The case for the Community Preservation Act

On October 17, 2012, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

By Denise Provost
State Representative
27th Middlesex District

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)

A perfectly beautiful Saturday a few weeks ago was one of those rare occasions when Prospect Hill Tower was open to the public. I joined many others who were to enjoying the tower’s panoramic views, and its historic significance; it proved to be a great place for reflecting on Somerville’s past and its future. As I had climbed up into the tower – for the first time ever – I noticed the plaster and mortar crumbling from its walls, the paint scaling off the rusted wrought iron of the balustrades on the spiral staircase.

We are a city dreaming about our potential, and yet one of our most treasured historic landmarks is still sliding into disrepair. Somerville has made many improvements in the last thirty or so years, but our small land area and modest tax base have kept us a city of limited resources.  Our city government has been careful about keeping taxes relatively low, and we have not spent what we might over the years to improve our parks, to take care of our historic properties, and to help make sure that people in Somerville are able to live here affordably.

Many of us would like to see the Community Path fully extended, but a funding gap keeps us stuck at a dead end. There are those who dream about repairing the steps Prospect Hill, renovating our libraries, or fixing up the run down playground on Central Hill, but projects build up on our wish list, waiting for an opportunity, a grant, a few more dollars. Meanwhile, more and more people struggle with the cost of housing in Somerville, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to pay for the development or renovation of decent and affordable housing, as resources dwindle.

Making Somerville a truly great 21st Century city will require investing more in our public amenities.  Yet this challenge comes at a time when federal spending is about to be massively cut, and our state struggles with a sputtering economy. Fortunately, we have on our ballot this year a fairly painless way to invest in the kind of improvements that have gone unmade from lack of sufficient funding: the Community Preservation Act (CPA).

Since 2001, many other communities have been able to achieve items on their wish lists by using funding from CPA. The CPA raises revenues through a modest surcharge on the property tax, which then qualifies communities for additional funds, distributed from the State’s CPA Public Trust. We all pay into this trust fund, through fees at our registry of deeds, and through state taxes – and now is our opportunity to claim Somerville’s share of those funds.

Wealthy communities have long taken advantage of the notion that by investing a little bit, you can multiply your returns. Many towns have used annual cash disbursements from CPA to increase their capital budgets for treasured projects, like parks, or renovations of historic or affordable properties, without increasing bonding and paying the cost of debt service. CPA money can also be used to leverage additional funding from state, federal, and sometimes private sources. The 148 cities and towns that have already passed CPA are benefiting from public funds that those of us who haven’t passed CPA are leaving on the table.

Now it’s our turn to take advantage of CPA resources, and make sure that this public funding doesn’t continue to go to other communities without Somerville getting our fair share.  Legislative changes to the CPA signed into law this year particularly benefit Somerville: under the amended law, communities can count existing funding streams, like Linkage Fees, as part of their contributing share. This change allows Somerville to charge a lower surcharge, but still reach our maximum match from the state’s CPA Trust Fund.  Also, we are now entitled to use CPA funding for repairs and improvements to parks and open space; under the old law, these monies could be spent for land acquisition only.

There is a simple notion behind the Community Preservation Act:  everyone benefits from investment in our community. Paying a modest surcharge – $20 or $30 or even $60 dollars a year – is a small price to pay for turning Somerville’s wish list of projects into up-to-date parks and buildings on the ground. It’s not a one-time grant, but an infusion of over $1.5 million each year, dedicated expressly for open space and parks, historic preservation, and affordable housing.

Somerville has a chance to claim its share of these funds, or let others take it instead – let’s take this opportunity while it’s in our hands.


15 Responses to “The case for the Community Preservation Act”

  1. A Moore says:

    This city will probably pass this bill but if they didn’t waste so much money over the years and kept these things up like one is supposed to we wouldn’t have this problem. They had the money for these things and blew it. I am so glad I am exempt from paying into it regardless of whether they pass it or not. This city has got to get with the program. This country is trillions in debt and somewhere along the way it will hit home and it will be too late. We should be learning to be self sufficient and stop spending what we don’t have and take care of the things that need fixing now and not reding things that don’t have to be done. Such a waste.

  2. Meme says:

    rawr! I want something done, but not enough to spend my own money, so I am going to force you to pay for it!

  3. teelesquaremayor says:

    no new taxes! we’re being squeezed already. Do the politicians in this city not realize that? how do they sleep at night knowing how much we’re being crushed already.

  4. j. connelly says:

    What is wrong with this….The feds and the state have financial problems and as a typical arrogant politician like her thinks….the Mass citizens can foot the bill???

    Hey lady people have been out of work for five or more years. The unemployment figures are a fraud as they do not count people no longer getting unemployment etc. Do you ever come out of your office on “Bacon Hill” to really see what is going on in your community.

    Evidently you have truly lost touch with the constituents. There is no way in hell that the average citizen “benefits” from the CPA…NOT IN THESE TIGHT FISCAL TIMES. How about you and the rest of the “Bacon Hill Mob” take a PAY CUT and stop ripping off the taxpayers!

  5. JerryW says:

    I think that most of those who might be financially impacted by this would hardly be feeling much of a sting. I say it’s worth it if it means getting the extra funds allocated to make the city a better place than it already is now. It’s not really so much now, is it? Please consider this when deciding how you should vote.

