By Stuart Foster, Contributing Writer
WESTBOROUGH – Members of the Westborough Community Preservation Act Exploratory
Committee discussed the possibility of the town becoming a Community Preservation Act (CPA) community at an Advisory Finance Committee meeting on Sept. 9.
The CPA is a Massachusetts state law that allows municipalities to apply a surcharge on real estate taxes. That surcharge is then matched by state funds. That money goes into an account to be used on projects relating to open space, affordable housing or historic preservation.
“Our committee has kind of been looking for an affordable number, so we have been trying to keep the impact to homeowners to around $50 a year from the surcharge,” said Exploratory Committee Chair Jenn Doherty. “That would put us at about a 0.5 percent surcharge that we would adopt.”
Doherty said that the process would be managed by a local Community Preservation Committee (CPC) appointed by the Select Board. The CPC would take in applications each year which would then require approval at Town Meeting.
Historian, town activist and Exploratory Committee member Kristina Nilson Allen said that
Westborough should join the CPA because the town is not currently receiving any benefits from the CPA while its neighbors, including Southborough, Northborough and Shrewsbury all receive money from it.
Hudson, Hopkinton and Upton have all also opted in, joining a long list of communities across the state participating in the CPA.
“Westborough residents are paying into the state funds, but they are not getting any benefits from it at all,” Allen said.
Allen praised the values of the CPA, saying that affordable housing, open space and historic preservation are often overlooked in local budgeting despite their importance.
Particularly, Allen said that the Westborough Open Space Preservation Committee has no money remaining in its budget, while historic preservation doesn’t receive funds.
The CPA, Allen said, could fund projects like a historic trail in Westborough.
“How do we fund something that we really care about historically? Well, it’s going to be low on your list probably, but under Community Preservation Act, important things would be funded,” Allen said.
Select Board member Shelby Marshall said that the town’s master plan addresses many areas that overlap with the priorities of the CPA.
Marshall said she appreciated that the CPA creates managed funding sources specifically
allocated to the areas designated by the law.
“There is a process around it, it is structured, and it is aligned with the values and the amenities and the desires and hopes and dreams of those that are here in Westborough,” Marshall said.
Additionally, Marshall said the law provides certain exemptions for taxpayers who cannot afford to contribute to the fund. She praised it as a thoughtful process.
The exploratory committee met with the Select Board earlier this year to present a progress report on its work. Committee members laid out much of the information they later discussed in this most recent discussion with the Advisory Finance Committee.
They then charted a path forward that would include numerous additional meetings over the coming months seeking input from boards and committees like the Advisory Finance
The exploratory committee had at least two more meetings scheduled for late September and early October as of Sept. 9, according to Marshall. Feedback from other boards and committees had, so far, been positive, she continued.
After the exploratory committee wraps up its input sessions, it will eventually go back before the Select Board to make a formal recommendation.
In order to opt into the CPA, Westborough voters would then have to approve a measure at Town Meeting. That would trigger a ballot question to be decided at the next municipal or state election. A majority vote at that point would formally adopt the CPA.