Friday, April 2, 2010
CPA committee supports Bog House, trails requests, trims Housing Coordinator funding
Faced with an uncertain future, members of the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) tackled their annual authorization duties at their March 24 meeting without dwelling on the longevity of their program. They approved three funding requests in full, and eventually authorized funding for the Housing Coordinator after considerable modification, limiting the compensation to one year.
The CPC is charged with the disbursement of funds collected under the Community Preservation Act (CPA). Such funds are collected through a 2% real estate tax surcharge and can only be used for historical preservation, community housing and open space preservation or recreation. After the CPC reviews all applications and recommends funding, voters have the final spending authority at Annual Town Meeting on May 10. However, program funding may dry up if voters approve Article 20 and the related non-binding ballot referendum. Both direct the Selectmen to call for a vote at a future Town Meeting as to whether to reduce or eliminate the CPA surcharge.
Next year’s state CPA match rising to 31%
Finance Director Larry Barton kicked off the CPC meeting with a quick update on the available funds. He estimates that fiscal year 2011 (FY11) CPA revenue from the 2% surcharge will be $352K, with 31% state matching funds of $106,460. Assuming investment income of about $5K, the total estimated revenues available for the CPC to authorize for FY11 comes to $463,460.
Four applications are up for consideration this year. The Conservation Commission is asking for $165K for Cranberry Bog House repairs. Trail improvements by the Carlisle Trails Committee would require $15K and the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail needs another $5K for design costs. The fourth request, and the most controversial, was a request for $100K requested by the Carlisle Housing Authority for the compensation of a Community Housing Coordinator over a period of two years.
Housing Coordinator funding cut
Funding for the Community Housing Coordinator has undergone several iterations since the FY11 budget process began. The latest version calls for $100K to be appropriated from the CPA Housing Fund over a two-year period to fund 28 hours per week of affordable housing administrative activities. “This is the first time we [CPA] have funded a salary,” explained Chair of the Board of Selectmen Tim Hult. “A two-year horizon is necessary to attract or retain the person.” He made it clear that the $100K need not be spent, if (in a flight of wishful thinking) “40B goes away.”
“I don’t have an issue with the position,” responded CPC member Julia Lavely. “I don’t even have an issue with the 28 hours. But I don’t understand why they need it for two years.” Others agreed and the group consensus eventually settled on funding for only one year. The 28 hours was accepted as an upper limit, to be funded only if the work is necessary. Members felt that a quarterly review would be worthwhile to confirm that the 28-hour week was justified.
The $50K number was questioned next. The actual amount would be the Housing Coordinator’s hourly rate multiplied by 28 hours times 52 weeks. Unfortunately no one knew what the FY11 hourly rate is. Members agreed that the final motion before voters would contain the correct number, with a not-to-exceed value of $50K. The coordinator’s salary is presently $44,844. The final motion for a one-year period with 28 hours per week at the FY11 salary level was approved by a vote of 6-0.
“We have seen the Bog House twice now,” said CPC Chair Kelly Guarino to begin the authorization process. At last year’s meeting, the CPC voted to defer all discussion until this year after a site tour by several members resulted in uncertainty whether the requested funds would be adequate to repair the building. Also, the requests for funding at that time had already exceeded the funds available and so the committee decided to table the discussion until this year. This time around, the $165K request was within the CPC budget and all that remained was for the CPC to justify the expenditure.
Hult informed the group that the Selectmen had voted to remove the Bog House funding from the Town Warrant as a separate Article. “Three reasons,” said Hult. “We don’t have funding for it; second, it would need to be funded with a debt exclusion, which needs to be on the Election Warrant; and third, we couldn’t understand a circumstance where people did not vote for it in the CPA, but did vote for it as a separate Article without any funds allocated.” This made sense to the CPC members and they focused on details of the Bog House funding with CPA funds from the historical account.
Lavely had misgivings about the private use of the second floor and third floor apartments. While there is the possibility that they could qualify as affordable housing, it would not be until after farmer Mark Duffy’s lease expires in 2015. “I definitely think we owe him a storage shed, but I’m not convinced this is the only way,” said Lavely. Other members tried to impress her with the value of the Cranberry Bog complex, including the Bog House, as an educational and open space asset. “If we vote favorably for it, at least we give the town the chance to make a decision,” said member Sylvia Sillers. “Otherwise if we vote against it, then the town wouldn’t even have the chance.”
Seeing that Lavely was unmoved by any of the arguments put forth by the other members, Guarino asked for a motion to approve the Bog House funding. Hult responded with the motion and members voted 5-1 in favor, with Lavely opposed as expected. As to whether funding was needed before FY11, Warren Lyman of the Land Stewardship Committee explained, “My first big job will be to put together very detailed bid specifications.” All agreed this will “take a few months” and no FY10 funding will be necessary. Lyman also requested that the time limit for the project completion be “bumped up from two to three years.” Guarino saw no need to vote on the request and it was accepted as “just understood.”
The Trails Committee (TC) comes to the CPC every five years to ask for funding to cover costs for materials, permitting, specialty tools and rental equipment to build new boardwalks, bridges, kiosks and signs. They still have $3,000 left over from the FY06 trail improvement CPA project, which the CPC will call back at Town Meeting. “This is a bargain because we’re just buying materials and getting an incredible amount of free labor,” said CPC member Steve Pearlman. “You can’t get a better deal than that.” Others were similarly impressed by how much benefit the town receives for such a small amount of money. The TC is asking for $15K for future projects planned for the next five years (FY11-FY15) and the CPC voted 6-0 to approve the funding with any unused expenditures to be returned at the end of FY15.
Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
Towns have been asked to fund the design of their portion of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail as a sign of their commitment, with the state funding the construction. Carlisle approved $20K in FY07 and now is being asked for $5K more. “Because our section is so small – approximately 800 feet – we have an inter-municipality agreement with Acton,” explained Hult. “They will manage the design function for both theirs and ours.” A portion of the eventual 25-mile path connecting Lowell to Framingham has been opened and CPC members related positive experiences of walking and biking on the completed section. There was no opposition to the funding and members voted unanimously to approve the additional $5K expenditure.
Presentation at Town Meeting
Regarding the non-binding resolution on the Town Warrant to reduce or eliminate the 2% CPA surcharge, the CPC believes that reports of its possible demise are greatly exaggerated. They plan to mount a spirited defense of the CPA program at Town Meeting and will stress the many benefits it has provided to the town. Chair Guarino will pull together examples of conservation, historic, recreation and housing accomplishments. ∆
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