, Salem, MA

October 29, 2012

Our view: Yes on the Community Preservation Act

The Salem News

---- — Great communities don’t happen by accident. They are a combination of vision, planning and investment. On Nov. 6, residents of Salem and Beverly will have a chance to make such an investment with a vote in favor of the Community Preservation Act. We urge a yes vote in both cities.

The law provides for a small surcharge on the property tax (1 percent in both communities), to be put aside for open space, parks and playgrounds, affordable housing, and historic preservation. The extra tax would cost the average homeowner in both cities somewhere around $30 a year.

(The Community Preservation Act is Question 4 on both ballots. That both cities are deciding on the issue is coincidental; the votes are not linked, and each community is making its own decision.)

Yes, this is a tax. But it is an exceedingly small amount of money — about $2.50 a month. And there are built-in exemptions for low-income homeowners and some seniors. Under Beverly’s proposal, for example, a senior living alone with income under $67,550 would pay nothing. The income threshold for non-seniors is $54,040. For everyone, the first $100,000 of home value is exempt.

What’s more, a certain percentage of the community’s investment is matched by the state. This year, the match is a little more than 25 percent. If you can find an investment anywhere that brings a return of 25 percent, take it.

The CPA is not a new, untested program. It has a long record of success in the local communities that have adopted it, including Hamilton, Wenham, Middleton, Gloucester and Peabody.

“Everybody knows it’s a tax,” former Peabody Mayor Michael Bonfanti told reporter Jesse Roman earlier this month. (Peabody adopted the Community Preservation Act more than a decade ago). “But it’s a relatively small tax targeted at things the community really needs.”

Over the past several years, Peabody has used about $10 million in CPA money to conserve about 80 acres of land; buy or rehabilitate almost four dozen affordable-housing units; fix up City Hall and the library; and build or repair climbing walls, playgrounds, parks and bike trails. The land for the park memorializing two local victims of the 9/11 attack was purchased with CPA money.

“Looking at my own taxes, for under $20 per year, I see all the great things we’ve done, and it’s a no-brainer,” Peabody City Councilor Tom Gould told reporter Jesse Roman earlier this month. “I’m glad that Peabody got on board.”

In Beverly, supporters say CPA money could be used to rehabilitate the carriage house at Lynch Park, preserve the 1812 powder house on Prospect Hill, control invasive species and restore natural habitats, and save historic city records.

In Salem, money could go toward City Hall renovations, Winter Island projects and the Salem Common fence restoration.

Projects such as these separate vibrant communities from tired ones.

That’s a lot of return on an investment of $2.50 a month.