JP Observer: CPA would bring needed benefits to JP

Riddle 1: What would likely raise millions of dollars for the three core areas of affordable housing, historic preservation, and outdoor recreation and open space in Boston through a minor property tax surcharge and matching state funds?

Answer 1: The Community Preservation Act (CPA), if put on the November ballot by the City Council and passed by Boston voters.

Riddle 2: Why would anyone oppose the CPA, which 160 other Massachusetts cities and towns, including Somerville, Malden, Salem, and Waltham, have already successfully adopted?

Answer 2: Who knows? Most objections seem relatively minor. And CPA would certainly benefit Jamaica Plain. None of the cities and towns that have it, some for years, have tried to repeal it.

The Massachusetts CPA that says voters in individual cities and towns directly decide whether to adopt CPA became law in 2000. In 2001, shortly after 9/11, the measure failed in Boston. Even usually progressive Jamaica Plain area voters turned down the offer.

On May 2, the City Council will hold a working session to gather more information on the CPA, and the Council will vote later in the month about whether to put the measure on the ballot in November. Councilors should give residents a chance to voice their opinion on such important benefits CPA could provide with minor attendant pain for the city.

Local City Councilor Matt O’Malley supports the CPA. Endorsements from groups with local ties have already come from the Arnold Arboretum Committee, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, Franklin Park Coalition, and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation.

JP could especially benefit from additional funds: for affordable housing for poor and middle-income residents in our skyrocketing market; to preserve and rehabilitate our old and historic local buildings; to create and upgrade parks, playgrounds, and community gardens here.

CPA requires that 10 percent of money collected be directed to those three efforts every year. The remaining 70 percent may be spent or put in reserve for those purposes.

Proponents of the Boston CPA are recommending a one percent property tax surcharge, with exemptions for low-income homeowners as well as low- and moderate-income senior owners. The tax would be calculated through a complex formula: It is a 1 percent tax on the cost of a property bill after $100,000 of value has been subtracted and the residential exemption applied, if applicable. That means an owner who has a property assessed at $400,000 would see an increase in the property bill of about $13. It is not a 1 percent increase in the property tax.

One reason so many Massachusetts cities and towns have already voted to have a CPA is that every November the state distributes funds to them collected at the Registry of Deeds and from state budget surplus funds. Communities can dedicate additional funds such as hotel taxes, to their CPA fund to qualify for additional state matching money.

The Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, a backer of a Boston CPA, says that, based on figures supplied by the City, Boston would achieve about $13 million annually to fulfill the three worthy needs. And the average single-family homeowner would pay about $23 annually to the fund.

We are being given a chance to redeem ourselves and give a huge boost to some basic needs by asking the City Council to put the CPA on the ballot. Then we can all vote for it and our neighborhood on Nov. 8.

[Sandra Storey is founder and former publisher and editor of the Jamaica Plain Gazette.]




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