Building a Better CPA Application Process

May 2008: CPA application deadlines and procedures can be a source of controversy in many communities. As a result, some Community Preservation Committees (CPCs) find it beneficial to fine-tune their application and review procedures as their CPA program evolves. CPCs grapple with how to create enough time and get the proper information to review project proposals. CPCs also want to have the flexibility to react to special circumstances, such as an opportunity to acquire land on short notice or for emergency work on historic projects. 

The best way to make the process easier for both the CPC and applicants is through a clear review process, submission requirements, and application, as well as stated procedures for exceptions to the process.

Proposal Review Process

The CPA proposal review process differs depending on whether a community is a town or city. Cities have greater flexibility to approve appropriations throughout the year. Most CPA communities vote on CPA project appropriations just once or twice year. For towns, this occurs at the annual town meeting and/or a special town meeting. CPCs have set a variety of application deadlines that generally fall anywhere from four months in advance of town meeting to seven months. For example, Concord and West Tisbury both have application deadlines in September, seven months prior to the Spring Town Meeting, which allows for a determination of eligibility, a public hearing, and meetings with the CPC to review the proposals. 

Some communities, including West Tisbury and Easton, have created a two-step application process, and Hamilton recently changed their application process to this method. The first step requires potential applicants to submit a brief project description to allow the CPC to determine if the project is eligible for CPA funding. This avoids applicants having to prepare a detailed submission for a project that can’t be funded. The applicant submits a full application only after a project is determined to be eligible. 

Examples of this two-step process include West Tisbury, Hamilton, and Easton.

Special Exceptions

Special circumstances sometimes arise that make it unfeasible to adhere to the application deadlines. For example, a priority open space property unexpectedly comes on the market just past the application deadline or an historic resource requires immediate attention.  Many communities have created exceptions for these special circumstances, including the Town of Concord. The Concord CPC has a special application process and criteria described in its Community Preservation Plan, which includes CPC authority to waive its deadlines in limited circumstances.

Components of the Application

The basics of a CPA application include submission guidelines, contact information, amount of CPA funding requested, project description, identification of CPA categories, as well as a description of project goals, community need, and community support. 

Two important components of an effective application that are sometimes overlooked are (1) a detailed project budget including other funding sources, and (2) selection criteria.     

1) Budget and Other Funding

Many CPCs stress the importance of implementing cost-saving measures and leveraging other funding or in-kind donations. Therefore, it is important for the CPC to have enough information to be able to examine project budgets in some detail, including proposed funding from other public sources, private donations, and in-kind donations of materials or professional services. The Belchertown CPA application requires detailed information on Page 5 of the project budget, budget cost sharing, in-kind donations, commitment letters from other funding sources, and a description of attempts (including unsuccessful) to secure other funding. 

2) Selection Criteria

Selection criteria are often an outgrowth of the community’s CPA goals, both overall and category-specific goals. The goals are translated into criteria which are then used to assist the CPC in its review and selection of projects to recommend to the legislative body for funding.  Overall criteria emphasize project characteristics that are most important to the community, such as leveraging other funding, geographic distribution of projects, or serving multiple CPA uses. Category-specific criteria emphasize the community’s priorities within each category.  For example, it may be most important for an open space project to create connections to existing conservation lands or to provide passive recreation opportunities. The Lexington CPA application is one of many that includes overall selection criteria and category-specific criteria.