Pittsfield Council OKs ballot question on Community Preservation Act
PITTSFIELD — City councilors have unanimously approved a November ballot referendum on whether Pittsfield should adopt the state Community Preservation Act.
The change, if approved by voters, would allow a 1 percent surcharge on most property tax bills and also provide the city access to grants from a state fund derived from real estate transaction fees.
The resulting funding could be used for a variety of preservation projects, which must be recommended by a committee set up to monitor the program and vet proposals.
The surcharge was proposed in a citizen petition to the council, which voted Tuesday to place a question on the Nov. 8 ballot. Supporters suggested a 1 percent charge on property tax bills — the percentage is determined by the community — along with having the first $100,000 of assessed property value exempted from the surcharge, plus other exemptions for low-income residents, seniors and veterans owning homes.
If approved, the program would take effect July 1 for fiscal 2018. On the average-valued single-family home currently taxed at $176,000 valuation, the owner would pay about $14 more in the first year, according to CPA supporters.
Communities that adopt the CPA receive funding from the state that is derived from a tax on real estate transactions that city residents currently pay along with other state residents. Supporters have argued that Pittsfield, which rejected a similar proposal to adopt the act in 2006, could have received in the range of $1 million since that time in state funding for local projects.
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 revenue source.
Among types of local projects that would be eligible for funding are efforts to preserve or reuse historic structures or upgrade recreational spaces, and projects to clean up or revive commercial areas of the city.
More information on the CPA program can be found at https://preservepittsfield.org.
John Dickson, of the Historical Commission, was one of several speakers favoring the proposal during the public comment portion of the council meeting. He noted the exemptions for lower-income taxpayers and the low annual cost for the average-valued home.
Dickson added that he sometimes ponders whether the former Plunkett School on First Street, which was razed two years ago by the developer of a Dunkin' Donuts restaurant, could have been save for reuse with help from a CPA fund.
Also on Tuesday, the council formally accepted a $31,000 gift from the Buddy Pellerin Field Committee toward improvements for Clapp Park, where the field is located. George "Buddy" Pellerin, a legendary Pittsfield High School baseball coach, died July 4.
Jim McGrath, the city's open space and natural resource manager, said the first phase of an improvement project at Clapp Park will include a new scoreboard, fencing and a baseball batting cage. A Sept. 18 dedication ceremony is planned, he said.
"I am thrilled that we are starting to do things there," said Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers. "The park is one of our gems."
More information on Pellerin Field can be viewed at www.pellerinfield.org
The council also approved several easements to allow a $3 million project to upgrade the intersection of West Housatonic, Center and Elizabeth streets.
Commissioner of Public Services David Turocy said the state-funded project will improve the turning radius for large trucks and include sidewalk, signaling, street alignment and other upgrades. Traffic now often backs up at the busy intersection, especially when trucks are attempting to turn from Center onto West Housatonic Street, he said.
Work is expected to begin in the spring.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.
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