Could the Community Preservation Act fix up Pittsfield's historic buildings, parks?


PITTSFIELD — City voters could decide this fall on raising at least $500,000 toward fixing up local historic buildings, saving open space, rehabilitating municipal parks and creating affordable housing.

On a 4-0 vote the City Council's Ordinance and Rules panel on Tuesday supported asking voters to consider adopting the state Community Preservation Act (CPA). If the full council agrees with the subcommittee's recommendation, a referendum question will be added to the Nov. 8 ballot.

In adopting the act, Pittsfield would join Williamstown, Lenox, Stockbridge and Great Barrington as the only other Berkshire communities among the 161 statewide to add the state-sponsored municipal funding tool as a revenue source.

The councilors support came following an hour-long presentation and discussion on how a combination of a surcharge on real estate property tax bills coupled with state matching funds could boost efforts to improve the city's quality of life. The $500,000 figure discussed during the presentation is based on projections for fiscal 2016, which ended June 30.

If approved, the CPA would take effect next July 1 for fiscal 2018 — adding a 1 percent surcharge on property after the first $100,000 of assessed value. For average single-family homeowner currently taxed at $176,000 valuation, they would pay about $14 more in the first year, according to CPA supporters.

"The $14 is one of the more modest in the state ... this is a very reasonable surcharge," said Stuart Saginar, executive director of the Coalition for Community Preservation.

Saginar pointed out several changes to the state act since city voters rejected the CPA in 2006, such as the small business exemption, which was included in the Pittsfield proposal.

Low-income residents, senior citizens and veterans who own homes would be immune from the surcharge under the Pittsfield CPA ordinance.

Acting as a private citizen, John Dickson, chairman of the Pittsfield Historical Commission, was among residents who petitioned for the CPA ballot question, in part, to take advantage of the accompanying state money.

A portion of registry of deeds fees are automatically designated to the state's CPA fund, distributed annually by the state Department of Revenue only to CPA communities.

Saginar noted a roughly 30 percent match has been the norm the past four years. Pittsfield's match for fiscal 2016 was projected at $114,000.

"What struck me about the CPA was how much money the city was losing," Dickson said.

Veteran real estate broker Beth VanNess said the 254 single-family homes sold last year generated $43,000 from registry fees that went to other CPA communities.

A CPA municipality relies on a Community Preservation Committee to vet all proposals seeking the locally controlled funding.

The panel must include a representative from the Conservation Commission, Historical Commission, Planning Board, a recreation board, Housing Authority and up to four at large members.

"Anyone can apply for funding; the ideas come from the community," Saginar said.

The nine-member panel would make recommendations to the final voting authority, either a city council or town meeting.

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol suggested city-owned Springside Park or the St. Mary the Morning Star Church on Tyler Street are possible candidates for CPA money.

As for the housing component, Saginar noted that about 50 of the 161 CPA communities partner with their local habitat for Humanity organization.

In addition, CPA money could be used toward sprucing up existing city parks and to create new ones, possibly a dog park.

"Recreation is the most popular [CPA use] right now," Saginar said. "You can now spend to fix existing playgrounds and parks."

The CPA first signed into law by Gov. Paul Cellucci in 2000 only allowed money for new recreational facilities.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233


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