SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 15, 2012

CPA debate heats up in Salem

Public forum scheduled for Wednesday to discuss law

By Bethany Bray Staff writer
The Salem News

---- — SALEM — People are talking taxes this election season. In Salem, the debate extends to the Community Preservation Act and whether its benefits are worth a property tax surcharge.

City residents will vote Nov. 6 on whether to adopt the CPA, a state law that allows cities and towns to add a surcharge on the property tax to benefit projects that create or improve recreation, open space, affordable housing or historic preservation. The extra money raised is matched — the percentage varies each year — with state funds.

A public forum on the issue is scheduled for Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Moose Lodge, 50 Grove St. Six panelists, three in favor and three opposed to the CPA, will speak and answer questions from the audience.

The event, hosted by the Mack Park Neighborhood Association, will be taped and rebroadcast by Salem cable access television.

In Salem, an organized group of CPA supporters have created a website and are spreading the word, speaking at numerous neighborhood and community groups and even marching in the Haunted Happenings parade this month.

“We just want to be able to provide the facts and let people make the decision for themselves,” said Mickey Northcutt, a member of the Salem Community Preservation Alliance. “We’re trying to reach as many people as possible. We just want to make sure people have an opportunity to know how this works, what type of projects it will be used on and its benefits.”

Northcutt, director of the North Shore Community Development Coalition, will be one of the CPA supporters on the Oct. 17 panel. While the NSCDC board has voted in support of the CPA, Northcutt said he’s working with the Salem Community Preservation Alliance as a private citizen, not on behalf of his employer.

While there is opposition among city residents, there is no organized group advocating against the CPA in Salem, City Councilor Paul Prevey said.

Prevey will be among the anti-CPA panelists at Wednesday’s event. He said he’s against the CPA because it’s an additional tax and a way to “run around a Proposition 21/2 override.”

“It’s not a good fit for Salem,” Prevey said. “We’re a middle-class community, and a lot of people are struggling out there. ... People should really take a look at whether this is worthwhile. I don’t think it is, especially with the recent economic downturn.”

Northcutt argues the CPA is a way to tap into state funds for projects the city will be doing anyway, such as upkeep of city parks or the historic fence at Salem Common.

“The mayor and City Council recently bonded $2 million to renovate City Hall,” he said. “If we had the CPA, we could have had $600,000 or $700,000 covered outright by the state in a match. ... This is a way to bring in state resources that are right now just sitting on the table.”

The CPA is on the ballot in Salem and Beverly next month. In Salem, adoption would increase taxes by 1 percent, with exemptions granted for residents and senior citizens who qualify for low-income housing.

Also, the 1 percent tax surcharge would not be charged on the first $100,000 of a property’s assessed value.

Five percent of the CPA money collected by a municipality can be used to cover administrative costs; some towns use this to create and hire a department to manage CPA projects.

Prevey said he’s afraid CPA administration costs could rise above the 5 percent mark, forcing the city to pay for the extra out of the municipal budget.

“You really have to look at the entire landscape ... look at (the CPA) in the larger context of all the tax increases people (already) get,” Prevey said.

The CPA was on the ballot in Salem in November 2007; it was defeated, 2,934 to 2,594.

In August, the City Council voted 6-5 against putting the CPA on the November ballot. Soon after, a group of residents collected the roughly 1,000 signatures needed to put it on the ballot via citizen’s petition.

The group that collected signatures has evolved into the Salem Community Preservation Alliance. The alliance held a fundraiser on Thursday, and so far, attendance has been good (20 or 30 people) at each of the neighborhood association meetings they’ve spoken at, Northcutt said.

The CPA allows cities and towns to add a property tax surcharge of up to 3 percent. Mayor Kim Driscoll has advocated for the CPA, saying the 1 percent tax surcharge would raise at least $400,000 annually in Salem.

More than 140 Massachusetts communities have adopted the Community Preservation Act since it was passed in 2000, including Peabody, Hamilton, Wenham, Middleton, Gloucester, Rockport and Newburyport.

Bethany Bray can be reached at bbray@salemnews.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.

SALEM CPA Public forum and panel debate Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Moose Lodge, 50 Grove St. Hosted by the Mack Park Neighborhood Association. The CPA will be on the Nov. 6 election ballot. Polls open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. More on the Salem Community Preservation Alliance at www.supportsalem.com and www.facebook.com/SalemCPA