Warren and the CPA

Commentary by Frank Schroth

The election results provided a reminder that this is still Massachusetts. Had Capuano beaten Coakley, Brown may never have happened. Senator Brown, a good, strong, moderate Republican was a deviation in the natural political course of events. The course has corrected itself. As the headline in today’s Globe stated. “Hard Mass. race ends in victory for liberalism.” And so the liberal Kennedy legacy endures. Massachusetts likes its Republicans as Governors not Senators. Massachusetts may see more of Scott Brown . . . in a different seat. But enough of that. Let’s look at the CPA.

The local contest in Milton was ballot question 4 which asked the town to join the Community Preservation Act. It lost. But it did not lose in other communities. Salem, Somerville, and Canton all passed a CPA question. There were 11 communities with this question on the ballot. Nine passed it and two denied it: Milton and Westhampton. You can find a list of those communities, the ballot result,  and the surcharge they proposed along with exemptions here.

The group in support of the question was an interesting alliance of residents from across the political spectrum; Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Progressives, and Conservatives. However, they were not a match for the fiscal conservatives who banded together to oppose any additional tax. And in the end, the argument they made – “We don’t need any more taxes.” was much easier to say and for voters to understand than the one made by those in support – that the CPA would fund projects that would otherwise go unfunded and represented an excellent return on a modest investment (ie a 1.5% surcharge on property taxes over the first $100K of property value would yield at minimum a 22% return. That amount is expected to go up).

This is admittedly a gross simplification of both positions. But when it comes to the community at large – simple works. “No” is a simple statement. The voters understood they would be paying more but likely did not have a clear understanding of where it would go and what it would buy.

It is likely that Milton will see this issue return. This recent election was Canton’s third attempt. It failed twice before passing last night. We will be able to look across the border at our neighbors a year or so from now and look at what they have been able to do and what we have not — and most importantly, to determine if it has value, determine if the amount individually contributed would be worth the return it contributes to the common good or if, as we have chosen to do, the money is better kept in our pockets.

You can view a map of CPA and non-CPA communities here.

  6 comments for “Warren and the CPA

  1. Joe Grogan
    November 8, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    Could not disagree more! Milton will not and should not pass additional taxes levied upon us in order to give an open checking account to an appointed body to spend. Mr. Callahan, as head of Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance your priorities are rooted with developing additional affordable housing which is an admirable cause but should not be funded via an additional tax levied upon homeowners. There are countless programs out there today that assist in the building, expanding and purchasing of affordable residences on a federal and state level that we already pay for through taxes. We also have a parks department that receives funding in Milton that is taking care of our great parks. We have a historical commission that is tasked with taking care of our historical structures. We have several great benefactors in the town that have graciously stepped up to donate funds when needed. Last point, we are blessed with having roughly 38% of the town already protected with the Blue Hills reservation, there is no open space to purchase and preserve. Not that this town would purchase and preserve given the history of the town farm as a classic example of which the town already owned. With the dire times we are faced with today and people struggling to just keep up, saying that we will and should pass an additional tax quite honestly is insulting.

  2. Carolyn Newman
    November 9, 2012 at 8:56 am

    Mr Grogan, I would respectfully ask what you propose we should do about our crumbling, dilapidated Fire Stations? Although they are quite old, the Historic Commission does not have the money nor the mandate to renovate them. Short of a debt exclusion override, for which Milton taxpayers would have to pony up 100%, there is no other vehicle through which to fund renovation of those Fire Stations. The CPA would have provided us with a funding source that would not have been 100% on us. What now should we do about them?

  3. Tom Callahan
    November 9, 2012 at 9:13 am

    Just pointing out the obvious, Joe. The trend line is very clear – once voters fully understand the benefits of CPA, they support it. The voters in Canton, Somerville, Beverly, Salem, Somerset, Great Barrington, and Fall River all supported CPA on November 6th joining our neighbors in Quincy, Braintree, Randolph, Stoughton, Easton, Hingham, Scituate, Sharon, Weymouth, Norwell, Hanover, Newton, Needham, Wellesley and many more.

    As you know, the organization that I work for has never developed a single unit of housing. We have helped more than 16,000 low and moderate income families across the state buy their first home over the past 20 years, including a few here in Milton. CPA could help a few more.

  4. Joe Grogan
    November 9, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Mrs. Newman , that is a fair question. If as you suggest, the fire stations are is such disrepair this is something that should be addressed. If the town all of the sudden was able to appropriate 200k to tear down a building due to the inability of our planning board to come to a “compromise” with the developer of the Hendries site, why not use that. Seeing that the Hendries building was condemed but yet just survived one of the worst storms in one hundred years with no damage, I think with can put the condemed order to rest for a while. Here is a novel idea, get that Hendries development back on track, re-appropriate that 200k to the fire stations and the additional 400k from the sale of the property to the fire station rehab, 600k and on going tax revenue should give us a nice start I would assume. That would also save the town a fortune in legal costs that we would incur fightining our responsibility according to the deed of the property that we would most likely ultimately lose in court. We should consider the sale of all un-used town land for re-development if the need is great, that would bring in a hefty amount. That additional tax revenue on-going could go towards upkeep with proper supervision. I am told the town has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and placed hundreds of thousands of dollars down as a deposit for a wind turbine we never had the approval for to move forward, what a disaster. My father was a developer in Milton and was asked to assist in some municipal structure rehab projects as part of the development permits, I believe this is called linkage. We need to act smarter and more business friendly as a town instead of continuing to claw at higher real estate taxes and overrides. We as a town need to work together to find solutions with what we have and stop going to the people of Milton as a first resort, we are taxed enough.

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