Dan Rist: Supports CPA exemption for Easthampton

  • A voter marks her ballot during early voting at the Municipal Building in Easthampton, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Early voting in Easthampton Wednesday, October, 28, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Early voting in Easthampton Wednesday, October, 28, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Published: 10/29/2020 8:03:37 AM

Appearing on the Easthampton ballot is Question 3, regarding adding a senior and low-income exemption to the Community Preservation Act (CPA) property tax surcharge. As the chair of the CPA committee and of the City Council Finance Committee, I want to assure concerned CPA supporters that this new exemption will not affect CPA project planning or the CPA revenue stream. I want to personally thank Councilor JP Kwiecinski for introducing this idea and providing the research I quote below.

This exemption is only for low-income housing property owners and low-to-moderate-income senior property housing owners in the city. Locally, Wilbraham and Agawam are comparable communities that have adopted this exemption. Easthampton may have up to 60 to 70 eligible households. With the average single-family CPA surcharge at $88.01 per year, the impact to the CPA revenue stream will be around $6,000 annually. Earlier this year, the CPA committee and the City Council voted unanimously to approve this exemption.

The Mass. General Law establishing the CPA requires the voters to have the final say in allowing this exemption or not. The voters did include the $100,000 property value exemption when the CPA was approved, which limits the surcharge to 3% of the assessed value of a property less $100,000. Therefore, the average home in Easthampton, valued at $265,184, is taxed for the CPA at $165,184 and after some tax rate math, the average homeowner pays $88.01 per year.

As a vocal champion of the Community Preservation Act funding for Easthampton, I take my obligation as financial steward seriously. I would not approve anything that would jeopardize the future of the CPA and its ability to improve the quality of life in Easthampton. The CPA fund can only be used to support projects in three categories: affordable housing, open space recreation and historic preservation.

These categories would be woefully underfunded by communities without the CPA. The CPA fund leverages many state and federal grants that require a local match.

This has allowed many great projects to happen in Easthampton including the rail trail, boardwalk, new ball fields in Nonotuck Park and new parks such as the recent Mount Tom North accessible trail park being designed now. The CPA has also preserved a great deal of open space and protected our aquifer. Additionally, it has provided funds for many affordable housing projects, and recently a $300,000 rent relief fund was established to help many eligible renters during the COVID-19 crisis.

Currently, the most notable project being funded by the CPA is the Old Town Hall second-floor renovation. This renovation complements the improvements already made to Old Town Hall. The CPA has committed $3 million to match a similar amount being raised by CitySpace, the organization that manages and maintains this beautiful historic treasure of a building. This project will add numerous theatrical, music, dance and other events to the city’s future, which will greatly assist in our local businesses recovering from the devastation of the pandemic — especially our restaurants. If you share in the vision for Old Town Hall, please consider a contribution to CitySpace at cityspaceeasthampton.org.

Easthampton has a bright future, and the CPA fund is committed to making that future a reality.

Dan Rist is vice president of the Easthampton City Council.

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