BY PAUL LEIGHTON STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — BEVERLY — The last time the city contemplated adopting the Community Preservation Act, voters said no by nearly 2,000 votes.
Ten years later, supporters are hoping the landscape has changed enough to produce a different outcome.
Beverly is one of nine communities in the state that will vote Nov. 6 on the Community Preservation Act. The state law allows communities to assess residents a 1 to 3 percent surcharge on their property taxes to raise money that must be used for open space and recreation, historic preservation and affordable housing.
Voters in Beverly rejected a CPA proposal by a margin of 60 to 40 percent in 2001, when it called for a 3 percent surcharge. This year the proposal sets the surcharge at 1 percent.
Supporters are hoping that change, plus the incentive of creating a pool of money to pay for projects that otherwise might not get done, will push the measure over the top this time.
“What we need to do is educate the community about how beneficial it can be,” said Babette Loring of Community Preservation Beverly, the citizen group that is advocating for the act. “It’s three causes that I believe strongly in. It enhances a whole feeling of community and who Beverly really is.”
Opponents say the CPA is just another tax imposed on already struggling taxpayers. Elliott Margolis, who co-founded Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility to fight a Proposition 2 1/2 override attempt in 2008, said his group will soon begin holding signs against the adoption of the CPA.
“We consider the Community Preservation Act to be another override, because that’s exactly what it is,” Margolis said. “Enough is enough. The city has to show us that they are trying to be as economical as the people who have to make ends meet. They’re not willing to cut anything; they just want to add to your burden.”
Loring said about 65 percent of Beverly property owners will pay between $40 and $50 per year for the CPA, based on the assessed value of their property (the first $100,000 of assessed value is exempt). Low-income property owners and moderate-income seniors are except.
If adopted, the CPA would raise about $750,000 per year, according to Beverly Community Preservation — $600,000 through the property tax surcharge and the rest through a state match. The state money comes from a surcharge on real estate transactions at the state’s registries of deeds.
A total of 148 communities, 42 percent of the state’s cities and towns, have adopted the CPA. Loring said communities that don’t have the CPA are missing out on the state money they are helping to fund.
“We’re giving money away, in a sense,” she said.
Community Preservation Beverly says CPA money would be used to create a reliable source of funding for areas that are vulnerable to cuts, such as parks, playgrounds and libraries. It cites potential projects such as the ongoing rehabilitation of the carriage house at Lynch Park, installing signs in the downtown central business district, and preserving the 1812 powder house on Prospect Hill, one of only seven powder houses (which were used to store ammunition) remaining in the state.
As other examples, the group says the money could be used to control invasive species and restore habitats of natural areas, fix historic cemeteries and preserve historic city records.
Margolis said if such projects are so important, the city should find the money to pay for them without imposing another tax.
“If that’s the only way you can get money to do it, then it’s not a major priority,” he said. “Why should it come from people who are unemployed in today’s economy or are struggling to make ends meet?”
The city must allocate at least 10 percent of CPA money each year to each of the three categories of open space, historic preservation and affordable housing. Expenditures are recommended by a nine-member local committee that must include members of the city’s recreation, conservation and historic commissions and Planning Board, and one member advocating for affordable housing. The City Council approves all expenditures.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.
WHAT IT WOULD COST IN BEVERLY Assessed property value Annual surchage $200,000 $13 $300,000 $26 $400,000 $38.90 $419,051* $41.38 $500,000 $51.90 $600,000 $64.90 $700,000 $77.80 $800,000 $90.80 $900,000 $103.80 $1,000,000 $116.80 * Average assessed value of single-family home in Beverly based on 2012 tax data Source: Community Preservation Beverly