Supporters of Community Preservation Act in Westhampton cite projects in area communities
WESTHAMPTON — When Barbara Pelissier looks around at other small towns in the area that have created Community Preservation Act funds, she sees projects she wants for Westhampton.
In Southampton, for example, that town’s CPA has financed new athletic fields off Strong Road, said Pelissier, who supports a CPA measure on Tuesday’s ballot in Westhampton.
In Goshen, Pelham and Hadley, CPA funds created through local property tax surcharges have been used for projects such as creating hiking trails and preserving farmland and historic buildings, she added.
“We’re just hearing these wonderful success stories,” said Pelissier. “Of the 148 communities in the state that now have CPAs, not one has voted to repeal them.”
Supporters are hoping examples from neighboring towns will convince Westhampton voters to approve a local CPA. The measure would establish a 3 percent property tax surcharge to fund open space, recreation, historic preservation and affordable housing projects in town.
A second public forum on the issue, initially set for Oct. 29, has been rescheduled to Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall.
Question 5 on the ballot is the second attempt to create a CPA fund for Westhampton. The previous effort in 2001 failed by 16 votes.
Sheila Marks, a longtime volunteer with the town’s Open Space Committee and a CPA supporter, stressed that the first vote occurred when the statewide program was still new and untested.
“Now, people can look around and see what other towns have done,” Marks said. “We think we can make this work as well for us.”
Since the state Community Preservation Act was passed in 2000, more than $1 billion worth of projects in the four eligible funding categories have been launched in communities that have adopted CPAs, according to the state Community Preservation Coalition.
Westhampton’s Open Space Committee — which is leading the effort for a town CPA — has estimated the proposed tax levy could generate $73,000 annually if voters approve the measure.
The ballot measure makes the first $100,000 of property value exempt from the surcharge, and low-income residents and moderate-income seniors could apply to opt out of the surcharge. In Westhampton, based on the town’s 2012 tax rate of $16.40, residents with homes valued at $200,000 would pay $49 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.
Some have concerns
Still, not everyone is convinced a CPA is right for Westhampton.
Walter Morrey, chairman of the Board of Assessors, said that he has “mixed” feelings about the issue.
“What I’m concerned about is what the state will do in the future,” Morrey said. “I don’t know if they will place mandates on us because of receiving state funds that may require us to do certain things.”
Others, including Select Board Chairman John Shaw Jr., have raised concerns about increasing property taxes, which are already higher in Westhampton than many neighboring towns.
At a public forum on the issue, residents also raised questions about how decisions will be made about which projects to fund with CPA dollars. Marks pointed out that in Westhampton, a representative board would make suggestions for CPA projects, but final approval would rest with voters at Town Meeting. She added that the ballot item proposes a 3 percent property tax surcharge because that makes the town eligible for the maximum in state matching funds.
“It’s never easy to ask people to tax themselves even a modest amount more,” Marks said. “But we’re also hearing a lot of support from people who recognize that this is a smart way for the town to set aside a savings account for projects we feel are necessary and desirable.”
Dave Christopolis, executive director of the Hilltown Community Development Corp., made similar arguments in a letter he sent in August to leaders of area small towns served by his nonprofit, urging their support for local CPAs.
With other sources of funding for preservation and affordable housing projects drying up, the program “can help Hilltown communities maintain their rural character and strengthen the local economy,” Christopolis wrote. “Until the CPA was enacted, there was no steady funding source for preserving and improving a community’s character and quality of life. CPA gives us more local control.”
Westhampton is one of three Massachusetts communities that will vote Tuesday on establishing a CPA.
Other area communities that have adopted the measure include Amherst, Belchertown, Easthampton, Northampton, Leverett, Shutesbury, Sunderland and Whately.