The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 13, 2001

News

Town Meeting votes 2% tax surcharge for community preservation

Two hundred forty nine residents turned out for the Special Town Meeting last Tuesday evening to consider a single issue, whether Carlisle should join the Massachusetts Community Preservation Act (CPA) and levy a two percent tax surcharge to fund conservation, recreation, historic preservation and community housing. After a wide-ranging discussion of the burdens and benefits, with the selectmen supporting the act and the finance committee opposing, the Town Meeting passed the measure by a margin of better than two to one. Final approval requires a town vote at the May 22 election.

Provisions of the act

Chair of the board of selectmen Michael Fitzgerald read the Article which asked the town "to approve a property tax surcharge in the amount two percent of the taxes assessed annually on real property" which will be used to create a fund for the acquisition, creation, and support of open space, historic resources, community housing and recreational areas. The Article specifies two exemptions from the surcharge:

· Property owned and occupied by a person who would qualify for low income housing or low or moderate income senior housing;

· The first $100,000 of assessed value of any property.

Towns must approve a CPA surcharge for a minimum of five years, but the amount of the tax surcharge can be changed at any time by Town Meeting vote.

Towns that approve the surcharge are eligible for matching funds from the state, up to 100 percent of the monies raised by the town. The state currently holds $26 million for CPA distributions, and expects to raise approximately $25 million annually through fees generated by the registry of deeds.

Article 2 asked the town to establish a Community Preservation Committee (CPC), consisting of seven members, one each from the conservation commission, historical commission, planning board, recreation commission, housing authority, board of selectmen and one member from the community at large.

By law the funds collected do not need to be spent each year, but must be allocated as follows:

· 10 percent for open space

· 10 percent for historic resources

· 10 percent for community housing

· 70 percent as recommended by the CPC.

While the CPC can recommend expenditures, only the Town meeting can appropriate funds.

Potential revenues for the town

Speaking for the selectmen, Fitzgerald explained that because the act is new and the adoption procedure complex, only a small number of towns will adopt the CPA for the 2002 fiscal year. This means that the $26 million pot of gold will be split by relatively few towns. He estimated that if all participating towns received matching funds of 100%, the state would only distribute $16 million in 2002. In future years, said Fitzgerald, as more towns and cities join CPA, the state grants may drop to 50 percent.

For the average Carlisle property, valued at $450,000, the two percent surcharge will add about $110 to the tax bill. With a projected tax revenue of $357,000 and an equivalent state grant, the town can expect to raise over $700,000 in the first year, and approximately $1.7 million over five years. (This estimate assumes a two percent surcharge over five years, plus a state match of 100 percent in the first year, dropping to 50 percent by year five.)

FinCom says "No!"

FinCom chair Simon Platt summarized the committee's opposition to the CPA surcharge considering the many demands on the FY02 budget. While the members "support the aims of the CPA", they have concerns that the 2002 taxes will be high, with several high-ticket capital items being requested. In addition, it is their philosophical position that "projects should go to the Town Meeting on a stand alone basis."

Town committees voice support

In addition to the selectmen, a large number of town committees lined up to express their support for the act. Jane Anderson, representing the municipal land committee, referred to the recommendations developed at the February 10 Municipal Planning Day stating that the committee saw this as a mechanism to acquire the needed 40 to 100 acres of land for future town use.

Ed Sonn, president of Affordable Housing, Inc., a non-profit corporation that hopes to become Carlisle's developer of affordable housing, said that CPA funds could be used by the Carlisle Housing Authority to purchase land for community housing., supplementing federal and state grants.

ConsCom member John Lee offered that the CPA fund "will enable the town to have a quicker response when presented with land aquisition opportunities. This is an investment in our community, not a boondoggle."

Maureen Tarca of the recreation comminion and Kate Reid of the planning board offered their committee's support.

Articulate opposition

Selectman Doug Stevenson identified himself as the dissenting member of the board, offering a number reasons for his opposition. "The average taxpayer has seen a 20 percent tax increase here in town. Twenty percent over two years is very significant." He is also very concerned about "establishing pots of money" which must be spent according to a state statute (the CPA) that is yet to be fully defined. In addition, he pointed out, "There are soft costs of implementation. We don't know what they are, but they may require additional staff, or atlaest additional hours." Finally, Stevenson expressed his distrust of "promises from the state" citing a number of examples where promised funds were not delivered.

Lisa Jensen-Fellows expressed her serious reservations about adding to the tax burden while facing a possible addition to the school. "We need to decide what is a want and what is a need," she said. "Once the money is there it will get gobbled up."

Others questioned whether $1.7 million over five years is really enough to pay for any of the proposed projects. Fitzgerald agreed, "$1.7 million gets you less and less real estate." But, he continued, "it can be very helpful in starting larger projects and making small land aquisitions. It will even out our roller coaster of taxes and will help us better plan for the future."

According to moderator Sarah Brophy, the 90 minute debate heard about equal numbers of proponents and dissenters. However, when the vote on article 1 came, the measure passedc easile. Article 2, forming the Community Preservation Committee, was then adopted unaimously.


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