MARLBOROUGH, Mass. – After acquiring the required five percent of registered voter signatures, Marlborough residents will vote in November on the Massachusetts Community Preservation Act (CPA). The CPA was signed in September of 2000. Eligibility requirements include cities and towns adopting by ballot the Community Preservation Act. By accepting the CPA, residents agree to a real estate tax surcharge of up to three percent to raise revenue to fund open space purchases, historic preservation, and community housing.
Marlborough’s ballot initiative is asking voters to agree to accept a two percent surcharge on their real estate taxes to begin the fund. What is not mentioned in their campaign literature is that at any time the rate can be changed to three percent by the City Council. For the time being, the state has capped it at three percent. There is no promise that this cap will continue to stay in place once voters accept the surcharge. There is a provision in the bill that allows voters to opt out after five years. As most know, it is much harder to get out of a program once invested in it.
Supporters of this bill argue that taxpayers in Marlborough are missing the potential matching funds from a tax that the state is imposing on the Registry of Deeds and Land Court. The state has a matching funds formula based on the amount of tax revenue collected and the ranking of the city or town asking for the money. In this formula the higher the number, the more likely one is to receive money when the state has a shrinking supply of tax revenues. The Community Preservation website lists 341 of 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts. The cities with the lowest ranking will be eligible for the least amount of funding according to the site. Marlborough is currently listed as 286th on the site. However, it also states that when the fund runs short of money, only those towns that have three percent matching will be eligible for any funding. With the current budget crisis facing the state, Marlborough voters should be clear that the two percent surcharge is simply an entry fee.
Additionally there are questions about the use of this money. Five percent of the revenue collected is allowable for overhead costs and administrative fees. The money collected must be divided into three categories. Open space, historical preservation, and community housing all must have separate accounts. Money cannot be transferred between accounts to fund projects during the year. At the end of the year, 30% of the revenue budgeted must be spent or banked in those specific accounts. Remaining funds can be returned to the general fund for reallocation for later years. What was made clear in much of the literature is this is a way to get funding for projects without having to motivate voters to vote for Proposition 2 ½ overrides which have not proven to be easy selling points in challenging economic times. However, with a pot of taxpayer dollars, this committee would not require voter approval to spend. The voters have surrendered their power to a committee over which they do not possess electoral power.
Marlborough voters should visit the Community Preservation website and read the requirements and restrictions involved with engaging in this program. Much has been left out of the literature supporting the Marlborough proposal. Voters should understand the financial and accountability issues that come with voting yes on this ballot initiative.
“CPA Calculator the Costs and Benefits to Marlborough” Community Preservation Coalition
“Community Preservation Act” Community Preservation Coalition
“Community Preservation Ballot Question” City of Marlborough Government
“Guide to Local Adoption” Community Preservation Coalition”
“Potential Uses of CPA Funds” Community Preservation Coalition