Updated at 3 pm, December 5
The Island towns Community Preservation Act committees (CPC) got some good news from the state last month. The state has increased its contributions to the town funds that support open space, historic preservation, affordable housing, and outdoor recreational facilities from last year’s total of $858,836 to $1,641,381 this year, according to figures from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR). The state funds supplement money generated from a three percent surcharge to the towns’ real estate taxes to fund CPC-approved projects.
All communities that have adopted the Community Preservation Act (CPA) in the state will receive a 52.23 percent match from the state on locally raised funds in round one of the allocations, double the 26.6 percent state match from 2012. It will be the highest state contribution since 2008, according to the website of the Community Preservation Coalition, a group promoting the CPA. Communities that adopted the CPA with a full three percent local property tax surcharge receive additional revenue on rounds two and three. The second and third rounds are weighted so that smaller and less affluent communities receive higher funding. Aquinnah and Chilmark are receiving 100 percent matches, Edgartown 67 percent, Oak Bluffs 72, Tisbury 74, and West Tisbury 84 percent, according to state figures.
The state began distributing $55 million last week from the Community Preservation Trust Fund to the 148 Massachusetts cities and towns that have opted into the program. $25 million of the amount is the result of surplus state funds from last year directed to the fund by state legislators. The additional funds come from real estate deed recording fees collected by the state. These fees have increased as a result of the improving real estate market. The distributions began at the end of November rather than the usual end of October adding additional revenues into the mix.
The changes in the amounts of CPA state funds allocated to Island towns in 2013 and 2014 are as follows: Aquinnah, $74,148 to $81,590; Chilmark, $106,923 to $198,425; Edgartown, $211,261 to $423,953; Oak Bluffs, $167,660 to $335,818; Tisbury, $162,724 to $322,037; West Tisbury, $136,120 to $279,558.
The additional funding from the legislature included a change to the CPA that will allow participating communities to use preservation funds to rehabilitate existing parks, playgrounds and athletic fields, rather than only build new ones as in the prior legislation.
All Island towns voted to adopt the CPA, Aquinnah and Chilmark in 2002 and the other Island towns in 2006, and all chose the 3 percent maximum allowable real estate tax surcharge enabling them to receive the highest rate of state matching funds. The money from the funds can be spent on open space preservation, preservation of historic resources, development of affordable housing, and the acquisition and development of outdoor recreational facilities, with specific percentage minimums for each category. The original legislation allows for the funding of regional projects and projects anywhere in the state.
Anyone can submit a proposal for CPA funding. Local CPCs determine whether proposed projects meet the CPA requirements before the projects are placed on town warrants for approval or rejection by the voters. The enabling legislation, signed into law in 2000, requires that committees be made up of five to nine people with representatives from the town’s conservation commission, planning board, historic commission, housing authority, and department of parks.
Island towns have similar procedures for selecting CPC projects. An application deadline is set. The committees review the applications, rejecting those that do not meet the basic requirements. Applications that are deemed incomplete, imprecise or that raise other questions are returned, usually with recommendations.
When an application is accepted the applying person or group is invited to give a short presentation during which the committee will ask questions to clarify any uncertainties. If the dollar total of the projects being considered exceeds the total of the funds available, the committees may suggest that the applicants consider partial funding or revising their requests or that they apply again in the future when more funds might be available.
Only after final committee approval is the project submitted to a town meeting for voter approval.
“The CPC only sets up the things for the town to vote yes or no,” said Peter Rodegast, the new West Tisbury CPC chairman who is the town’s conservation commission appointee to the committee. “We generally try to not have more on the ballot than we have money to pay for. Projects may go onto the warrant without funding them to the extent that was requested.” He said that during the vetting process projects are sometimes rejected because they may not meet all of the guidelines for funding or may not be fully thought out.
Regional CPC requests
“This year we have more regional projects,” Mr. Rodegast said, “I think people are more aware of the possibilities and are casting the net further. It is clear that there are regional projects, like the save Gay Head Lighthouse project, that benefit us all.”
Other regional projects the towns are being asked to support this year include parts of the Dukes County Courthouse repairs, the new Vineyard little league field in Oak Bluffs, the Agricultural Society archive project, the Martha’s Vineyard Museum roof repair, and affordable housing funding.
According to the Community Preservation Coalition, 155 communities have adopted the CPA, 44 percent of the Commonwealth’s cities and towns, and close to $1.2 billion raised to date for community preservation funding statewide. Over 6,600 projects have been approved. More than 7,300 affordable housing units have been created or supported and nearly 19,200 acres of open space have been preserved, over 3,200 appropriations have been made for historic preservation projects, and nearly 1,000 outdoor recreation projects have been initiated.
This article was updated to correct the 2014 amounts of state contributions to Community Preservation Act accounts in the towns of Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, West Tisbury, and Tisbury. We also corrected the amount that the state will contribute in total to all the Island towns. DAC