Citizens group to ask Pittsfield to adopt Community Preservation Act

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PITTSFIELD — A group of citizens is proposing that the city adopt the Community Preservation Act to raise funds and receive funding from the state toward that preservation of historic structures, open space, parks and playgrounds, or create affordable housing.

A member of the group, John Dickson, who also serves as chairman of the city Historical Commission, said the City Council will be asked Tuesday to allow a referendum question on the November ballot to accept provisions of the act, enabling the program to be instituted in Pittsfield.

Under provisions of the law, which have been adopted by 161 Massachusetts communities, a small percentage of property tax bills is collected each year for preservation projects. In addition, he said, the state provides matching amounts from a trust fund containing money from a surcharge assessed on all real estate transactions.

"This can be a chance to bring some of that money that we are paying back to the community," Dickson said.

The proposal being presented to the council calls for a 1 percent surcharge on city property tax bills, but allows a number of exemptions. The first $100,000 of a property's assessed value is exempt, he said, as is senior housing, low-income housing and other property.

In fact, Dickson said, the law allows the program to be tailored to a community's needs — adding or subtracting exemptions or adjusting the surcharge figures.

As proposed, he said, the 1 percent surcharge on a $200,000 home would be $18.67 per year under the fiscal 2015 tax rate.

The council is expected to send the proposal to a subcommittee for review.

Megan Whilden, another member of the citizen committee, said while this is a difficult time for the city's finances, the CPA program can bring in additional state funding for parks, historical preservation or other priorities.

Those are all investments in the qualify of life in the Berkshires, she said, "which is why businesses want to be here as well."

"These are really economic reasons," she added.

Williamstown, Great Barrington and Lenox in the county are among the 161 communities that have approved the preservation act provisions.

Dickson said interest in the program grew after a wide-ranging community meeting to discuss preserving historic structures — held shortly after a Dunkin' Donuts restaurant was proposed on the former St. Mary the Morning Star Church campus on Tyler Street.

Dickson said information on the CPA proposal is posted at PreservePittsfield.org and at CommunityPreservation.org.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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