Friday, April 26, 2002
Three Warrant articles ask for CPA surtax cuts
CPC members reluctantly support decrease to 1.5%
About half a dozen townspeople listened on April 17 while the community preservation committee (CPC) grappled with Warrant articles which propose cuts to the community preservation act (CPA) tax surcharge.
Money collected under the CPA is earmarked for preservation of open space, preservation of historic landscapes and structures, affordable housing and recreation facilities. The state provides funds to match those collected by the towns. This year the state is expected to give Carlisle approximately $215,758, matching Carlisle's CPA funds dollar for dollar.
The CPA tax surcharge was adopted by Carlisle at last spring's Town Meeting, when the surcharge was set at 2% of the annual real estate tax. This spring, three Warrant articles offer the town a chance to reduce the surcharge to 1.5%, 1%, or 0.01%. In order to keep the surcharge at 2%, Town Meeting would need to vote down all three Warrant articles.
Audience member Ken Harte pointed out that a 2% CPA tax is not the same as a 2% real estate tax. For a Carlisle property valued at $450,000, the 2% CPA surcharge last year would have added about $110 to the tax bill. Harte said the effective surcharge is already less than 2%, because the first $100,000 of property value is excluded from the CPA calculation. Therefore, for a property valued at $1 million, the effective CPA surcharge is currently 1.8%, and for a $400,000 property the effective CPA rate is currently 1.5%.
The CPC includes one at-large member, and one representative from each of the housing authority, the recreation commission, the conservation commission, the historical commission, planning board, and board of selectmen. The committee will make annual recommendations to Town Meeting on how the CPA tax surcharge funds might be spent. This year the CPC also plans to explain the purpose of the year-old CPA to Town Meeting, as well as comment on the proposed cuts to the CPA surcharge.
CPC member Jack Bromley, who represents the housing authority, asked if the state matching funds were at risk from the state budgetary process. The state CPA funding is gathered from fees at the Registry of Deeds and kept in a specially authorized trust fund, and cannot be "dipped into" for other parts of the state budget. This money is distributed as matching funds among all those towns which adopt the CPA. According to information at the web site www.communitypreservation.org, this year the state's fees brought in more money than can be distributed, resulting in an anticipated surplus of $22 million, to be distributed in future years. As more towns join the CPA, each town will eventually receive a smaller share of the state CPA funds. Carlisle Conservation Foundation President Art Milliken was in the audience and predicted that the state will be able to match towns' CPA funds at 80% to 100% for at least the next four years.
Selectman Vivian Chaput asked members to report their boards' recommendations on the proposed CPA cuts. Chaput explained that the selectmen support reducing the CPA in order to lessen the tax burden, and spread the funding cuts among all town departments. They initially chose reducing the CPA to 1%, but a majority of the selectmen voted in favor of the smaller cut to 1.5%, when that option was submitted by citizens' petition.
Kate Reid said the planning board members "feel strongly that it should stay at 2%. It is a revenue source." She noted that last year the planning board suggested the CPA tax be set to 3%, but supported the selectmen who chose 2%. Similarly, because they recognize the difficult financial situation and the selectmen's desire to cut the CPA, the planning board "reluctantly decided to support the 1.5% level."
John Lee said the conservation commission would prefer the 2% level. But, "given the current reign of terror and fiscal climate in town" the conservation commission would also reluctantly support the 1.5% level.
At-large member Caren Ponty, said, "Rolling it back at all is short sighted.In the long run it would be better for the town to keep it at 2%."
Chaput asked the other members to poll their boards about an appropriate level for the CPA tax surcharge, and suggested that at their next meeting the CPC develop a formal recommendation to share with Town Meeting.
The committee discussed how to use the CPA funds. Informal requests have been made to use CPA money to repair the roof of the brick one-room school building, or to help fix the dam at Greenough Pond. The way the CPA was set up, funds may be used for preservation, but not routine maintenance, and the group will seek more information on whether these projects would be eligible. While the committee agreed that small projects can be worthwhile, they felt the bulk of the CPA money should be saved for a future, large project. Chaput said the money is not "burning a hole in our pocket," and the CPC would be "fiscally responsible." She said the committee views the CPA like a "savings account." Ponty added, "It's got the highest rate of return around," because of the matching state funding.
The next meeting of the community preservation committee was set for Wednesday, May 1, at 8 p.m.
For more information on the CPA, go to www.communitypreservation.org or search the online archives of the Mosquito at www.carlislemosquito.org.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito