Enacted in 2000, the Community Preservation Act (CPA) allows Massachusetts towns and cities to create and grow a fund dedicated to community preservation. The act defines community preservation as “open space (including outdoor recreational facilities), “historic preservation,” and “community housing.” Our neighbors in Canton and Sharon are among the 160 Massachusetts communities that have already benefited from this program.
Let’s take a look at each of these areas to see what they might mean for Norwood. Then we can address the two funding sources used by CPA, the steps required to complete adoption of CPA, and how the program will work in Norwood.
What are the purposes served by the CPA?
Historic preservation. Norwood is rich in historical resources. Two buildings – the F. Holland Day House and Town Hall – are on the National Register of Historic Places. Nearly a dozen other buildings, like the Norwood Theater, date to the 1920s and the golden age of Norwood architect William Upham. Scores of Norwood houses qualify for the town’s historic house sign program.
But the Norwood Historical Commission’s annual budget averages less than $2,000, and town funds cannot be spent on privately held buildings like the Day House.
The CPA’s flexible structure could help provide sufficient funds to preserve our most valuable historic resources, no matter who owns them.
Open space. Norwood owns about 1,000 acres of vacant land, not counting bodies of water. The Conservation Commission has jurisdiction over wetlands, areas abutting bodies of water, and other natural resources. Its annual budget is devoted to maintaining existing holdings.
Norwood has an Open Space & Recreation Plan, but no one is in charge of implementing the plan and buying additional land. The Conservation Commission has identified land that abuts existing conservation land and would add to the quality of town open space, but no one is in charge of proposing or prioritizing specific land acquisitions.
The CPA would provide a dedicated fund where acquisition of open space (including support for certain outdoor recreation purchases) will be a core purpose.
Community housing. Norwood does not want more high-density housing developments. But there are other ways to use CPA community housing funds.
Some existing properties have deed restrictions that will soon expire. CPA funds could be used to extend those deed restrictions. Funds could also be used to create additional affordable housing through deed restrictions, and these could be targeted to qualifying veterans.
In short, a Norwood CPA fund can serve the community housing goals of the CPA in a manner that fully accords with Norwood’s preferences for development.
Where do the funds come from?
Local property tax surcharge. Norwood’s portion of the funding would come from a 1% surcharge on local property tax. However, the first $100,000 worth of each owner’s property would be excluded from this surcharge. Also, residential property owned and occupied by low-income individuals or by low- or moderate-income seniors would be excluded.
That works out to an annual payment of about 1% of property tax – or $33 for an average home assessed at $399,580. All of which translates into about 64¢ a week or less than a dime a day.
You might think of this like an automatic savings plan at your bank. You put away a small amount each week…so that when the time is right, you have enough to make major purchases. Only with thousands of people doing it, we obtain a six-figure total that will make a real difference to our town.
Registry of Deeds filing surcharge. This is not a new tax, because the state has been collecting this surcharge on filing fees for buying or refinancing a property since the CPA program began, a decade and a half ago. Every community pays in. But only communities participating in CPA get anything back.
Towns that joined CPA early – when few communities were participating – got huge benefits. Now that more and more towns are eligible, returns are smaller, about $1 for every $5 produced by the local property tax surcharge. And that rate will probably decline more as more towns and cities, including Boston, join. Other revenue sources have been used to augment the fund in recent years and there are proposals to make such additions permanent and reliable.
Wouldn’t you rather be on the receiving end of the CPA state trust fund – and not just paying your share and getting nothing back? Even if our share isn’t much, the property tax surcharge alone will support a healthy fund to pay for projects Norwood needs.
The alternative, if we don’t pass the CPA, would be far worse – more delays, worsening needs, and higher prices when we eventually fund projects we’ve known all along we need. No matter how you look at the numbers, CPA is the right choice for Norwood.
How will the program work in Norwood?
Voter approval of the CPA. Town Meeting voted, by an 81% majority, to place the CPA proposal on the November 2016 election ballot, where Norwood voters will have the final say.
CPA Committee. If the CPA is approved, a committee will be formed, including representatives from the Planning Board, Conservation Commission, Housing Authority, Historic Commission, Board of Selectmen (in their role as Norwood’s park commissioners), and up to four at-large members.
The CPA Committee recommends expenditures, but Town Meeting has final approval. Open space and recreation, historic preservation, and community housing, each are guaranteed 10% of expenditures. The other 70% is available for any of these purposes.
Project proposals are expected to identify other funding sources in addition to CPA funds (such as state grants and privately raised funds). Detailed project proposals will give Town Meeting members the information they need to decide which projects to fund.