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Amherst Select Board supports increase in CPA surcharge; opposes fluoride testing



Tuesday, October 21, 2014
AMHERST — The Select Board on Monday voted to support an increase on the surcharge on residential tax bills, and opposed more rigorous testing of the fluoride that has been put in the town’s drinking water supply since 1987.

The Select Board Monday voted 3-1, with one abstention, to endorse an increase in the Community Preservation Act surcharge from 1.5 percent to 3 percent. Amherst voters will decide that question on the Nov. 4 state election ballot. CPA money has been used to preserve affordable housing at Rolling Green Apartments and construct playing fields on Potwine Lane, among other things.

Annual Town Meeting approved the measure last spring so the surcharge increase could be put to a townwide vote.

Select Board member James Wald cited projects such as the continuing restoration of West Cemetery and masonry on the Town Hall as depending on CPA money. “I think it’s important and I think we can afford it,” Wald said.

Wald said the surcharge is considered a progressive tax because it exempts the first $100,000 of a property value. In addition, the state provides a match to each community, but more to those with higher surcharges.

If voters adopt the change, the average homeowner living in a residence assessed at $333,300 would pay $143.48 toward the surcharge next year, doubling the estimated $71.74 an average homeowner would otherwise pay. The total amount collected by the town would increase to about $425,731.

Peter Jessop, chairman of the CPA Committee, said it supports the increase. “We would love to have some additional funds to work with to do projects that fall into our bailiwick,” Jessop said.

Jessop said he is proud of supporting projects that enhance the community, such as the Tiffany window that is lit nightly at the Unitarian Universalist Society, and which help other organizations, like Habitat for Humanity.

Jessop said it is unclear how much more state money the town would receive. “Our match would change from what it is to a greater number,” he said.

Amherst voters previously had a chance to increase the surcharge in 2008, but defeated it then 5,316-5,148. The Select Board at that time was divided because a Proposition 2½ override vote was looming.

Select Board member Alisa Brewer was the lone dissenter Monday. Brewer said she still hears a lot of people complaining about tax bills at a time when the town cannot afford more public safety personnel.

Board member Andrew Steinberg said he would support the increase, even with capital projects for schools and the Jones Library, as well as a new fire station, approaching. “There could be a set of significant debt-exclusion overrides that will be coming to voters in the years ahead,” Steinberg said.

Though Select Board member Connie Kruger said she is aware of the struggle some people have with tax bills, she said the CPA has done a lot of good. “On balance, I am going to support the increase,” Kruger said.

Chairman Aaron Hayden abstained from the vote.

The surcharge increase is also supported by the Conservation Commission and the Housing and Sheltering Committee.

Special Town Meeting

Meanwhile, the Select Board also reviewed warrant articles for a special Town Meeting beginning Nov. 5. The board will ask Town Meeting members to defeat a petition article calling for the more rigorous fluoride testing.

Muthoni Magua of Pine Street advocated for a warrant article that would require the town’s Water Department to do more testing on the fluoride and make sure heavy metal contaminants, such as arsenic, aluminum, lead and uranium, are absent.

“As we all know, the heavy metals are toxic,” Magua said.

Department of Public Works Superintendent Guilford Mooring, who oversees the Water Department, said the town already does testing and it would be impossible to meet the conditions of the petition article.

The Board of Health earlier this month voted to continue the fluoridation and suggested defeating the warrant article, which could hurt the efforts to ensure all children are getting fluoride.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.