Egremont and Otis Campaign for CPA in the Berkshires

The article below was featured on www.conservationcampaign.org about the CPA ballot election campaign in Egremont and Otis.

About the Campaign

On November 4, voters in Otis and Egremont, Massachusetts, will decide whether to adopt the Community Preservation Act (CPA) and implement a 3% surcharge on local property taxes to raise funds for the program. A majority of residents in both towns approved putting CPA on the ballot at their spring Town Meetings.

The CPA allows cities and towns to approve a surcharge of up to 3% on real property taxes and creates a dedicated local funding source for open space protection, historic preservation, affordable housing, and recreation. Municipalities can also use CPA funds to restore existing parks and recreation areas, a popular use of the program’s funds.

So far, 155 Massachusetts municipalities have adopted CPA. Eight more will vote on CPA adoption measures this fall. Communities participating in CPA receive annual distributions from the state’s CPA Trust Fund based on the amount of funds raised for the program locally. And unlike disbursement funds in other states, the CPA Trust Fund is well funded. In June, the state legislature approved a $25 million transfer from the state’s budget surplus to the CPA Trust Fund for the second year in a row, to bolster its main revenue source, document recording fees charged at the state’s Registries of Deeds. These revenues have diminished in recent years with the decline in the real estate market.

If Otis voters approve the ballot measure, the annual surcharge for the average homeowner will be approximately $70 a year. The first $100,000 of each homeowner’s assessed value will be exempt from the surcharge, as well as qualifying low-income homeowners and qualifying low-moderate income seniors. The charge will first be assessed in fiscal year 2016. 

In Egremont, the annual CPA surcharge for an average single family homeowner will be approximately $68. The first $100,000 of each homeowner’s assessed value will be exempt from the surcharge, as well as qualifying low income homeowners and qualifying low to moderate income senior homeowners.

CPA funds are locally controlled. All projects must win approval of their respective Town Meeting. CPA funding also leverages additional private, state and federal dollars.

What's At Stake in Otis

Historically a farming community, the small western Massachusetts town of Otis is located at the southern end of the Berkshire Range, along several lakes and ponds and in the Farmington River Valley. Otis’s forests, fields, wetlands, streams, ponds, and lakes make the town a haven for outdoor recreation, as well as wildlife. With its scenic and recreational attractions and proximity to Springfield and the large urban centers of the Northeast, the town continues to attract new residents and vacation homes.

Protected lands include two state forests, but important wildlife habitat remains to be preserved. Of the more than 15,000 acres of land identified on the Massachusetts Biomap as most critical for ensuring biodiversity in Otis, 11,000 remain to be protected. Adopting CPA would provide critical funds to protect natural landscapes, farms, and lands around water supplies, and help create trails and bike paths for people to enjoy the town’s protected lands. It would also help preserve the town’s historic assets.

The decision to seek a 3% surcharge, the highest level allowed under state law, will allow Otis to maximize its annual CPA matching funds from the state. The CPA Trust Fund allocates distributions based on a formula that doles out additional funding to municipalities with the full 3% surcharge and favorably weights smaller communities such as Otis.

What's At Stake in Egremont

A small, rural community in far western Massachusetts, Egremont is historically an agricultural town. Passage of CPA would be an investment in smart growth that will help the town preserve its heritage and character, as well as curb the need for the future costly expansion of local services such as roads and public safety.

If passed, the CPA surcharge is projected to raise roughly $71,000 each year in local CPA funds alone, and qualify the community to receive an annual state match from the statewide Community Preservation Trust Fund. The maximum 3% surcharge will trigger the greatest state match possible each year. In the past, small towns with a 3% surcharge have received a dollar for dollar match.

Egremont could use these funds for the preservation or restoration of historic local buildings such as town halls, libraries and schools, to conserve land to protect drinking water and wildlife habitat, and to protect agricultural land from development. The construction and renovation of ball fields, recreational trails and playgrounds are also potential projects eligible for CPA funds.

The benefits of CPA have become increasingly apparent over the last decade as nearly half the communities in the state have combined locally raised CPA funds with the state match for numerous open space, recreation, historic preservation, and affordable housing projects. The western Massachusetts towns of Stockbridge, Becket, Granville, Southwick, Great Barrington, Lenox, Goshen and Williamstown have all enacted CPA. Since the act was passed in 2000, over 6,600 CPA projects have been completed with $1.3 billion generated statewide.