  6. Meme says:

    I agree Jerry. Since you think it is such a great idea, and not much money, how about you offer to foot the bill for everyone? How about just for each single mother in somerville that now has to pay higher property taxes? How about just for each person that makes minimum wage? How about for Srs living on a fixed income.

    You go tell them its ‘not that much money now’, and say you voted to force them to allocate a share their small disposable income to making a bike path you can play on.

    If you think its not that much money, head up a non profit to fund it. Donate your own time or money. Dont use coercion to do it.

  7. Rob says:

    This makes so much sense. It’s such a minimal payment by each homeowner, and it amounts to a lot of money! Somerville has so many things (and people!) who could benefit from a program like this. CPA doesn’t seem like just “another tax” so much as a smart system setup by the state to help cities like ours. The city budget can only do so much, and this sounds like it’ll take care of what falls between the cracks. I’m “4” it!

  8. Jonah Petri says:

    @j. connely:
    Anyone who has been out of work for 5 years is certainly exempt from this tax. You can check the exemption thresholds yourself here:

    You should take the time to understand this law. It’s actually quite compatible with conservative ideology about taxation – it’s a tax for a very specific, limited set of purposes, being put to a pure, democratic, local, up or down vote. Don’t let your knee-jerk reaction to anything which says “tax” blind you to all the good things about this.

    Imagine if we could up-or-down vote many more aspects of our spending? Isn’t this a step in the right direction?

  9. Jonah Petri says:

    A Moore:
    You’re talking a lot about debt, but there’s no debt associated with the CPA at all. Plus, you’re exempt, as you say. So what’s not to like? High-rolling developers and real estate moguls paying for our parks? Sign me up!

  10. John Wilde says:

    I am opposed to this proposal for several reasons:

    1. The real cost for this proposal will fall squarely on the shoulders of property owners, like myself, who live in their home and do not receive rents. Landlords can simply raise rents to cover any tax increase, but we can’t.
    The city is already extremely aggressive in taxing and increasing assessments on single-family home owners. Over 10 years, the city has more than doubled my assessed property value resulting in 30% higher taxes with no change in city services. Although the tax increase may be modest, the costs will be borne by single-family home owners with the money going to no specific project or plan. This continues a bad (but typical) tactic in Somerville of continually coming back to home owners to pick up the vast majority of tax revenues for the city. Those who are renting will also see their rents increase. Landlords will not be hurt by this. They will raise rents.

    2. Without a clear definition of what project this will serve, how can we know if it is worth supporting? One proposal is to support low-income housing. However, tax funds that typically support low-income housing, go directly to big-time developers to offset development costs in order to make units available at lower rents. I don’t know about others, but I’m not prepared to voluntarily have my taxes raised to be put in the pockets of millionaire developers or wealthy landlords.

    3. The state’s concept of this matching fund plan is discriminatory toward lower income communities like Somerville. If the state has funding available, it should be available to all communities. Why should we have to have our taxes (and rents) raised to get this funding? Wealthy communities, whose property owners pay a far smaller percentage of city tax revenues, can more easily agree to having their tax increased, but in Somerville, home owners’ taxes are already too high.

    4. We can not trust government bureaucracy to wisely use our tax revenues. The result of this will likely be greater bureaucracy with the money being wasted or given to political cronies.

    Proposal: If the city wants these funds, I propose we lower our current property tax by 1.5%. Then they can add back in the required 1.5% increase, (keeping our property tax unchanged), and apply the money for this fund. This is the right proposal for a community like Somerville. The city will have to tighten its belt to make up for the 1.5% decrease, (just like the rest of us who have seen a decrease in our real take home pay, while our taxes and cost of living continue to rise!)

  11. j. connelly says:

    “Jonah Petri” you evidently make more $$$ than the average Somerville citizen. The Bond the mayor floated for the Assembly Row Developer..He took several million from it through transfers approved by the Board of Aldermen for certain city parks….So the developer is not paying, now with IKEA pulling out..we will be paying. You are the one who is falling for the lies. With the present economy and Somerville’s “Tight Fiscal Crisis”
    we cannot afford it.

    So with the mayor pulling $$$ from the bond, evidently the $25 million was not the TRUE amount needed for the bond.
    Another example of misuse of public funds by elected officials.

    The Somerville politicians have historically over the years and even more now, have mismanaged the city funds. They only know how to spend.
    State funding to Somerville has been and will continue to be cut. The wealthy cities will get the lions share of the funds.

    That is why people should vote NO on CPA!

  12. MarketMan says:

    If I knew all the money was going to parks and recreational facilities, then I would vote yes. But I don’t trust that the money will go to that. It’s likely to go to more affordable housing etc and benefit the wrong people. Can someone prove me wrong??? Please? I hope so.

  13. Ron Newman says:

    Who are ‘the wrong people’ ?

  14. The Wizard says:

    Denise Provost is an ultra liberal tax and spender just like most of the politicians in the one party state of Massachusetts. Her, Pat Jehlen, and others don’t care one bit about working people.

    But she was elected democratically and I must respect the will of the voters. This is democracy.

  15. MarketMan says:

    Ron: By ‘wrong people’, I meant the developers that benefit from building an affordable housing complex. I meant ‘wrong’ in the sense that it doesn’t benefit the community directly.

Leave a Reply