Friday, February 16, 2001
Community Preservation Act offers route to funding conservation, historical preservation and housing
A surcharge on taxes to provide funding for future town needs is under consideration by the Carlisle Selectmen. The Community Preservation Act, signed by the governor in November 2000, provides a mechanism for towns to raise money for conservation, historic preservation, and affordable housing. The sweetener is a pool of state money for distribution to towns participating in the program.
The Community Preservation Act (CPA) allows a surcharge of up to three percent to be levied through property taxes, with certain optional exclusions for lower-income residents. The monies raised are then kept in a fund, and distributed as recommended by a town Community Preservation Committee, contingent on a vote at town meeting. The committee would be composed of members of the conservation commission, historical commission, planning board, recreation commission, and the housing authority.
Matching grants are a key provision of the act. The state's Community Preservation Trust Fund will provide matching funds ranging from five to 100 percent of a town's contribution to all participating communities. Eighty percent of the fund balance, estimated to be $25 million per year, will be distributed in proportion to CPA tax collections. The other 20 percent will be reserved for towns that have adopted the maximum threepercent surcharge, and will be distributed according to a "preservation rank" based on per capita property tax valuation and population. A participitating town's commitment is five years, although amendments can be made to the tax surcharge rate and any exclusions.
Town Meeting, elections needed
On February 13, the selectmen met to discuss the benefits of joining the CPA and to consider calling a Special Town Meeting, a first step if Carlisle is to participate in the program this year. The Warrant would set up the Community Preservation Committee and, if passed by majority vote, the town would then need to vote on joining the CPA in spring town elections on May 22. Since the Warrant vote must occur 35 days before elections, the Special Town Meeting would have to take place on April 9 or 10. The Selectmen made no decision on initiating the steps needed to place the issue before the town, but will continue the discussion at their next meeting, on Tuesday, February 27.
Citizen petition can initiate vote
An alternative to a Special Town Meeting would be a "citizens petition" to put the question directly on the ballot. A petition would have to be signed by five% of registered voters in the town. The town clerk then has seven days to certify it, and the question must be placed on the ballot 35 days before the town election. This avenue was dismissed by selectman Vivian Chaput: "This is an important piece of legislation, and the townspeople should have a chance to discuss it at Town Meeting."
Based on calculations derived from the Community Preservation website (www.communitypreservation.org), Carlisle could raise $348,239 in the first year, assuming the town passes the maximum three percent surcharge. In addition, the town would receive a grant from the state. There appears to be an advantage to joining the CPA program early, while participation is low and state funds are distributed over fewer communities.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito