SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

August 28, 2012

Group fights to get CPA on ballot

Salem: Petition drive seeks vote on preservation question

BY TOM DALTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — Just days after the Salem City Council narrowly rejected a request to put the Community Preservation Act on the 2012 ballot, a local group has launched a petition drive to place the question before voters in the November election.

“All we’re asking is to get it on the ballot,” said Patricia Zaido, executive director of The Salem Partnership, a city lobby made up of business, banking and municipal leaders.

The petition backers need to collect about 1,350 signatures by Friday.

Mayor Kim Driscoll and Mickey Northcutt, executive director of the North Shore Community Development Coalition, were at the train station yesterday morning collecting signatures. A group of supporters met in Lappin Park on Sunday night and began circulating petitions in city neighborhoods.

Northcutt said many residents were upset that the council voted to keep this off the ballot.

“I think the CPA is a great resource,” he said. “The state match that comes with it is a tremendous opportunity for the city. I don’t think it makes sense for a community that has so many needs not to take advantage of a program like that.”

The CPA question asks Salem voters to approve a surcharge of 1 percent on their annual property tax bills, with the funds to be used to acquire or preserve open space, renovate parks and athletic fields, acquire or restore historic buildings, or create affordable housing. As a result of recent state legislation, more state matching funds are now available, and cities can use the money on a broader array of projects, supporters said.

The measure provides some protections, including exemptions for the first $100,000 of property valuation along with exemptions for homeowners who qualify for low-income housing and for some seniors.

For a single-family homeowner with a property assessed at $293,900, it would mean another $30 a year, according to the petition.

In voting 6-5 against the measure last week, councilors cited several objections, including the additional tax on homeowners already struggling to get by and the fact that registered voters who don’t own property would get to vote to raise taxes on property owners.

“In some ways, it’s a camouflaged Proposition 2

1/2 override,” Councilor-at-large Arthur Sargent said last week.

In addition to Sargent, councilors who voted to keep it off the ballot were Joseph O’Keefe, Paul Prevey, Jerry Ryan, Todd Siegel and Michael Sosnowski.

Driscoll said she wants to put the measure before voters.

“I think people feel, ‘Let the people speak,’” she said.

In 2007, the only time the CPA came before Salem voters, it was rejected by a vote of 2,939 to 2,599. The City Council supported putting it on the ballot back then, but no roll call vote was taken.

More than 140 Massachusetts communities have voted to adopt the CPA since it became state law in 2000, including Peabody, Hamilton, Wenham, Middleton and Gloucester. The Beverly City Council voted unanimously to put it on the Nov. 6 ballot this fall.

Since adopting the CPA 11 years ago, Peabody has received $3.9 million in matching funds and collected more than $6 million in tax surcharges, according to that city’s finance office.

If it gets on the ballot in Salem and passes, it would raise at least $400,000 this fiscal year, according to Driscoll.

In Salem, the funds could be used for a number of projects, backers say, including some the city has already undertaken, such as City Hall renovations, restoration of the fence around Salem Common and ongoing park improvements.

While acknowledging she is a strong supporter, Driscoll said she is aware of the sensitive nature of any tax proposal.

“I think this is really a personal decision each homeowner has to make,” she said. “... Taxes and property costs are something I think everyone needs to weigh for themselves, but I think it at least deserves the conversation and the opportunity for people to weigh in on it, especially given the needs we have in our community.”

Tom Dalton can be reached at tdalton@salemnews.com.