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Somerville Voters to Decide on Community Preservation Act

The Community Preservation Act puts aside money—raised by a tax surcharge and matching state funds—for open space, historic preservation and affordable housing.

In November, Somerville voters will decide whether or not to adopt the state's Community Preservation Act.

The Community Preservation Act, known as the CPA, is a tool cities and towns use to fund open space, historic preservation and affordable housing projects.

The Somerville Board of Aldermen voted Thursday to put an initiative about joining the CPA on November's ballot.

What is the Community Preservation Act?

Communities that adopt the CPA raise money through a surcharge on property taxes. The surcharge can be up to 3 percent of the real estate tax levy, but Somerville is proposing a surcharge of 1.5 percent.

As stated above, the money raised must be used for open space protection, historic preservation and affordable housing, and communities that join the program receive matching funds from the state for CPA projects.

About 148 cities and towns in Massachusetts have joined the CPA, including Belmont, Cambridge, Quincy, Waltham and Wellesley.

As an example, according to the Community Preservation Coalition, an advocate of the Community Preservation Act, Quincy has raised nearly $6 million from the surcharge and received about $3 million from the state.

Communities that join the CPA establish a community preservation committee that allocates at least 10 percent of the money raised to each of the three permitted categories—open space, historic preservation, affordable housing.

How much would it cost?

In presenting the Community Preservation Act ballot initiative to the Somerville Board of Aldermen Thursday, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone said, "Fee, surcharge, tax: That can be a lightning-rod issue."

The mayor, who supports joining the CPA, said, "We're not a city of great resources" and, "We have so much more as a community that we want to achieve."

Marc Levye, Somerville's chief assessor, spoke Thursday about how much joining the CPA would cost average households.

  • The average condo, valued at around $324,000, would pay around $17
  • The average single-family home, valued around $405,000, would pay around $33
  • The average two-family home, valued around $487,000, would pay about $49
  • The average three-family home, valued around $550,000, would pay around $62

That's after the residential exemption is taken into account.

Levye told the aldermen he was still working out how much money the CPA surcharge would raise, but a ballpark figure—Levye emphasized it was a very rough figure—would be around $1 million to $1.2 million, he said.

How much money would Somerville get from the state?

The CPA was signed into law in 2000, and from 2002 to 2007, communities in the program received dollar-for-dollar matches from the state.

In 2010, the average state match was down to 31.5 percent of the local surcharge revenue, according to The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs's CPA website.

Voters decide

"This is a matter, ultimately, that will be decided by the voters," Curtatone said. The mayor added later, "I feel very excited by this opportunity."

"The long-term benefit will pay off," said Alderman At-Large John Connolly, who also supports the CPA.

It will be on the ballot on Nov. 6.

