Local Voters To Decide Future of Recreation & Open Space
When you look around Stoneham, do you see the public amenities that a modern town demands? On Tuesday April 2nd, Stoneham voters decide the future of highly visible, intensely used but seriously under-funded cultural and recreational resources including, but not limited to, our baseball fields, playgrounds, library, Whip Hill Manor, one of the world’s last remaining public Wurlitzer organs, and senior housing.
On that day, residents choose whether to adopt the Community Preservation Act (CPA). CPA generates funds for historic, open space, and community housing by pairing a 1% surcharge on property taxes with matching state funds. If passed, the average property owner in Stoneham would pay an additional $4 to $6 per month.
A New Opportunity
The state’s match will now be based on a new blended calculation. The blended CPA allows Town Meeting to accept donations or allocate monies to the Stoneham CPA fund that the state will match. As a result, the property owner’s surcharge can be leveraged to a greater effect. Not just the property owner surcharge, but gifts, mitigation fees, land sale revenues, stabilization account transfers, and any other municipal appropriation for community preservation can now be included in calculating the state match.
The blended calculation has spurred a wave of new interest in the program. With November’s election, 44% of the cities and towns in the state have now adopted CPA. Beverly, Fall River, Salem and Somerville became the first cities to adopt CPA since 2008, while the towns of Canton, Somerset and Great Barrington also voted to join the program.
“Promptly adopting the CPA to tap these new funds for Stoneham will allow us to maximize this new opportunity. It will do so at low cost to taxpayers,” according to John Warren, candidate for Selectman, who spearheads Support Our Stoneham (SOS), the group pushing forward the current effort.
Community Fabric Falling Apart
Public amenities here are decaying. Recent local budget cycles stripped away funds dedicated to the culture and recreation needs of residents. For example, in recent years the Recreation Department was shut down. Staffing for Whip Hill Manor was eliminated. The Stoneham Library had to close its program room which serves scores of children in the summer due to moisture issues, the tip of the iceberg of rehabilitations needed for the vintage 1903 Carnegie building to serve the next generation. Playgrounds in town are suffering from equipment deterioration and site issues which render them almost unusable.
Tough Budget Years
The Town’s budget has been marked by increasing scarcity since the passage of state Proposition 2 ½ in 1980. Prop 2 ½, dramatically constrains the ability of cities and towns to raise revenue through local property taxes. Further, In FY 2012, Stoneham received $3.3 million in general local aid from the state. That is a decline of 48% over the last thirty years (adjusted for economic growth).
Tax payers too, faced financial struggle with a higher unemployment rate in recent years, averaging 5.7% for Middlesex County since 2008 during the Great Recession.
A Fortunate Community
However, Stoneham remains a fortunate community. The above mentioned unemployment rate was significantly lower than the rest of the state and the nation as a whole. Our median family income approaches $100,000 per year and about 70% of us own the homes in which we live rather than renting.
Supporters of the CPA feel that it is important to live in a community that provides for the recreational and cultural needs of residents. “CPA supporters wish to live in a community that thrives rather than simply survives,” says CPA supporter and local historian Marcia Wengen. She continues, “For the cost of a cup of coffee each month, we could have tremendous positive impact on the look and livability of our town.” To revitalize needed recreational and cultural amenities, CPA supporters want to approve this new funding stream.
The future of the state match component of the program cannot be predicted with absolute certainty. Over the twelve year life of the CPA so far, the state match has always been funded, though the amount has varied. However, the legislature just recently appropriated an extra $25 million and its leaders have indicated their full intention to provide $25 million from the budget surplus in future years. The governor has long supported the CPA.
Over its 12 years of existence, the state match has averaged 40% of the funds generated by CPA towns. At a 40% average match rate, the town would expect $1.60 in state match for every $4 paid by property owners. Any other funds set aside for CPA by town meeting would generate the same 40% match from the state.
Property owners’ component of the program would be restricted to a 1% increase in their tax payment to the Town.
Opponents of the CPA feel that it is a new unneeded tax that will burden local families. As described by former Selectman Paul Rotondi in a recent letter to the editor, Stoneham would benefit most from “tax relief not tax increases.” They are also concerned about how funds will be allocated to projects. If CPA is adopted and a committee is formed to award funding to various projects, they want to know that decisions are made on the basis of project merits only, and no cronyism is allowed.
Additionally, Selectman John DePinto, at a recent meeting stated the concern that if the Selectmen as leaders of the community, choose to support CPA, they renege on a 2011 promise made to voters to not raise taxes.
If adopted, the Town would form a Community Preservation Committee, which would create a preservation plan. The committee would recommend applications for projects to be funded and submit these recommendations to Town Meeting and the state for approval.
At least 10% of the annual CPA funds must be spent on open space or recreation, 10% on historic restoration and 10% on community housing. The remaining 70% may be spent on projects from any of these specific categories. The project must provide a public benefit. Nothing is allowed to be spent for maintenance.
a) If you are NOT a registered voter, call the Town Clerk’s Office at 781-279-2650 and request an application. It must be returned/postmarked no later than Wednesday March 13.
b) Absentee ballots may be obtained by calling the Town Clerk’s Office at 781-278-2650. They must be returned on or before Monday April 1.
c) Go to Town Hall on Tuesday April 2 between the hours of 7 am and 8 pm and vote. If you need transportation call the Senior Center no later than Friday March 29 to arrange for a ride. The number is 781-438-1157 between 8:30 am and 4pm M-F.
TO LEARN MORE
Visit SOS on the web at www.cpaStoneham.typepad.com