Mass. match for CPA cut, as revenue falls
About 30 Community Preservation Act (CPA) committee members and other officials from the six Island towns gathered last week at the West Tisbury Public Safety Building to hear Stuart Saginor, executive director of the Community Preservation Coalition, speculate on state matching funds for the coming year and summarize proposed changes in the CPA legislation.
All six Island towns belong to the CPA and collect a three-percent surtax on real estate taxes. For towns participating at this level, locally raised dollars had been matched 100 percent by a fund made up from the $20 fees collected state-wide by the Registry of Deeds - until this year, when the match dropped to 68 percent. The double-your-money prospect had been a large part of the attraction that persuaded Vineyard voters to join the CPA.
However, according to Mr. Saginor, the act was never intended to include a permanent 100-percent match. The sponsors of the original legislation planned on a 25- to 30-percent state contribution. During the first years of the CPA (2002-2004), only a few towns had joined the CPA, and real estate activity was very high. During this period the fund matched at 100 percent and accumulated a $126 million surplus. Thanks to the surplus, from 2005 to 2007 the fund was still able to match at 100 percent, despite an increase in participation to 142 cities and towns. But in 2008, most of the surplus had been spent, the housing market took a nosedive, and the fund was able to match at only 68 percent.
Prospects for the current year
According to Mr. Saginor, the Department of Revenue is estimating that fees from the Registry of Deeds will this year allow matching funds of about 30 percent for all 142 towns in the program in the first round. A second and third round, only for the 74 towns that participate at the three-percent level, will increase the state match by varying degrees, based on factors such as median income and property values. Mr. Saginor estimates that most Island towns will get a total match of at least 35 percent, and Aquinnah may get as much as a 90-percent match. The actual figures will be announced on October 15.
Although all who spoke at the meeting last week were strong proponents of the CPA, some did indicate that they are hearing grumbles from their constituents and talk of withdrawing. There is confusion state-wide, Mr. Saginor commented, about the process for withdrawing from the CPA. Towns that join are committed for five years, but the CPA vote does not automatically expire after five years. To withdraw, a town must go through the same process it used to join the CPA: a town meeting vote and a ballot question.
In response to a comment from Tisbury CPA member Abbe Burt, Mr. Saginor reported that no Massachusetts town has ever withdrawn from the CPA. Only Hingham has gone so far as to put the question to its voters, and 72 percent voted to remain in the CPA.
Mr. Saginor commented that the CPA is especially valuable in hard times. "Where else could a town get a 30-percent return on an investment in one year's time?" he asked.