Cape Lawmakers Back Expansion Of Community Preservation Act
By: Michael C. Bailey
The Massachusetts Community Preservation Act (CPA) is primed to receive a boost in funding as part of the Fiscal Year 2013 state budget.
The State House on Monday voted in support of an amendment to the House’s FY13 budget proposal filed by State Representative Stephen Kulik (D - Worthington) and co-sponsored by 67 other state reps, including Susan D. Williams Gifford (R - Wareham), Randy Hunt (R - Sandwich), Sarah K. Peake (D - Provincetown), and David T. Vieira (R - Falmouth). The House’s FY13 budget was approved in a late-night vote Wednesday.
“I think this will be a good thing for Falmouth, and a good thing for the Cape as a whole,” said State Representative Timothy R. Madden (D - Nantucket), who voted in favor of the amendment. “It’s certainly something I advocated for.”
The CPA allows municipalities to tack a 3 percent surcharge on property tax bills to fund the purchase of open space, affordable housing projects, and historic preservation programs. Towns could also apply for matching funding through the state.
Rep. Kulik’s amendment would expand appropriate uses of CPA funds to rehabilitate “active or passive recreational use” lands such as public parks and playgrounds, non-commercial public athletic fields, community gardens, and walking trails.
“The expanded list of allowed uses adds flexibility to the CPA,” Rep. Hunt said, “addressing projects that currently suffer from lack of funding.”
Rep. Vieira said that the amendment, the “Community Preservation Act Sustainability Act,” would also allow communities to use CPA funding for the maintenance of properties that were not originally purchased with CPA money.
“That was an important part for many communities,” Rep. Vieira said. Prior to the start of budget talks, he met with the chairmen of CPA committees in all the towns in the Third Barnstable District “and that was one of the main pieces I heard about…the thing I heard over and over is that they needed that flexibility.”
The amendment would also boost the state’s financial commitment to funding CPA projects. The tight economy prompted the state to scale back its contribution to CPA projects to about 22 percent, but language in the amendment would earmark up to $25 million from any FY12 surplus to the CPA fund.
Rep. Vieira said the language was similar to language in the FY12 budget used to boost local aid amounts. The $25 million increase would bring the state match amount up from its FY12 level of 22 percent to 44 percent. The state has not provided 100 percent matching funds since 2007.
Next, the amendment would provide small businesses a limited exemption on the property tax surcharge. If passed, towns would be able to exempt qualifying small businesses from the surcharge on the first $100,000 of property value—the same exemption offered now for senior citizens and low-income homeowners.
Finally, the amendment clarifies a few points in the formula for distributing CPA matching funds, but makes no substantial changes. State monies would continue to be distributed annually in two rounds. The first would distribute money to qualifying towns equally, i.e., each qualifying municipality would receive matching funds of an equal percentage.
The second, dubbed the “equity distribution,” would be based on a sliding scale formula based on each community’s equalized property valuation and population, which means cities and towns with a higher rank would receive a higher percentage of state funding than lower-ranked communities.
“I think the formula has worked well in the past,” Rep. Madden said, “and it will continue to work well.”
Although supportive of the amendment overall, Rep. Hunt predicted the formula “won’t be kind to our Cape communities,” in light of the fact that, like many other state aid formulas that use equalized property valuations to determine aid levels, the CPA formula will shortchange the Cape, which has relatively high property values but low median income levels.
However, Rep. Hunt said there was a bigger issue to consider: “The fact that the new funding source of $25 million is fixed. When the state’s largest cities realize the benefits of the CPA, now available for inner city park rehabilitation, for example, the matching percentage will drop precipitously and we’ll quickly end up with much less than the 22 percent we currently receive.”
“That being said, the revised CPA is still, on the whole, an improvement,” Rep. Hunt said. “I just caution our CPA committees not to count on a big boost in matching money; at least not for long.”