Preserve Pittsfield pushing hard for Community Preservation Act


PITTSFIELD — Local preservationists have stepped up their campaign seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars toward fixing up the city's historic buildings, saving open space, rehabilitating municipal parks and creating affordable housing.

Preserve Pittsfield is pushing hard for voters to adopt the state Community Preservation Act (CPA), Question 5 on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The group Thursday night held an informational meeting at First Church of Christ Congregational outlining how the funding source would benefit the city in the long run.

"We want to make Pittsfield more liveable, more desirable so you have more people moving here and more people living here," said CPA supporter Megan Whilden, the city's former cultural development director.

In adopting the act, Pittsfield would join Becket, 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.

Pittsfield is one of 16 Massachusetts cities and towns — including Boston — voting on a CPA referendum next month.

Based on fiscal 2015 projects, Pittsfield would have raked in nearly $500,000 in city and state funds under the CPA funding mechanism.

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 Stuart Saginor, executive director of the statewide Community Preservation Coalition.

Given Pittsfield's commercial tax rate is higher than the residential rate, Kermit Goodman felt the CPA would hurt the business community.

"It's magnified manyfold on commercial property ... you're putting an unfair burden on them," he said.

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

As for the state's CPA fund contribution, it's twofold: A portion of registry of deeds fees designated to the account, supplemented with surplus cash through the state Legislature. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue allocates the money to CPA communities, with a roughly 30 percent match being the norm the past four years, Saginor said.

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.

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

CPA supporters noted of the 8,100 CPA projects across the commonwealth since the law took effect 15 years ago, half have been for historic preservation. In Pittsfield, the former St. Mary the Morning Star Church on Tyler Street is a possible candidate for CPA money.

Active houses of worship could also apply for CPA money, according to John Dickson, chairman of the Pittsfield Historical Commission speaking as a private citizen.

"A number of churches are at risk in the community of maintaining themselves," he said.

As for the housing component, Saginor 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, such as Springside Park in Pittsfield and to create new ones, possibly a dog park.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233


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