent of the money raised in towns that adopted the maximum 3 percent, but in the past few years that has dwindled, and towns that voted lower than the maximum percent have seen only between 11 and 12 percent from the state match.

Town leaders like Lara Dubin, who heads up the Community Preservation Committee in Northfield, said the money municipalities receive from the CPA is a reinvestment in those cities and towns.

“We use the money we raise and the money we receive from the state and we put it back into our town,” she said.

Northfield, for instance, has spent about $388,787 in CPA money since 2009, repairing its Town Hall steps, constructing a Civil War memorial, replacing old playground equipment at the elementary school and more.

The town started out with a contribution of the maximum 3 percent, but a year later, voted to reduce that to a half percent. A couple of the reasons, Dubin said she believes, were the state’s dwindling match and residents’ concerns about rising taxes. The town tried again last year to raise its contribution to 1 percent, but that was voted down. So far, the town has received about $140,000 from the state.

Dubin said she’s looking forward to completing more projects in the future.

The CPA, which became law in September 2000, allows municipalities to use the money to fund projects that: preserve open space; allow them to acquire, restore, rehabilitate or preserve historic sites; create affordable housing; and acquire, create or preserve land for public recreation.

“This is a great program,” Dubin said.

Gov. Paul Cellucci signed the CPA into law with the intent of the state matching 100 percent of what each municipality raised by its property tax surcharge. As more towns joined the CPA — about half the towns and cities in Massachusetts at this point — state funds began to dwindle and it began to depend on budget surplus money to help.

Baker has said the state will have to “make some adjustments” to the program’s formula to make sure it is funded properly. Over the years, state funding has fallen from a 100 percent match to 67 percent in 2008 and between 11 and 13 percent most recently. Baker has said he would sign a bill that would eventually bring state funding back up to 50 percent.

Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, said the Senate has filed a bill that if passed would raise more money for the CPA by increasing a registries of deeds fees from $20 to $75. Two previous bills — one from the House and one from the Senate — died in committee.

Comerford said she will fight hard to get more funding for the program. She said she serves on the Revenue Committee.

“I am actively working to make sure we find new or expanded revenue streams, so that the CPA can remain viable,” she said.

State matching funds are distributed to all participating cities and towns in October. Voters approve projects at their town meetings in the spring.


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