Interest Swells in Community Preservation Act (MA)

Massachusetts: With ballots counted, results are in from the first round of local votes on open space protection, affordable housing, and historic preservation in Massachusetts. Prompted by the December enactment of the Community Preservation Act, dozens of communities in the Commonwealth are voting to become eligible for newly available state funds by adopting modest local tax increases. In the five months since the Act became law, 52 Massachusetts communities have held ballot votes on the issue, with 31—or 60 percent—voting to adopt it.

Governor A. Paul Cellucci signed the Community Preservation Act (House Bill 5370) into law on September 14, 2000 and it became law on Dec. 14, 2000. The bill, which has been debated by lawmakers for nearly 18 years, grants Massachusetts’ 351 cities and towns the right to raise local property taxes to fund land conservation, historic preservation, and affordable housing. It also provides significant matching funds—some $26 million annually—to participating communities.

“The Community Preservation Act provides a powerful new weapon in the fight to protect our communities from suburban sprawl,” said Whitney Hatch, regional director of the Trust for Public Land, a national conservation organization. “By enacting this bill, Governor Cellucci and the Legislature have taken an important step to stem the tide of unplanned development that is sweeping Massachusetts. We are delighted to see so many communities stepping forward to take advantage of this new program.” Currently, 44 acres of open land in Massachusetts is developed every day.

In order for a municipality to qualify for state matching funds, the legislative body (e.g. Town Meeting or City Council) must vote to place a property tax surcharge of no more than 3 percent on the ballot. Alternatively, CPA may be placed on the ballot through a petition signed by at least 5 percent of the city or town’s registered voters. Once CPA is placed on the ballot, local voters must then vote to approve it. Participating cities and towns can opt out of CPA after five years and end the surcharge.

A minimum of 10 percent of the annual revenues raised through the surcharge must be used for each of three core community concerns: land protection, historic preservation, and affordable housing. The remaining 70 percent can be allocated for any combination of these three uses. CPA exempts certain taxpayers from the property tax surcharge, more The Trust for Public Land, including the disabled, veterans and the surviving spouses of veterans. Local governments may also choose from several allowable exemptions.

The Trust for Public Land is a national conservation organization dedicated to protecting land for people to enjoy as parks and open space. Since 1972, TPL has protected more than 1.2 million acres nationwide, including nearly 75,000 acres in New England. The Wall Street Journal’s Smart Money Magazine recently named TPL the nation’s most efficient large conservation charity, based on the percentage of funds dedicated to programs.