Columnist Daniel Rist defends Easthampton CPA grant for courthouse

  • Todd Ford, executive director of the Hampshire Council of Governments, is asking local communities for Community Preservation Act funds  to help pay for the restoration of the old Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

As chairman of the Easthampton Community Preservation Act Committee, I am defending it from the suggestion that it dishonored its role as a careful distributor of city taxes in the use of CPA funds for restoration of the Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton.

Mayor Karen Cadieux’s concern for our taxpayers is understandable, but the CPA Committee is dedicated to making sure any allocation of funds meets the strict criteria of the Community Preservation Act. It is about “preservation” and one of its prime goals is to preserve history.

The committee certainly respects the mayor’s opinion, and out of respect for her I did let the members know of her opposition. The committee’s decision was based on a great deal of thought and research.

The majority of Easthampton CPA members felt, after in-depth discussion, that the project is worthy of funding, primarily to leverage the remainder of the $4 million capital bond that the state is holding up. Todd Ford, executive director of the Hampshire Council of Governments, is forced to seek local support from area cities and towns before the rest of the bond is released. Those bond funds, which is taxpayers’ money, should be released without any strings attached.

Other Hampshire County communities have agreed to provide some CPA support which is one of the reasons the Easthampton committee also decided to do so.

The Community Preservation Act allows local committees to fund projects outside of the community that meet the legal requirements. Recently, the Easthampton committee chose to fund a conservation restriction in Southampton which would protect our own aquifer.

Committee members also felt that a historic building which is “owned by the citizens” of Hampshire County, and is on the state historic registry, is worthy of preservation. The building has served all of the citizens in Hampshire County.

Finally, the committee has been examining this project for many months and would not have even considered it if Northampton had not come forward with its $200,000 CPA grant. The local funds would only be granted if and when the state bond is finally released.

A legitimate argument against the project is whether Easthampton should prioritize its own historic preservation first. Also, given the recent reduction in state matching funds, now only 15 percent, Easthampton CPA funds will be reduced further, making this grant indeed difficult. This was in part the argument made by the two members who voted against it.

However, to say that the committee is sending funds to “another community” reduces the fine work and careful decision-making of Easthampton’s CPA Committee with the suggestion that it is disregarding our own taxpayers. This can’t be further from the truth. The committee cares deeply about historic preservation and would not use local funds if it did not consider restoring the courthouse a priority for our local history.

Daniel Rist, the District 5 member of the Easthampton City Council, is chairman of the Easthampton CPA Committee.