Supporters work on second attempt at Community Preservation Fund for Westhampton
Richard Tracy, chair of the Westhampton Historical Commission, speaks Saturday during the annual chicken barbecue held to benefit the Blacksmith Shop Museum. Purchase photo reprints »
Barbara Pelissier of Westhampton stands on the former rail bed between West and South Streets in Northampton near what was once Smith's Grist Mill Pond where the tragic rescue of 1908 took place. Purchase photo reprints »
WESTHAMPTON — Laurie Sanders still remembers the town’s first attempt more than a decade ago to create a local Community Preservation Act fund for open space, historic preservation and recreation projects.
That effort failed by 16 votes in 2001, “when there was no track record of what this would mean or how the mechanics of it would work for our town,” she said.
Sanders, a member of Westhampton’s Library Building Committee, is part of a new push to get voters in November to adopt a local CPA that would raise an estimated $80,021 through a property tax surcharge to fund historic, open space preservation and recreation projects and draw state matching funds.
She believes the “impressive” track record of such CPA-funded projects in neighboring towns, including Goshen, Southampton and Northampton, will convince voters to back the ballot question in Westhampton this time around.
CPA supporters are hosting an informational meeting on the issue tonight at 7:30 in the Town Hall. A second meeting will be held Oct. 29 at the same time and place.
Since the state Community Preservation Act was passed in 2000, more than $1 billion worth of projects have been funded in the 148 communities that have adopted local CPAs, according to the state Community Preservation Coalition.
In Northampton, Sanders said, the city’s CPA has funded 51 projects with $3.8 million in local funds since 2005, including preservation of 15,000 acres of open space in the Mineral Hills conservation area bordering Westhampton.
Among the local projects supporters say could be funded with CPA dollars are refurbishing the Town Hall, preserving local farmland and adding affordable housing and recreational facilities.
“We don’t have the same soccer fields and tennis courts as our neighboring towns,” said Barbara Pelissier, who led the effort to get the CPA question on the Nov. 6 ballot. “And as a small, rural community, we’d have an edge when it comes to getting state matching funds. We could never get that kind of return on our money anywhere else.”
The CPA question, number 5 on the ballot, proposes a 3 percent real estate tax levy on property in Westhampton. The proposal makes the first $100,000 of property value exempt from the surcharge.
Using Westhampton’s 2012 tax rate of $16.40, residents with homes valued at $200,000 would pay $44 annually for the CPA; those with homes valued at $300,000 would pay $98; and those with homes valued at $500,000 would pay $197. Low- to moderate-income residents would be able to opt out of the levy.
Despite those accommodations, Select Board Chairman John Shaw said the tax increase is the reason the CPA vote failed last time, “and I think it will come up again.”
“I wish they had looked at 1 percent or 2 percent,” said Shaw, who is opposed to the newest CPA measure.
Shaw said he is concerned that Westhampton already has a lot of land set aside for conservation and that additional projects funded by the CPA will “just take more land off the tax rolls.
“We have a dire need for a safety complex and the CPA won’t pay for that,” he said. “I need more answers about this program and I need to look at the big picture.”
Pelissier said a local board would approve how CPA money is spent. “Nothing can be forced on anyone,” she said. “Projects would be brought forward to the town.”
Richard I. Tracy, chairman of the town’s Open Space Committee, said the latest effort for a CPA was an outgrowth of his committee’s work on Westhampton’s open space plan.
“One of the items in there was to make another attempt at a CPA,” he said. “It seemed like it was time to try again with other towns getting lots of press on projects going forward because they had a CPA.”
Kurt Heidinger, who coordinates the Grown in Westhampton sustainable farming group, said he is “totally in support” of a local CPA.
“I’m especially interested in preserving the historic resources in town, some of the important archival stuff,” that would be eligible for CPA funding, he said. “I see this as a matter of enriching our town.”