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Voters say yes to CPA surcharge

Beverly, Salem, and Somerville are preparing to implement a tax surcharge after voters in all three cities agreed to accept the Community Preservation Act in the Nov. 6 state election.

By a voter ratio of more than 3-1, Somerville said yes to a 1.5 percent addition to their property taxes, while the 1 percent hikes in Beverly and Salem passed by smaller margins.

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The state law allows cities and towns to impose a property tax surcharge of up to 3 percent for affordable housing, open space, historic preservation, and recreation projects. The state provides a partial match — currently 22 percent — of the tax revenue raised.

The CPA proposals are projected to cost average taxpayers $41 in Beverly, $30 in Salem, and $33 in Someville annually.

Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone said the city will immediately begin work on crafting the ordinance to implement the CPA. The measure, which requires the approval of aldermen, would establish a Community Preservation Committee that will be charged with recommending expenditures from the CPA fund. The vote in Somerville was 24,358 for and 7,714 against.

“We are a community which has one orienting value: to make Somerville a great place to live, work, play, and raise families,” said Curtatone, adding that the city’s recently completed 20-year-plan, SomerVision,  lists the CPA as one of the tools it wants to use to accomplish its goals.

Mayors Kimberley L. Driscoll of Salem and William F. Scanlon of Beverly also plan to begin working with their city councils to draft the required local ordinance.

“I’m very happy,” said Driscoll of the 9,646 to 8,073 Salem vote. “It’s a terrific way to invest in your community and it’s great Salem residents supported it and by such a large margin.”

In Salem, a citizens group successfully petitioned to place the CPA question on the ballot when the City Council narrowly declined to do so.

City Council president Joan B. Lovely, who had voted in favor of placing the question on the ballot, anticipates the council will adopt the ordinance needed to implement the law.

“The people have spoken and now it will be up to the council to follow the will of the people,” said Lovely, who was elected to the state Senate Nov. 6.

In Beverly, Scanlon had not taken a position on the ballot question as mayor but said that as a private citizen he planned to vote for it.

“I am pleased, but I note the fact that it was pretty close,” he said of the 10,027 to 9,147 vote. “Obviously, a lot of people aren’t thrilled. I think in the long term it will cause us to do things that are beneficial and that most people will be happy . . . that it did pass.”

Among those who opposed passage of the CPA in Beverly was Elliott Margolis, a member of a group that advocated a “no” vote.

“We’re disappointed,” said Margolis, calling the surcharge an unfair tax that will pose a burden to homeowners and businesses.

“If the Community Preservation Act was a good thing, the city would find the money in its budget to take care of it,” he said of preservation-oriented projects.

All three cities exempt the first $100,000 of the value of residential properties from the surcharge, and Salem and Somerville offer the same exemption for commercial properties. All three exempt the properties of low- and moderate-income seniors and low-income non-seniors.

The three cities were among seven communities that approved the CPA in the statewide election, with two turning it down. In all, 155 municipalities now have adopted the law.

The votes followed an overhaul of the CPA the state Legislature undertook during the summer, in part to make it more attractive to urban communities. Another city, Fall River, adopted the law Tuesday. Three cities in this region — Gloucester, Newburyport, and Peabody — had previously adopted it.

The changes make it easier to use CPA money for recreation projects, and allow communities that adopt a minimum 1 percent surcharge to place other revenues in their CPA fund that would be eligible for the partial state match generated from fees at registries of deeds. The match has fallen from 100 percent to 22 percent in recent years, but is expected to go up next year because lawmakers added $25 million to the state fund.

“It was very rewarding to see that it passed,” said Robert Buchsbaum, a member of a group that advocated for a “yes” vote in Beverly. He said it showed “a sense of community in the town that a majority of people were willing to pay a little extra on real estate taxes to create this fund and get some good projects in Beverly.”

Salem Councilor at Large Thomas H. Furey, who advocated for the CPA, said voters “realized it was going to be a tax of $30 per household but . . . they used their best judgment and said it was an investment for the future.”

Michael D. Allen, a former School Committee member, opposed the question in Salem, as he did in 2007 when voters shot down a previous CPA proposal.

“I’m always disappointed when people vote to raise taxes,” he said. “I believe we do not have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.”

The Somerville committee that advocated for a “yes” vote was elated by the outcome, according to Mary Cassesso, a member of the group.

“We . . . realized the economy was the number one issue and we heard a lot of grumblings about it,” she said of the proposed surcharge. “But we worked very hard and were organized and very united, and sent a strong message to people to take the time to know the issues.”

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.
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