House votes to overhaul CPA and double funding

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The state budget bill adopted by the House last night includes a unanimously approved amendment that would overhaul the Community Preservation Act program and double the funding available to cities and towns.

Rep. Stephen Kulik of Worthington, who filed the amendment, said the reform would make the CPA more attractive to communities by expanding the acceptable uses for CPA funds and allowing more flexibility in how the funds are raised.

“Passage of this amendment to strengthen and improve the CPA is an additional boost to local aid, as well as a job creator for cities and towns that will invest additional CPA funds in projects,” Kulik said.

Minority Leader Bradley Jones of North Reading, an amendment cosponsor, said the proposal would sustain the CPA for existing communities while encouraging others to adopt it.

“Additionally,” he said, “allowing cities and towns to fund their local CPA account with other municipal revenues, including private donations, will provide communities … with another means of raising CPA funds.”

The Community Preservation Act, signed into law in 2000, allows municipalities to assess a surcharge of up to 3 percent on property tax bills to fund open space preservation, affordable housing or historic rehabilitation projects. The state initially provided a 100 percent match for funds raised locally, but the match has been dropping in recent years and is down to 22 percent in fiscal 2012.

The House proposal could double the amount of state funding available to provide matches to cities and towns by allocating up to $25 million in surplus revenue at the end of each fiscal year, beginning with fiscal 2013, to the CPA Trust Fund. Currently, funding comes from fees collected on deeds, which total close to $26 million a year.

Backers of the House amendment say the additional infusion of $25 million would boost the matching rate significantly.

The amendment would also allow cities and towns to use CPA funding to rehabilitate existing parks, playgrounds and athletic fields, rather than only to build new ones, and would give communities flexibility to use revenue sources aside from a property tax surcharge to fund CPA projects.

The amendment would also create an exemption for small businesses, similar to ones available for seniors and low-income residents, allowing business owners an exemption from the CPA property tax surcharge on the first $100,000 of property value.

State tax collections for fiscal 2012 have been running below projections, but advocates say they believe the increased funding would be available for fiscal 2013.

A pending bill that closely mirrors the House amendment has 26 cosponsors in the Senate, enough to assure passage if it reaches the Senate floor.
Written by MMA Publications Editor & Web Director John Ouellette