SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

May 26, 2014

State runs short on CPA funds

As matching dollars dwindle, lawmakers attempt to plug hole

BOSTON — Cities and towns throughout Massachusetts adopted the Community Preservation Act on the promise of dollar-for-dollar matching funds to save land from development, spare historic buildings, and build new playgrounds and parks.

But state funds have dwindled and left cities and towns a larger share of the cost of those projects. Of 16 communities north of Boston that ratified the CPA, the state’s contribution has averaged less than 40 percent in the past decade, according to the Department of Revenue.

Lawmakers hope to make up some of the difference. Last week, the Senate added $10 million to the budget in extra money for the state’s Community Preservation Trust Fund. The House recommended $25 million in its budget proposal.

Gov. Deval Patrick’s preliminary spending plan recommended no increase, which advocates say would reduce the state’s overall match for CPA projects to roughly 25 percent.

“That funding is very important,” said Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. “The recession pummeled those funds, and we need to get it back up to an appropriate level.”

The Community Preservation Act allows cities and towns to impose a surcharge of up to 3 percent on property taxes to raise money for affordable housing, open space or historic preservation. In most communities, low-income residents are exempt from the surcharge, and the first $100,000 of a property’s value is excluded.

The program has its roots in the Nantucket Islands Land Bank, created in 1983 to acquire open space. It grew in popularity and became a model for preservation across the state, with towns and cities seeking similar authority.

The Legislature approved — and then-Gov. Paul Cellucci signed — the statewide Community Preservation Act in 2000.

Communities adopt the CPA with visions of matching grants from the state trust fund, which is bankrolled by fees imposed on virtually all documents recorded at county Registries of Deeds. Typically, a small commission in each city or town decides how to spend the money. Local officials must approve projects.

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