Community Preservation Act on Greenfield’s November ballot

Staff Writer
Published: 2/24/2020 10:14:51 PM

GREENFIELD — Voters will not only determine their pick for president in November, but also whether the city will adopt the Community Preservation Act (CPA), after the City Council voted 7 to 5 to put it on the ballot.

Under the CPA, communities in the program impose a surcharge on local property taxes — anywhere from ½ to 3 percent. Then, the state matches the amount by a certain percentage, depending on where the town or city decides to cap its contribution. The state receives money from each town — a $20 fee assessed on certain real estate transactions through the registries of deeds — and that money goes into a pot and is redistributed according to what each town raises itself.

The money generated can be used for open space and historic preservation, development of affordable housing, and the acquisition and development of outdoor recreational facilities.

In Greenfield, the proposed surcharge on local property taxes is 1 percent commencing in the 2022 fiscal year. However, state law requires adoption of the Community Preservation Act be decided by voters rather than enacted by a government body.

During his report, City Council Vice President Otis Wheeler, who also chairs the Ways and Means Subcommittee, said the subcommittee took up the matter in December with a mixed positive recommendation.

“Personally I am of the opinion that … the Community Preservation Act is a way to enact something close to a progressive tax that essentially puts money in the bank and allows you to spend from savings rather than continuing to borrow for most capital projects,” Wheeler said. “If I may speak to the opposition, I would summarize by saying there was general disagreement with the idea of any additional taxation or surcharge being passed onto the community at this time, that the community is generally highly burdened already.”

Precinct 3 City Councilor Virginia “Ginny” DeSorgher said she was concerned about putting the Community Preservation Act on the ballot. She voted against doing so.

“I think the timing is difficult,” she said. “No. 1, we just asked the taxpayers to fund the library, which we worked hard to have it passed. I think a significant amount of the population is going to be exempt from this.”

Property owners can file for an exemption from paying the levy imposed by the Community Preservation Act.

DeSorgher added that when she asked constituents about the Community Preservation Act, they didn’t know what it was.

Precinct 2 City Councilor Dan Guin, who also voted against putting the CPA on the November ballot, agreed with DeSorgher.

“I think timing is an issue with this one,” Guin said. “I was going door to door this year to collect signatures, which I haven’t done in a long time. I had one mandate and that was tax burden. People were in total fear of being able to meet their taxes in the future, regardless of their socioeconomic level. It wasn’t just one, it was all.”

He said he thinks the matter could be taken up in the future, but “with the situation we’re in, the tax burden — I don’t think it’s a good timing to even approach the people to bring this forward.”

Likewise, Precinct 1 City Councilor Ed Jarvis said constituents he spoke with expressed a similar sentiment to Guin’s.

“I heard from most of them saying ‘We’re sick and tired of taxes. We’re sick and tired of them going up. We’re sick and tired of being nickeled and dimed,’” Jarvis said. “They’re not for it, with the state of affairs of our nation, state and town — I can’t see putting this off until 2022 and not having a crystal ball to say, ‘Our taxes are going to level out, they’re going to go down.’”

Expressing support of the Community Preservation Act, Precinct 9 City Councilor Norman Hirschfeld said he previously lived in Waltham, which adopted the act and where it has been successful at generating money to develop affordable housing.

“It’s been a really good program,” Hirschfeld said. “I was involved with that process with the Community Development Corp. for over five years and it’s something we could do here.”

Precinct 5 City Councilor Timothy Dolan also spoke in favor of putting the act on the ballot.

“What we are asking people is whether they would like us to add an additional tax and I think that’s the best way to tax people,” Dolan said. “I think it’s a brilliantly written law in that it incentivizes the creation of things people value. I think it would be irresponsible not to give voters the opportunity to do this calculation for themselves and balance the things that they value, in terms of housing or open space, with the cost.”

Former City Council President Karen “Rudy” Renaud submitted the Community Preservation Act for consideration in September, and the matter was tabled at the Dec. 18 City Council meeting.

Seven Franklin County towns have already adopted the CPA: Conway, Deerfield, Leverett, Northfield, Shutesbury, Sunderland and Whately.

Reach Melina Bourdeau at mbourdeau@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 263.


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