By Stuart Foster, Contributing Writer
WESTBOROUGH – State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) spoke in favor of the Housing and Environment Revenue Opportunities (HERO) bill at an Aug. 24 Westborough Select Board meeting.
If passed, the HERO bill, which Eldridge is the senate sponsor of, would double the deeds excise fee on home purchases from $4.56 per $1,000 of assessed value to $9.12 per $1,000.
Even portions of the estimated $300 million raised by this program each year would go to the Global Warming Solutions Trust Fund and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Money would then be awarded as grants to towns and cities throughout the state.
“At the end of the day, if we are really serious about affordable housing, if we are really serious about climate resiliency and climate change, the state needs to provide a dedicated revenue source for cities and towns,” Eldridge said.
Eldridge said that the goal of the bill was to create that dedicated revenue source.
Select Board member Shelby Marshall raised concerns about the timing of the bill, which comes at a time when the state has received $2.5 billion to address emergency needs due to COVID-19.
“I am also concerned that the bill itself does not address the mechanisms through which determination of fees would be allocated back to municipalities,” Marshall said. “This bill at least does not share with me how those monies would be allocated back to Westborough.”
Eldridge said that, because it is a statewide bill, it is not guaranteed that any municipality, including Westborough, would receive funding. He said, however, that Westborough would be in a good position to receive funding because it has already done a lot of work in the areas of affordable housing and climate resiliency.
Select Board member Ian Johnson concurred with Marshall that the timing of the bill was a concern as the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing.
Select Board member Patrick Welch said he was initially concerned when he saw the bill, due to the impact of the excise fee on home affordability.
He then voiced support, however.
“It does address two pressing issues in our town and in our state, and specifically the affordable housing issue,” Welch said.
Select Board member Allen Edinberg added that, even with the doubled excise fee, Massachusetts would still have a lower rate than many neighboring states, including New York, Vermont and New Hampshire.
Ultimately the Select Board did not take a vote on whether to support the bill, with members opting to do further research on it before making a decision at a later date. The bill was still in committee within the state legislature as of Aug. 25.