Preservation surtax vote is ill-fated; Selectmen remove request from agenda.
WEST BROOKFIELD - Chances appear slim that voters here will have an opportunity anytime soon to decide whether to adopt the state Community Preservation Act.
The act allows a 1 percent to 3 percent surtax on local property taxes to establish a town fund to pay for projects dealing with open space, affordable housing, historic preservation and recreation.
At 3 percent, the state will contribute a dollar-for-dollar match to the town fund and lesser amounts of money for 1 percent and 2 percent surtaxes. But that may be subject to change, depending on state budget levels.
The Community Preservation Act also allows communities adopting the program to remove the first $100,000 to $200,000 of assessed property valuation before computing the surtax.
Selectmen recently removed a Community Preservation Act adoption request from the agenda of an Oct. 16 special town meeting. Selectman Barry J. Nadon Jr. said that action was taken because additional information is needed.
Last year, Mr. Nadon had called the Community Preservation Act a good idea, but in the interim his interest has waned and Selectmen Michael H. Frew and Mark A. Long also are in no hurry to have voters decide the issue.
"There was a lot of questions that came up," Mr. Nadon said.
"I had a lot of people who called me that were against it and I had a few calls that were for it, but it's almost like a 50-50 now."
He said if the town goes for a 3 percent surtax, there is no guarantee that down the road the state will match it dollar-for-dollar, so that makes the proposal "sketchy" at best.
"As a board, we haven't done any more research on it," Mr. Nadon said. "Maybe when things slow down we can do that and see if we want to move forward with it or not."
Mr. Long did not rule out that the Community Preservation Act request may be resurrected at next year's annual town meeting.
"I think we're just pushing it off until next May," he said.
He agreed with Mr. Nadon that the key question is the extent of state funding contribution in the years ahead.
"It's not like it's a guarantee, so that kind of concerns me."
Mr. Long also said he has no knowledge of proposed projects that the Historical Commission wants to accomplish with Community Preservation Act money. He said without a list it may be difficult to sell this surtax to voters.
Historical Commission Chairman Richard J. Rossman estimated that a 3 percent surtax on local property taxes, after subtracting the first $100,000 of assessed value, would cost residents about $41 annually under the CPA plan. He said at that rate the combined local and state funds expected to be raised in the first year would exceed $150,000.
He said the Historical Commission definitely favors adoption of the Community Preservation Act, which must be approved at both a town meeting and a local election.
Mr. Rossman said he was surprised the request was on the agenda for the Oct. 16 special town meeting, because the commission did not submit it.
"That wasn't anything that we did." he said. "We didn't do anything to have that article on this town meeting."
Mr. Nadon said the CPA request was not acted on at the annual town meeting last May, so selectmen presumed the Historical Commission wanted it included in a subsequent special town meeting and that is why it was initially included on the Oct. 16 warrant before being removed by selectmen.
Mr. Rossman said selectmen were asked by the commission to hold a prior informational meeting on the Community Preservation Act. He said that was done, but "I guess the interest isn't there."
"We just believe that so many towns in the state have implemented this that it's a good thing," Mr. Rossman said.
He said the commission favors the Community Preservation Act for a number of reasons, but primarily because residents here have paid an extra $25 fee to the Registry of Deeds when selling a home to create the fund the state uses to contribute to local communities.
"Our town has been paying into this for all of the years it's been in place and we're not getting a single benefit from it," he said.
He said the prior indication was that selectmen were not enthusiastic about adopting the act, so it seemed a waste of time to pursue it right now.
"They (the selectmen) have to do the implementation of it and to them it's a big issue as far as what has to be done with the money if the thing gets passed," Mr. Rossman said. "They're concerned with how it's divided up."
He said one of the projects the commission has in mind involves the Indian cemetery on Cottage Street, off Route 9. The cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places, but work is needed to preserve the cemetery and the Community Preservation Act funds could be used to hire a private contractor for that work.
The commission already has sought a survey report on preserving the cemetery, and that report is expected soon.
Sturbridge is one of the area towns that bought into the Community Preservation program in its initial stage. Voters there adopted it in 2001 and set up a nine-member committee to control funding and oversee proposed projects.
Any of the expenditures from the fund come to a town meeting in Sturbridge for approval.
Mr. Rossman said setting up such an oversight committee in West Brookfield also may be a stumbling block in proceeding with an adoption vote.
"Unless they can get people here that are going to serve on a committee, it's just not going to work."
PHOTOG: J.P. ELLERY
CUTLINE: Richard J. Rossman, West Brookfield Historical Commission chairman, at the entrance to the circa 1700 Indian cemetery on Cottage Street. The Historical Commission favors adoption of the Community Preservation Act, which could provide a source of funds for preservation work at the cemetery.