Governor Celucci (a Republican) offered this program to address the issues that many communities face: the loss of open space in particular agricultural space, affordable housing and historic preservation. The idea was by vote of a community to have a surcharge of either 1%, 2%, 3%, or some number in between (e.g. 1.5%), on the actual amount of the property tax that would generate an amount that was a minimum of 10% to each area and the town or city could divvy up the rest among those three areas as they saw fit. The state would generate an amount that would come from real estate transactions (mortgages and refinances) and would disperse a matching amount to each community. At first it was a 100% match but as more and more communities adopted the program and the economy began to languish that match has been scaled back.
Recently, a group has come out directly attacking the CPA. Closely associated with the John Birch Society and Libertarian views; they have wildly accused the program as a clever scheme by the United Nations, or part of a conspiracy by globalists who are determined to destroy America. They also claim that the CPA takes away property rights. These are the same people that say that if you want to preserve the land, then buy it. Now that the land is being purchased, they are complaining. (Follow their reasoning: as money is used to obtain open space, it deprives developers and land owners from obtaining land to build on even though the land is purchased at market value, thus depriving them of making a living. It also takes land that would normally be taxed at full rate from being drawn into the community’s coffers.)
But we have had those right here in Newburyport who care just as much about our community as most citizens and nevertheless are dead set against the CPA. The main argument is that only elected officials should have control of the ‘money’. That somehow having a board of citizen volunteers (who don’t get paid for sacrificing their talents or time) controlling these tax-generated funds is an illegitimate process of government. Moreover, the citizen volunteers only recommend how the money should be spent, those who are elected, the City Council, has the final vote as to whether or not the money is spent.
They had been upset enough as to garner signatures and to put a referendum on our ballots. (Thankfully they lost.)
I would strongly counter that such reasoning can be seen in an elected official who had ‘control’ of the money by using Mayor Lantiqua of Lawrence as an example. Besides, volunteers who fill these boards are accountable to the Mayor and the City Council and action may be taken to replace those who are not fulfilling their responsibilities. They are answerable just not at the polls.
I feel strongly that the real reason that the CPA incenses them is that it is designated funds. Money must go to the three causes: open space, affordable housing and historic preservation. (Recently, recreational facilities have been added) . There are also conditions that must be fulfilled as a requirement. In other words, a politician can’t get their grubby hands on it for a pet project or what is the biggest ‘need’ at the moment or as a slush fund or to cover budget gaps.
The results from the CPA in Newburyport have been nothing but spectacular. Monies that would normally flow into other communities (since Beacon Hill considers us affluent so they won’t give us money) have come into our city, putting a sparkle on Newburyport. And our wise Community Preservation Committee (again, peopled by non-paid citizen volunteers) have expanded the spread of the monies far beyond the city government’s needs and included non-profits such as the Belleville Improvement Society, the Custom House Maritime Museum, the Historical Society of Old Newbury, the Masonic Lodge, the Ahavas Achim Synagogue, the Preservation Trust, the Belleville Congregational Church, the Old South Church, St. Paul’s and the list goes on. The CPA has saved our local agriculture, preserved our historic Common Pasture, protected our watershed and secured the right of way for Clipper City Rail Trail Phase Two, restored the brownstone façade on City Hall and expanded our affordable housing in the city. In other words, it has greatly enhanced our quality of life, the stuff that our city’s regular budget does not and right now, cannot do.
This wasn’t ‘free’ cash. Each historic property as a condition must register a preservation restriction to ensure their structures are protected and those not museums must permit the public access at least once or twice in a year. Conservation land must register a conservation restriction placed on it.
I asked Ms. Newhall-Smith of the Planning Office for a tally of all the income that has come in – keep in mind that not only has this been straight cash but the money has been used to establish bonds for the restoration of City Hall and the purchase of Cooper North Conservation Area. And other bonds based on anticipated revenue from future levy’s may be established at the discretion of the CPC. (They would have to get it past City Council – not an easy thing to do!) In addition, any applicant must show that other grants have been applied as matching funds; and thus great amounts are not listed of additional revenues that were generated in the pursuit of a CPA grant.
From 2005 to 2008, most of the money was matched 100% by the state:
From 2009 on the money was figured at a lower percentage to as low as last year at 26% match.
Well, the state organization of Community Preservation Committee’s has been lobbying hard to get the state’s matching funds back to pre-2009 levels; they have won a partial victory this year securing a promise that if there is a budget surplus (right now we are on target to have a billion dollar, yes, a Billion dollar surplus), the legislatures would send an additional $25,000,000 into the CPA fund for distribution. So instead of the 26% expected this year, Newburyport’s match is now going to be 52.23% for a tremendous total of funds for projects of $994,452.75!
Because this program has benefited so many communities in the Commonwealth, the state house is promising to try to do the same next year if there is a budget surplus.
Summarizing all that I have indicated, the City has received in the last decade for affordable housing, historic preservation and open space protection, $9,307,774.
Think about this next time when someone with tinfoil on his head starts demanding the CPA be repealed.
It has become an extremely beneficial program for Newburyport and a vital tool for a bright future for our city!
It is our collective responsibility to make sure the City Hall doesn’t try to use it as a slush fund or budget filler; but to keep it true to its calling as a way of putting a sparkle on this historic old port!