One article in the March 10 Town Warrant aims to reduce the Community Preservation Act surcharge from three percent to one percent on property taxes. Another would exempt the first $100,000 of the assessed value of the residential property. The first was proposed by citizen petition, the other by Duxbury’s Community Preservation Committee (CPC) -- both are the result of an expected jump in local taxes due to multiple building projects
“We’re going to be faced with some very severe tax increases shortly,” said Thomas Chapman, the man behind the effort to decrease the surcharge to one percent. “Some of the projects (the CPC) has chosen to fund have been nice to have, but not necessary.”
As examples, Chapman cited a fiscal year (FY) 2010 appropriation of $55,000 in taxpayer dollars by the CPC to the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church to replace windows; an FY 2011 matching appropriation of $90,000 to the not-for-profit Crossroads for Kids to restore the Isaac Keene Barn (in December, the CPC recommended another dollar-for-dollar match of $205,000 for this year’s Warrant); and the hotly contested Blairhaven appropriation of $3.15 million passed at the last Town Meeting. Chapman questioned why private entities such as Crossroads for Kids, with assets of over $10 million, are coming back to taxpayers again – or at all.
“Crossroads has plenty of money,” said Chapman, noting the initial phase of the barn restoration resulted in inaccurate features being implemented into the design. In an earlier December 2011 hearing, the CPC did ask that the barn be properly restored and held off recommending further funding unless Crossroads complied. Continued Chapman, “If they feel it’s a priority, they should appropriate the funds.”
Chapman also expressed dismay that the committee voted to recommend that the Duxbury Free Library (DFL) be allocated $15,290 to restore the front of the building.
“Those front doors are less than 10 years old,” said Chapman.
When asked if the doors were being replaced as part of the proposed restoration, DFL director Carol Jankowski appeared bemused.
“No, I don’t know exactly what he’s referring to,” said Jankowski. “What we’re asking for is to have the entire area restored.”
Jankowski clarified that the Trane Field entrance doors would remain, but that among several areas of need, the original façade and joists in the capstone needed to be repaired and power-washed for preservation purposes.
While Chapman said he hasn’t attended any CPC hearings or written letters to express his opinion on items submitted before the committee, he did say he’s voted on CPC articles that have come before Town Meeting.
CPC member Holly Morris said she and the other members of the committee understand the burden placed on Duxbury taxpayers with the passage of the new fire and police departments, crematorium and newly passed middle/high school building. That’s why she and her committee members have been brainstorming ways in which to ease the financial commitment on the people of Duxbury without endangering the town’s commitment to preservation – or eligibility for state matching funds.
She explained Massachusetts Community Preservation Act’s complicated funding mechanism gives priority to municipalities that meet the highest commitment of three percent. Those three percent communities are eligible for the initial matching funds and are then rewarded by the state by being entered into subsequent rounds of funding.
“Last October, we received approximately $323,000 from the state,” said Morris. “Then there was another distribution of $24,000, then another round of $14,000. We essentially got $40,000 from the state in excess of our matching funds. If we had only two percent match, we would get the (lesser) state match, but not those successive funds.”
Morris said the CPC’s article to exclude the first $100,000 from property taxes would enable Duxbury to maintain the three percent surcharge without penalty of losing those successive funds.
The chairman of the CPC, John Bear, said he was acutely aware that the committee would be the unintended beneficiary of the new tax rates and that committee members wanted to mitigate that without compromising the town’s – and the Act’s -- long-term goals of preservation, restoration, affordable housing and recreation. He said the best option was the $100,000 exemption, the only rate the state offers as an exemption. The committee’s concern was if the surcharge were reduced, it might never be restored and it’s at a level now where real work can be done.
“We have been able, we think, to cover good programs with the level we had,” said Bear. “We didn’t need to increase it and we didn’t want to add to people’s tax load.”
When asked why he and the rest of the committee members offered to reduce their operating budget at all, a rarity in government at every level, Bear smiled. “Because we’re not in government. It’s not like we’ll have larger empires of staff and civil service. It’s just people wanting to do the right thing.”
Several people who were asked their opinion at the Duxbury Free Library said they either didn’t have one or didn’t know enough about the issue to comment. Not Duxbury’s Kathy Melymuka. She and her daughter, Alison, were resolute.
“I don’t like it at all,” said Melymuka. “I think preservation is super important. We spend a lot of time on recreational land and so do other people. It’s extremely well used.”
Alison nodded her head in agreement. “It’s definitely one of the best uses of taxpayer’s money in town.”