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Quincy looks for more state funding for Community Preservation projects

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  April 26, 2013 05:10 PM

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Quincy officials are hoping to receive more money from the state for projects done under the city’s Community Preservation Act program, and have started the process to get the change onto the November ballot.

“The sooner we get it on [the ballot], the more we can get the word out about how this could benefit Quincy taxpayers,” said City Councilor Doug Gutro, who is spearheading the initiative.

As it works now, money for Community Preservation projects comes from a 1 percent surcharge on residents' property tax bills. That pool of money is then matched in part by the state.

The law, passed by ballot vote in Quincy in 2006, can be used for a limited scope of projects, including historic preservation, purchase of open space, or creation of affordable housing.

Yet the change, known as “Blended CPA”, would enable the city to not only use that surcharge revenue toward CPA projects, but would allow the city to use other revenues as well.

For example, money from the city’s hotel/motel tax could be allocated to a project, as could revenue from the meals tax. Coupled with the surcharge funds, the result would be a bigger pool of money, resulting in a larger state match.

“If we had $1 million in CPA and got $250,000 match, if we had another $1 million in hotel/motel, it could be another $250,000,” Gutro said, using approximate numbers. “We’re talking a substantial potential match augmentation to the match we get.”

The city is already doing this in some extent – using hotel/motel money for park and recreation space improvement – both of which now qualify for Community Preservation Act funding.

Without the change to “Blended CPA”, however, Gutro said the city is leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table.

Gutro has asked the city’s solicitor to draft language for the change, which would have to be approved by the voters in November. Once drafted, the City Council will have to vote to put the initiative on the ballot.

“It’s a real opportunity to be eligible for additional revenues in the city of Quincy that don’t burden local taxpayers,” Gutro said.

According to Stuart Saginor, Executive Director of the Community Preservation Coalition, Quincy is the first community that has already passed the Community Preservation Act to request a change to Blended CPA.

The language, initially suggested in part by former Quincy Mayor William Phelan in 2005, was meant to entice new communities to join CPC.

Passed last summer, the Blended CPA has been adopted only by Salem and Sommerville.

“You’re seeing Quincy’s influence first, because they were part of the group…that designed this provision,” Saginor said.

Saginor didn’t expect many other communities to be able to adopt a similar provision, as municipal budgets don’t commonly have a lot of wiggle room. Bit for those that do have the additional revenue streams that aren’t already dedicated for a project or use, the Blended CPA makes a lot of sense, Saginor said.

He noted, however, that for those communities with “Blended CPA,” communities could only allocate additional money up to three percent of their property tax bill.

Community Preservation Act only allows for city to request up to three percent surcharge on resident’s property tax bill. Because Quincy already has a one percent surcharge, they could only add revenues to bring that up to three percent.

“They have a traditional surcharge of 1 percent right now, so each year, they could decide whether they wanted to put in up to an additional 2 percent, and if they do they qualified for a higher match from statewide CPA trust fund. They get to decide that each year,” Saginor said.

When the city would have to make that allocation was not certain, as the state Department of Revenue has yet to formulate all the rules surrounding the new Blended CPA law.

The change is a lot to explain to taxpayers, who Gutro said might not even realize there is a ballot vote until the day of.

With such a big head start, Gutro is hoping to educate the public on why they should pass the law before the vote even comes to fruition.

“I don’t want to run the risk of hurrying something through in September or not getting the vote done in time,” Gutro said. “ … It benefits every neighborhood in the city and [we] can promote that through the city in different meetings and events.”

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