Open Space ad hoc committee hears report


Westborough – When some residents think about the Community Preservation Act (CPA), they imagine a big jump in property taxes and loss of local control over CPA-funded projects. Neither is true, according to Katherine Roth, associate director of the Community Preservation Coalition.

On July 18 Roth gave a presentation to the Open Space Committee's ad hoc CPA committee, which has been charged with studying the costs and benefits of the CPA for Westborough. Adopting the CPA causes property taxes to increase by a minimal amount, Roth said, and the money raised is matched up to 100 percent by state funds.

Westborough, like all communities that adopt the CPA, would retain complete control over its CPA projects, which would include open space preservation, historic building and landscape preservation, and aff ordable housing.

CPA details

In order for a town to adopt the CPA, a Town Meeting vote or a citizen's petition signed by 5 percent of the town's registered voters is required to place the CPA on a ballot. Westborough has looked at adopting the CPA in the past, but the issue has never been placed on a ballot.

Communities that adopt the CPA add a surcharge of up to 3 percent to property tax bills, with the specific percentage determined by voters. Communities can vote to exempt the first $100,000 of valuation, and to exempt property owners who qualify for low- or moderate-income housing. The CPA requires that those who receive other local property tax exemptions, such as disabled veterans, be exempted from paying the CPA surcharge.

The amount of the surcharge can be changed by a Town Meeting vote followed by approval of voters in a town-wide election. The CPA must remain in eff ect for a minimum of five years. After five years, towns can vote to revoke the CPA.

CPA funds can be spent immediately on projects, or can be banked for future spending.

Westborough details

According to Roth, if Westborough adopted the CPA, adopted the $100,000 valuation exemption, and decided the surcharge would be 1 percent, the town would raise about $380,000 per year, and the cost to the average homeowner would be $48.

Matching funds

The state has established a trust fund that receives fees from transactions at the state's Registry of Deeds. The fees range from $10 to $20 on 35 diff erent transactions, including deed, foreclosures, mortgages, and municipal liens.

The trust fund was established in 2001, and began matching local CPA contributions in 2003. While the amount the state disburses from the fund increases every year as more communities adopt the CPA, annual funding has decreased as the real estate market has cooled. Last year's contribution was $36 million, and $59 million was distributed to 102 communities.

Although the state has been fully matching CPA funding, Roth said that because more and more communities are adopting the CPA, the state would soon not be able to provide a 100 percent match.

CPA projects

One important aspect of the CPA is that it allows communities to attract more funding. An example is the historic and open space preservation of Hassanamesitt Village in Grafton. For that project, Grafton used $250,000 in CPA funds and raised an additional $1.85 million through state, federal and private grants.

Across the commonwealth, 127 communities have adopted the CPA and have used CPA funds for a wide variety of local projects, including preservation of the last farm in Newton, organic farmland in Stow, a fish ladder in Plymouth, bike trails in Newburyport, a soccer field in Sudbury, a skate board park in Bedford and a boat ramp in Grafton.

The Open Space ad hoc committee will meet in September to begin work. One of its goals will be to decide whether to bring a CPA article to the 2008 Annual Town Meeting.