By Joseph C. Wheeler, Concord resident and Chair of Concord Citizens for Community Preservation.
A few years ago, Massachusetts groups interested in land conservation, recreation, affordable housing and historic preservation got together and came up with a way to help towns and cities give these a higher priority. The result is the Community Preservation Act of 2000.
Under this law, a special fee is charged on the registration of deeds and liens. The fee is deposited in a trust account. The trust account is used to match community income from a surcharge on real estate taxes. In order to be eligible for these matching funds, towns must first vote the surcharge in Town Meeting and then get voter approval at an election.
Concord's Town Meeting passed the surcharge in April. It was supported by the Planning Board, the Natural Resources Commission, the Recreation Commission, the Historical Commission, the Affordable Housing Committee, the Concord Housing Authority and the Comprehensive Long Range Plan Committee. It was also supported by the League of Women Voters, the Concord Land Conservation Trust, the Sudbury Valley Trustees, the Concord Housing Trust, the Concord Housing Foundation and other private groups. On August 23, 2004 Concord's Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to support a YES vote on Question # 1.
When first discussed we thought matching from the State might be about 50%, but a robust real estate and refinancing market resulted in more income than expected so we now expect matching will be at the maximum of 100% through this decade.
The annual surcharge income is expected to be about $600,000 for Concord. With the State's match of the same amount Concord's Community Preservation Fund will receive over $1.2 million annually.
Our analysis tells us that on average Concord has been spending more than the estimated $600,000 surcharge income each year on projects for land preservation, affordable housing, recreation and historic preservation. With Community Preservation this type of project can be proposed for funding from Concord's Community Preservation Fund, taking pressure off the regular town budget.
Town Meeting is proposing a 1.5% surcharge, compared with the maximum allowed of 3%. The law provides two ways of minimizing the burden on homeowners of modest income. First, in figuring the surcharge the assessed value on every home is reduced by $100,000. Second, families earning less than 80% of the area-wide median income are exempt from paying the surcharge. Senior families (over 60) earning less than 100% of the area-wide median income are exempt. The federal government provides an income table by size of family. A family of four with an annual income of less than $66,160 is exempt. A family of two aged over 60 earning less than $66,200 is exempt.
We are asked how much the surcharge will amount to on an individual home. In Concord the median assessed value on homes is $581,950.The surcharge using the current tax rate would be $76.56.
With a majority YES vote on Question #1 Concord will set up a Concord Community Preservation Committee There will be nine members: four designated by the Board of Selectmen and one each by the Planning Board, the Natural Resources Commission, the Concord Housing Authority, the Recreation Commission and the Historical Commission. This committee will consult other committees in the town, hold public hearings and propose projects for Town Meeting approval. Since these projects will be on the Town Meeting warrant, they will be reviewed by both the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen and Town Meeting will get their advice. This system seems to be working very well in other communities.
The law calls for at least ten percent of available funds to be spent on each of three subjects: land preservation, affordable housing and historic preservation. The rest can be used for any of these plus recreation. Unused funds can be carried over. There is also a provision for borrowing against future surcharge income in cases where a large project requires more than is available. Such borrowing requires a two-thirds vote of Town Meeting.
Concord is surrounded by towns that have already adopted the provisions of the Community Preservation Act. We estimate that Concord citizens are paying into the State's trust fund in fees on deeds and liens to the tune of about $150,000 a year.
This money is being paid out to our neighbors.
The Community Preservation Act is a very good deal for Concord. We urge a YES vote on Question # 1 at the coming election. To learn more go to our web site at www.concordcpa.org.
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