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Newton League of Women Voters supports a "Yes" vote on April 30, to support the mayor's request for an $11.5 million override Proposition 2-1/2 in Newton

The Communtiy Preservation Act Frequently Asked Questions

The following is provided to inform Newton Voters on what the Community Preservation Act could mean for Newton, and to answer specific questions about the Act, which was adopted by Newton voters in the November 2001 election. The Newton LWV was an active member in the coalition formed to support passing this Act in Newton.

A. What is the Community Preservation Act?

The Community Preservation Act (CPA) is legislation that allows towns and cities to create a dedicated stream of funding to acquire and protect open space, to preserve historic buildings and landscapes, to create and maintain affordable housing, and to acquire land for recreation. Funding comes from a locally approved surcharge on property tax bills, with additional aid from a permanent State matching fund.

B. How would the CPA benefit Newton?

The CPA offers us an opportunity to invest in the future good health of our city. Newton is changing before our eyes. We watch helplessly as historic properties are demolished to make way for market rate condominiums, open space needed for parks or playing fields is sold to developers, and housing prices soar out of the reach of long time residents and their children. What little open space we have left is fast disappearing. Without new resources, we have little power to redirect change for the better.

The CPA fund would give us dedicated capital to act on opportunities when they arise. That is too good a deal to pass up. The Act allows us to invest in ways that can define Newton's future as a more livable place for all of us. For very little individual investment now, Newton citizens can build a fund which, augmented by the state match, can serve these important community needs for years to come.

CPA is like a savings plan. It accumulates automatically through a 1% annual surcharge on tax bills. It can be used only for open space, recreation, community housing, and historic preservation, and no other. It is designed to benefit all of us directly. Furthermore, dedicated state funds will match up to 100% of locally raised money.

C. How would CPA work in Newton?

The City would receive revenue from a 1% surcharge on property tax bills plus State matching funds, all of which would go into a dedicated Newton Community Preservation Fund. Use of those funds is limited by statute to open space, recreation land, community housing and historic preservation. A Community Preservation Committee, to be created by City ordinance, would make plans for use of the funds and make recommendations to the Aldermen for their approval and action on the individual expenditures

D. How much money would be available in Newton annually?

Based on the fiscal year 2001 tax levy, the tax surcharge would raise over $1.5 million dollars, with the amount raised likely to grow over time as the tax levy grows. State matching funds supported by a surcharge on certain Registry fees would augment that, perhaps on a 1 for 1 basis in the first years of the program, but probably declining after that.

E. Is the City limited on how much of the money it spends for each of the four eligible purposes?

At least 10% of the City's total expenditures must go to each of three purposes: open space, community housing, and historic preservation. The remaining 70% can go in any share to any of those three areas or to recreation: the choice is Newton's. The funds are intended for facility investment, not routine operations, so rehabilitation and restoration qualify, but not maintenance. Program administrative expenses may not exceed 5% of expenditures from the fund.

E1. What qualifies as "open space"?

Open space is broadly defined in the statute, so it could include open land that people take for granted but might be changed at some point: space around churches and synagogues, at Newton's colleges, Newton's golf courses, as well as private property along the Charles.

E2. What qualifies as "community housing?"

It is housing for persons and families with incomes no higher than the regional median, which is far lower than the Newton median. Beyond that income definition, the type of housing is up to the City.

E3. Does just any old building qualify for "historic preservation" funding?

Only buildings qualifying for the State Register of Historic Places or determined by the Newton Historic Commission to be significant to the City would be eligible.

E4. What qualifies as "recreational use"?

Either passive recreation such as community gardens or active recreation such as soccer qualify, but not dog or horse racing, stadiums, or gymnasiums.

F. How much would the surcharge cost Newton taxpayers?

The proposal sets the surcharge at 1% of the tax bill. The resulting surcharge in 2001 for the median-priced single family house in Newton (assessed at $434,300) would have been $50.25. These are some other examples of what the surcharge would be:

Property Assessed Value $250,000 $350,000 $500,000
Annual CPA Surcharge $29 $41 $58

This surcharge is income-tax deductible.

G1. After adoption, who controls the CP fund?

A Community Preservation Committee (CPC), as defined by the statute, will consist of between five and nine citizens, including one member selected from within each of the following: Conservation Commission, Historic Commission, Planning Board, Board of Park Commissioners and the Housing Authority. The CPC must be established by local ordinance to specify the number of members in addition to the first five, method of selection, length of term.

The CPC researches the city's needs, consults with the relevant boards and commissions, holds public hearings, and recommends expenditures for these purposes to the Board of Aldermen. The Board of Aldermen may approve or disapprove of the expenditure, but may not use the money for purposes other than those stipulated in the statute.

G2. After adoption, what choices and input do voters have?

Certain exemptions from the surcharge could be adopted and the surcharge percentage could be changed, or after five years the surcharge could be removed, but in each case only if approved on a Citywide referendum and by the Aldermen, assuring voter control. The Community Preservation Committee's deliberations would be open to the public and include well-publicized public hearings. The actual appropriations would be made by the Aldermen through their usual open procedures.

H. How sure can we be about CPA in the future?

As with any piece of legislation, the CPA could be amended in the future by the State legislature. However, as more and more communities vote to participate, the constituency for preserving the Preservation Act in its present form is growing and is likely to continue to grow.

H1. What if the money is needed for something else?

Importantly, the State funding is not contingent upon appropriation year by year in the State legislature, and allocation of the local surcharge revenues into the local Community Preservation Fund is not contingent upon Aldermanic vote once Newton's participation has been approved. Because the funding for both State and local Community Preservation Funds is automatic, the availability of revenues is not subject to the outcomes of annual budget debate at either State or local levels. Instead, it is assured by formulas that have highly predictable results. The future of the CPA is very secure and reliable.

H2. What about the protection of the money and how it is used?

If Newton adopts the Act, our Accounting Officer will have to establish and maintain a separate account called the CPA Fund. Interest earned on those monies must be retained in that fund. Before any monies from the CPA fund may be spent a recommendation for that expenditure must have been made by the CP Committee and an appropriation voted by the Board of Aldermen, creating a system of checks and balances. Any inadvertent shortfall between expenditures and revenues must be raised from the next year's annual fund revenues. Extensive reporting of surcharge revenues, fund balances, and initiatives is required by statute.

I. What is the Newton Community Preservation Alliance?

The Newton Community Preservation Alliance is a coalition of community organizations and individuals seeking to inform voters about how Newton's acceptance of the Community Preservation Act would benefit the City. Member organizations include the Newton Conservators, the Green Decade Coalition, U-CHAN (housing advocates), and the League of Women Voters, as well as individuals from many other groups across the City. Technically organized as a Municipal Ballot Question Committee, the Alliance's expenses are supported by donations.

Newton Community Preservation Alliance
21 Groveland Street
Auburndale, MA 02466

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Last updated: 1-Apr-02