Opinion: On Community Preservation Act funding

May 18, 2023

To the editor,

I have been a member of the Marion Community Preservation Committee for the past 9 years, its Chair for the past 6 years. I understand that there was a great deal of discussion regarding the articles and the CPA process at our recent Annual Town Meeting. Unfortunately, I was traveling on business and unable to attend the May 8 meeting and I would like to provide some additional detail.

Marion adopted the Community Preservation Act in May 2005, replacing a historical 2% tax surcharge that was used to fund the Land Bank with a 2% surcharge funding the CPA. The CPA surcharge includes an exemption for the first $100,000 of assessed value.

In the 19 years since Marion’s adoption of the CPA, tax surcharges have totaled $5.15 million and Marion received a total of $1.83 million in state matching funds. The state match varies and has ranged from 100% to 17%.

The Community Preservation Committee is composed of representatives of seven Town boards: Conservation Commission, Planning Board, Select Board, Open Space, Affordable Housing, Historical Commission and Recreation.

The Community Preservation Committee, coordinates the CPA applications process and makes recommendations at Town Meeting for funding, with voters of the Town of Marion making the final funding decision.

For the funding season just completed we held five open meetings, the last of which was a public hearing advertised in the newspaper.

In addition, the articles to be presented at Annual Town Meeting were reviewed at the Select Board’s May 2 review meeting.

Since the adoption of the CPA, Town meetings have funded 77 separate projects with a total value of $6.53M. I have grouped these awards into 11 categories: Restore Historic Town Buildings – 13 projects, $2.57 million; Restore Historic Private Buildings – six projects, $311,000; Land Acquisition – three projects, $507,000; Open Space Planning – three projects, $16,000; Watershed Protection – three projects, $170,000; Pathways: Plan, Permit, Construct – three projects, $636,000; Recreation – 19 projects, $511,000; Veterans’ Graves – three projects, $21,000; Document/Artifact Catalog, Preserve – 12 projects, $399,000; Affordable Housing – eight projects, $1.23 million; Other – four projects, $152,000.

After approval of the articles at the recent Annual Town Meeting the remaining CPA balance is $478,000.

Marion’s continued participation in the CPA is a valid question, but is more complex than it appears. On a simple-minded basis, exit of the CPA could reduce individual property tax bills by up to 2%. This action would also end the state match - $1.83 million over the past 19 years, an average of 35%. A more complex question is how would the projects funded by the CPA be funded? More than 93% of CPA monies were used to fund Town properties and projects ($6.1 million). These projects would have to be included in the Town’s conventional operating or capital budgets, wait for the generosity of outside groups, or be deferred for discussion at some later date.

If projects proposed for CPA funding are not worthwhile, they should be voted down at Town Meeting. During the 10 years that I have been a full- time resident of the town, I recall only one project that was rejected. Few CPA articles generate any questions or discussion.

My opinion, and I am speaking as a citizen, not on behalf of the Community Preservation Committee is that the CPA is a valued resource that provides an alternative funding process, supported partially by State funds, that remains in full control of the voters. The Town House is one of the more visible signs of the value of the CPA. The Town House was the victim of 50 years of deferred maintenance, and recent failed attempts to restore or replace the building through conventional funding. CPA monies, with some supplemental private funds, have restored at least the outside of the building and made it an asset to the Town.

My suggestion is that we retain the CPA and that interested townspeople become active in the entire funding process. Since my first involvement with the CPC, I cannot remember a citizen attending a CPC meeting, except to advocate for a particular project. We would welcome the participation of interested citizens throughout the process.

Jeff Doubrava, Marion