Editorial : State CPA match will dwindle
Signs were unmistakable almost exactly one year ago that the state match for town Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds would certainly dwindle, from 100 percent - a windfall for towns like those on the Vineyard that extract a three-percent surcharge from real estate taxpayers - to 68 percent last year, and perhaps to 35 percent or thereabouts this year.
What Island leaders often want to know is how the Vineyard might cadge more state money from the non-Vineyard taxpayers of Massachusetts to finance the Island's already handsomely funded public schools and the conservation, preservation, housing and recreation projects Islanders fancy. Behind the question is the unspoken knowledge that low-income residents of, say North Adams, or Chicopee, or Brockton, Fall River, and New Bedford might be imposed upon, with taxes and fees, to help foot the bill. In the case of the CPA state match, property owners in such communities will contribute by way of registry fees collected in those communities, or rather the counties of which they are a part. The Community Preservation Act is just the ticket. Take from the less well-off and give to the more privileged.
An examination of the Community Preservation Act's performance, by Bruce Mohl, published in Commonwealth magazine last summer, describes the perversity of the CPA act, which shifts tax dollars from poor communities to wealthy ones. Fewer than 50 percent of the state's 351 cities and towns have subscribed to the CPA. They are mostly wealthier cities and towns, although there is a range of participants. The wealthier among the participant communities are the ones that have benefited most handsomely from the state's match of taxpayer-contributed surcharges. They generally have higher property values, higher per capita income, and their taxpayers have agreed to kick in the maximum three percent surcharge. Cambridge, Newton, Barnstable, Weston, Nantucket, Westford, North Andover, Sudbury, Duxbury, and Plymouth are among the top 10 beneficiaries, according to the Commonwealth report.
"The average median household income of the top 10 CPA communities is $83,166 - or 65 percent higher than the statewide average," Mr. Mohl writes. These towns join up with the CPA program, because their property taxpayers can afford the one- to three-percent add-on. Most of them go for three percent, which earns them a greater share of the state match. The state funding comes from fees added to real estate transactions.
Well, but even wealthier towns have needs. Although affordable housing has been a high priority for CPA participant communities, recreation facilities, on which the smallest share of CPA funds has been spent, is the fastest growing category among the uses to which the funds may be applied.
We report today that among the 145 cities and towns that participate in the CPA, this year's state match will be 30 percent or perhaps a bit more for towns that contribute at the three percent level, including Vineyard towns.