Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Just To Be Clear; More Information About The CPA

Submitted by Carol Childress.--ed.

Thank you very much for allowing me this space so that accurate information can be provided to Sturbridge taxpayers about the recent petition to revoke the Community Preservation Act (CPA) in Sturbridge. 

Over the last 11 years, the Community Preservation Act has prompted Sturbridge to complete many worthwhile projects. Those projects were all voted and approved by roughly 2-4% of the town’s population at various Town Meetings over the years. What voters probably didn’t know during this time – including me – is that once a community takes on long-term debt for CPA projects, as Sturbridge has, the choice and ability to remove the surcharge vanishes until the debt is paid off. The CPA is written in such a way that allows voters to revoke it after 5 years, thus removing the 3% surcharge from property tax bills. However, in our case, three Open Space purchases and the Town Hall/Center School projects were completed by taking loans; the total debt is $4.3 million, and we will be paying on those borrowings until 2026, 2017, and 2030, respectively. Therefore, that 3% surcharge will be on our tax bills until 2030 and the ability to remove the surcharge is no longer an option.

Of the 365 signatures gathered for the petition, 346 have been certified by the Town Clerk. Therefore, at the April 9 Town Election, voters will be asked if they wish to revoke the CPA. This year, the Town Election will be held at the Oliver Wight Tavern at Old Sturbridge Village; whether you are a proponent or opponent of the CPA, please go vote! 

I wish to clarify some misinformation that CPA proponents and supporters have been dispensing; in particular, the following bullets address recent comments by the leaders of our community, the Sturbridge Board of Selectmen at their February 27th meeting, as written in the 3/1/12 Tantasqua Town Common:
• Mary Dowling: Revoking the CPA does not “paralyze the town from spending on projects.” If the CPA is revoked, the ability to use it as a borrowing mechanism and creating more debt is eliminated. On an annual basis, if approved by voters, small and large projects can go forward after the annual debt service is paid. This is because the 3% surcharge is still collected and the matching funds continue to come to Sturbridge – as long as there is a match to be had. This information was verified with the Department of Revenue (DOR), the agency that has regulatory authority over the CPA. Spending will be limited by the amount of funds available in the local Community Preservation Fund or by whatever amounts that voters want to set aside and bank for spending on future projects.

The matching funds from “the state” are not “grant” funds. The money comes from taxpayers – all of us – whenever we buy or sell a home, refinance, discharge a mortgage, or record a deed or municipal lien certificate during a real estate transaction. Those funds are managed by the DOR, and before any of it is distributed to towns in the Commonwealth, we PAY the DOR 5% of that money for the expenses and personnel to administer and distribute the matching funds. That matching money comes from US – the taxpayers – WE fund the CPA on the front end with surcharges on our real estate transactions at the Registries of Deeds and also on the back end with the 3% surcharge on our tax bills.
• Mary Blanchard: We are in agreement that revoking the CPA does not “lower taxes.” But it will help to control spending; the people I have talked with are not under the impression that revoking the CPA lowers taxes and are aware that the 3% surcharge on their tax bills is there until 2030. 

• Priscilla Gimas: $50 absolutely does matter – to many people – and it can make a huge difference in many individual’s lives. There is no cost to Sturbridge if the CPA is revoked, unless one considers going into hock for surplus projects a “cost” or “devastating.” Ms. Gimas, referring to the town of Northampton, is further quoted as saying: “the town [Northampton] tried to revoke the CPA, failed and then saw their bond rating rise.”  With all due respect, I must strongly disagree: according to the town of Northampton’s own press release dated 11/28/11, Moody’s Rating Service assigned an Aa2 rating attributable to Northampton’s “stable tax base, strong tax collections rates, recent appropriations to the stabilization fund and the fact that free cash was not used to balance the budgets in FY2011 or FY2012.”  However, in an 11/30/11 news article, it says Moody’s Rating Service recalibrated its ratings scale a few years ago, and the Aa2 bond rating is actually equivalent to an A1 rating, which is LESS THAN the A+ rating given to the town by the Standard and Poor’s Rating Service in 2010. Rather, the context of the CPA as mentioned in the town’s press release relates to support from the community – NOT specifically to the CPA and its bond rating.

Of utmost importance is taxpayer’s presence and participation at our annual Town Elections and Town Meetings. Resident’s our attendance and votes at Town Meetings influence how much and which pots of money are spent on small and large projects in our town, both CPA-related and non-CPA related. There are just over 9,000 residents in our town, yet only 200-400 people attend these. Please: participate and help to make spending decisions. Your vote DOES matter!

Carol Childress

1 comment:

  1. Are we out of the woods yet?Saturday, March 03, 2012

    The more "we" spend, the more it costs us. The more "we" borrow, the more we owe. The more "we" are allowed to borrow, the more "we" feel the need to borrow. The more "we" get the more "we" need. We need to stop this madness. Eliminating or making more difficult the ability to spend and borrow beyond Prop 2 1/2 will help to slow the cycle.
    In listening to the requests for more staff in recent meetings, it seems that "we," in the work being done on the trails and open spaces, (lands paid or borrowed for by the CPC) are causing money to be spent in many paid working hours for our town employees - in the area of conservation, etc.
    Someone is spending a lot of time and money in the woods, but cannot see the forest for the trees.


Anonymous comments not accepted, and will be rejected. Please use your full name. Choose "Name / URL" and enter your name, and your name ONLY. Leave "URL" blank.