Lucas Rogers August 23, 2012 at 12:31 PM
Thank you for the correction, Carol. The article need to be corrected too. 27% return is still pretty fantastic. Somerville desperately needs more open space, especially as developers target larger-than-average backyards for shoehorn development. I plan to support the CPA.
Matt C August 23, 2012 at 12:42 PM
You will never be able to make everyone happy - I think that the city is using relatively inexpensive activities that are inclusive and spread across neighborhoods is a great thing. They help promote the city, its people and businesses.
wenzday August 23, 2012 at 02:17 PM
27% return on money stolen from Somerville people via taxes is perhaps a great deal for the bureaucrats but not a good deal for the tax payers
Lucas Rogers August 23, 2012 at 04:08 PM
How is building a park for a kid whose parents don't have a backyard stealing?
wenzday August 23, 2012 at 04:16 PM
building a park is not stealing. *Taking people's money without their consent* is stealing. Hope that clears it up for you.
Matt C August 23, 2012 at 05:00 PM
I struggling to figure out who is having money stolen from them. Are you trying to say that the state is "stealing" your money via taxing residents? or is Somerville stealing *your* money by taking money from the state?
Jonah Petri August 23, 2012 at 08:31 PM
I challenge you to find any investment with a guaranteed 27% return within 1 year. It's actually a fantastic deal.
Warren Dew August 23, 2012 at 08:36 PM
Exactly, wenzday. Jonah, it's a great deal for the people the money is given to, but not such a great deal for the taxpayers.
Warren Dew August 23, 2012 at 08:37 PM
No parks will be built with this money. There isn't any space in Somerville to build new parks.
Jonah Petri August 23, 2012 at 08:40 PM
"There isn't any space in Somerville to build new parks." False. The entire Community Path from Lowell St to Boston is still unbuilt. When finished, it would be the single biggest open space in Somerville. Inner belt has tons of land which could be preserved for parks as it is redeveloped. There are small parcels all over the city which could be converted into open space through via this money.
Lucas Rogers August 23, 2012 at 08:40 PM
That's my point, too, Warren. It's a great deal for the kid who gets to use the park.
Warren Dew August 23, 2012 at 08:42 PM
The community path is already a park. I've used it for my kids for years. Any "building" there will just reduce the open space.
Warren Dew August 23, 2012 at 08:43 PM
What you mean is, it's a great deal for the people who get to have taxpayer subsidized low rents.
Lucas Rogers August 23, 2012 at 08:45 PM
I'm not sure what you mean, Warren.
Lucas Rogers August 23, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Warren, the Community Path is being extended to Lowell Street. The community is working hard to extend it even further.
wenzday August 23, 2012 at 10:30 PM
meanwhile the mayor is mandating that this parking lot in Davis Square be turned into a hotel http://somerville.patch.com/articles/thoughts-building-a-hotel-on-davis-square-parking-lot How did we get to a point where the government decides what businesses can be in what locations? If the city doesn't want this property they should sell it back to the people
Patrick August 24, 2012 at 02:25 PM
@ Wenzday "meanwhile the mayor is *proposing* that this parking lot in Davis Square be turned into a hotel." - there fixed it for you
Patrick August 24, 2012 at 02:33 PM
From the article: "This is a matter, ultimately, that will be decided by the voters," Curtatone said. @wenzday: If a tax (or a surcharge on an existing tax as is the case here) passed by popular vote is stealing to you, how do you get through the day? The psychic trauma of being robbed nearly everytime you participate in a monetary transaction would be debilitating, I imagine.
wenzday August 24, 2012 at 09:05 PM
yes Patrick, it is difficult for me to accept and i often feel quite discouraged and alone. I have a need for interactions and transactions in my life to be mutually beneficial and voluntary rather than coerced. Unfortunately, my need is not being met under the current way of doing things. So, while I would gladly pay towards the development and maintenance of parks and open space i would prefer not to do so via taxes under threat of imprisonment or death if I do not comply. We are thus stripped of opportunity to contribute voluntarily towards the things which we value and we are also robbed of the joy of helping others when that help is demanded from behind the barrel of a gun.
wenzday August 24, 2012 at 09:33 PM
where do you think the state is getting the money for matching funds from? also from our taxes. we are fooling ourselves to think of this as "free money". people, wake up there is no such thing.
Lucas Rogers August 24, 2012 at 09:39 PM
I don't know if this helps, wenzday, but at least with the CPA there will be a referendum that all residents of Somerville can vote on. This is different from normal taxes, which are voted on only by our representatives. Even our founding fathers recognized the need for taxes. Their battle cry was not "No Taxation," but "No Taxation without Representation."
Jason August 26, 2012 at 04:15 AM
Howdy from the hill. "Free money!" yeah rite. That's our representation guys! The real estate sales tax is an interesting idea, but do you really want to be paying x% on a 500k plus property sale? Your gonna hit if you make a margin, and then hit agin with this, humpf.! To place this on elder is rediculous. For a home owner in retirement to be hit with another tax when down sizing is an insult. They are being robbed as it is. I think a better plan is in order. As far as cash for parks, Im in, especially when the meth bag clean up crew roles thru. Yea we have been finding them of late... As far as festivals, keep em goin'. I have two daughters,if those "festivals" did not happen my daughters would never see the sweetness of Somerville and it's history or it's moon bats!...er pies....! Last item and I will shut it, affordable housing in my area just means, "I don't clean up after myself and don't care about my neighbors let alone myself"... Can't you see I'm all for that. I ask you, why must these things be on one bill? Send this bill back to the cronies and have them separate the issues. By the way,Cambridge has $102,000,000 in their CPA trust. Cheers
Jason August 27, 2012 at 12:58 AM
That's $105,000,000....heh.
Jonah Petri September 23, 2012 at 08:16 PM
There's a group now working on getting the CPA passed in Somerville. Their website is http://www.investinsomerville.com/, and the list of endorsers is pretty nice, including Mayor Curtatone, Denise Provost, and some great local organizations. You can find out a lot of info there, including how to calculate what you'd pay. It's probably <$35 per year. Spend a little, get a lot! Full disclosure: I'm helping out a bit on this effort.
ttt September 27, 2012 at 05:33 PM
I'd be interested if the city could guarantee that the minimum amount would be allocated to affordable housing (now rebranded as "community housing", as if those of us who pay market rate are not part of the "community) and the maximum to parks and open space, making sure that these funds are used for something that benefits everyone. Too bad we can't break out the community path and decicate all funding to that.
SML September 28, 2012 at 01:32 PM
Like others, I'm happy to pay for open space and historical renovations, but I think housing should be at market rate. Do we have any sense of what percentage will be spent on open space vs. affordable housing?
Joe Lynch September 28, 2012 at 01:52 PM
Jonah - love your enthusiasm, like the theory of more money for certain programs, but. It's more or our own state tax money coming back to us. That, in my book, is not necessarily FREE money. It's kinda like we pay a surcharge to get more of our own money back from the state. Almost like a BJ's rewards program. Only it's cash back for the city.
Jonah Petri September 28, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Hi Joe, What you say isn't really true... it's not our state tax money. The State's CPA trust is funded by a surcharge on real estate transactions, so it's not really the same as the a state income tax, nor does it deplete the state's general operating fund. Also, the entire State CPA fund will be emptied each year to reimburse those communities who have adopted the CPA, so if we don't adopt it, we're really just missing out on that money. That's part of why the CPA was originally criticized as a wealth transfer from urban communities (who didn't have open space to preserve, but still transferred lots of real estate) to suburban ones (who were a large part of the initial CPA adopters). This has been fixed by the recent changes to the CPA laws to allow the funds to be used for improvement of open space (like building the Community Path Extension!) rather than just land acquisition.
Jonah Petri September 28, 2012 at 02:21 PM
SML: The CPA mandates 10% of a city's CPA fund will be spent on each of the 3 main areas: (1) open space, (2) historic preservation, and (3) affordable housing. The remaining 70% of the fund is allocated by a panel of 5-9 members. See more details in the "Who Decides How the Money Gets Used?" section here: http://www.investinsomerville.com/how-the-cpa-works/
SML September 28, 2012 at 02:36 PM
I did read that. I'd be MUCH more likely to vote for this if some of the advocates came out with what their spending priorities will be like for the first few years. Like, if they said the next 2 years would be 10% historic preservation, 10% affordable housing and 80% allocated to the community path (open space), I'd probably be able to get there on voting for it. I'm interested in how they plan on spending the 70% that's flexible.

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