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Beverly

Activists making push for CPA tax

Surcharge would fund preservation initiatives

More than a decade after Beverly turned down the Community Preservation Act, a group of residents is seeking to build support for the city’s adoption of the law.

The group recently conducted an online community survey and is planning to meet with organizations across the city with a tentative goal of having a proposal placed on the ballot of the November state election.

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“There are a lot of good projects in Beverly that we would be able to fund through this initiative,’’ said Robert Buchsbaum, a former member of the city’s Open Space and Recreation Committee and a leader of the advocacy group Community Preservation Beverly.

The act allows cities and towns to levy a property tax surcharge of up to 3 percent to support affordable housing, open space, historic preservation, and recreation initiatives. Currently, 148 Massachusetts cities and towns have adopted the law, 20 in this region.

“We’re not asking residents to pay very much money,’’ said Buchsbaum, whose group estimates its proposal - for a 1 percent surcharge - would cost the average homeowner $42 per year. “It’s money that would be locally used and locally controlled.’’

In 2001 Beverly voters rejected the CPA at a 3 percent surcharge level. As with that proposal, the current one would exempt the first $100,000 of the value of each home. It would also exempt the properties of low-income residents and moderate-income residents over 60.

For Beverly to accept the CPA, the City Council must first vote to place the question on the ballot, where it would then have to be approved by voters. However, the proposal could also reach the ballot through a citizens’ petition.

City Council president Paul M. Guanci said he believes a majority of the council would support the proposal’s being on the ballot.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s such a small percentage. It could work out pretty well for a community like Beverly,’’ Guanci said, noting that the city lacks the funds to purchase open space and preserve historic properties.

Although he supports putting it before voters, Guanci said he is personally “on the fence’’ over the proposal because of its tax impact.

Ward 1 Councilor Maureen Troubetaris said she also supports putting the proposal on the ballot, believing it should be “up to the people.’’

Troubetaris said she would probably vote in favor of adopting the law. But she said it is an open question whether voters will embrace it because of the economic hardship many still face.

“They are getting to the end of their ropes,’’ she said.

The current bid to win support for the CPA follows a previous effort in 2010 that was led by some of the same residents. Buchsbaum said the prior campaign lost steam because his group decided the timing wasn’t right.

The current effort began with the online survey. Although conceding it was targeted to groups interested in the types of uses the CPA would fund, Buchsbaum said preliminary results of the survey showed general support for adopting the law.

Should the group decide to seek a ballot vote this November, it would need to secure a vote from the council by June.

“It’s a matter of whether there’s time to put together a credible campaign by November,’ said Buchsbaum, a conservation scientist with Massachusetts Audubon.

Buchsbaum noted that 42 percent of cities and towns have adopted the law.

“This isn’t revolutionary,’’ he said, observing that “a good number of our neighboring towns have adopted it and done some cool projects with the funding they get.’’

“This could support preserving the carriage house at Lynch Park,’’ he said. “It could support protecting lands for open space and connecting existing lands. It could provide more recreational opportunities. It could act as seed money for affordable housing.’’

“CPA funds would help us preserve things that matter to us,’’ said Marilyn McCrory, a member of Community Preservation Beverly and of the Open Space and Recreation Committee.

Proponents also point to dollars the city would receive should it adopt the law.

Local CPA revenues are matched by a state trust fund generated from fees at registries of deeds. Until fiscal 2007, that match was 100 percent, but it has since fallen. In the last distribution round in October, communities got a 26.6 percent first-round match. Communities with 3 percent surcharges received more funds in additional rounds.

“It’s still something,’’ Buschbaum said. “We’re already paying into the trust fund. Why not get something back from it?’’

McCrory said adoption of the CPA would bring the city about $150,000 in state revenues. She said CPA revenues could also provide the local match needed for the city to access other grants.

“For a small investment, we get a big return, revenue that the city missing out on now,’’ said McCrory, a member of the Open Space and Recreation Committee.

Don Preston, president of Habitat for Humanity, North Shore, and a member of Community Preservation Beverly, said he has seen firsthand the benefits of the CPA from his work with Habitat in Peabody.

Peabody has provided affordable housing and historic preservation money from its Community Preservation Fund to help finance Habitat’s project to convert a former industrial site to affordable housing, Preston said.

While adoption of the CPA would add to local taxes, Preston said, residents would get a return on their investment.’’

“It’s things that make Beverly, Beverly. Those are the things that the CPA stands to help,’’ he said.

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