Selectmen endorse Community Preservation Act exemption; Oppose surcharge reductionThis week, Duxbury selectmen unanimously rejected the proposal to reduce the Community Preservation Act surcharge to one percent while endorsing the plan to create a $100,000 exemption to the CPA tax.

The selectmen’s votes were taken Monday at their meeting. The votes are public position statements without any official effect.

Instead, it will be up to Duxbury voters at the Nov. 6 election to decide the fate of these two measures that affect the town’s Community Preservation Act. Both appear as questions on Duxbury’s ballot.

Ballot question 4 asks voters to exempt the first $100,000 of assessed value from being included in the three percent Community Preservation Act tax surcharge. This exemption is allowed under the Act.

Voters passed this measure at the 2012 March annual town meeting.

With taxes rising to pay for new capital projects such as the middle and high school, the police station, and fire station, the Community Preservation Committee proposed the exemption to mitigate some of the impact of the CPA surcharge.

The exemption will decrease the amount garnered by the surcharge by about $100,000 to $200,000. The total of CPA funds collected annually is expected to decrease to $1.1 million from $1.2 or $1.3 million.

If ballot question 4 passes at the Nov. 6 election, it will not take effect until 2014 due to a waiting period required by the Community Preservation Act.

Ballot question 5 proposes to lower the CPA surcharge on property taxes from three percent to one percent. It gained voter approval at the annual town meeting.

Proponents of ballot question 5 say this measure will not eliminate the CPA, but will reduce its tax burden on those who will be struggling to pay their taxes after they increase due to the recent capital projects.

Bill Campbell urged selectmen to remember residents, especially senior citizens on fixed incomes, who will be facing larger property tax bills as well as projected increases in Medicare payments.

Lowering the surcharge to one percent doesn’t “gut” the CPA, he said.

Jim Sullivan of Carriage Lane said that reducing the surcharge to one percent will free up funds that can pay for more “critical projects” such as the new police and fire stations.

“Lowering it to one percent doesn’t shut off the flow, it just slows down the flow for a while so we can concentrate on other priorities,” said Sullivan. “It’s a luxury that maybe we can’t afford right now.”

Opponents to the surcharge reduction said that the CPA has helped the town control its growth and development, protected open space, saved historic public buildings, and jump started the town’s efforts to provide affordable housing.

CPC member Holly Morris cited a report from the 2000 Land Acquisition Task Force that sought to protect land by recommending that every three out of ten acres be saved from development. This totaled 1,500 acres, she said.

To date, the CPA has protected 500 acres, said Morris, and prevented a potential of 85 homes from being built. The town spent $11.4 million in taxes, state matching funds, grants and donations on open space.

“Today, we are one-third of the way there,” said Morris about the 1,500 acre goal.

Before the CPA, Morris said the town chose to borrow funds to pay for large tracts of open space like the 350 acre Waiting Hill preserve or a portion of land at Camp Wing. However, she said the purchase price of Waiting Hill may have been $3.4 million but it cost tax payers an additional $1.4 million in interest charges to pay back the bond.  Buying land using CPA funds eliminates those excess interest charges, she said.

“We can do this the old fashioned way by borrowing, but personally I don’t think the residents have an appetite for more borrowing,” said Morris.

Last month, town borrowed $83.447 million for the recent construction projects, including the new middle and high schools.

CPC member Pat Loring said that the state legislature offered the Community Preservation Act to cities and towns as a way to balance their growth without going into debt. She said that there was still a lot of land in Duxbury that should be purchased to conserve it and that it can take years of negotiation before a project reaches voters at town meeting.

“The CPA and that revenue is our only way to do it,” said Loring.

Mary Lynn Carson of Washington Street said that reducing the surcharge “effectively hobbles the CPA because it doesn’t allow us to buy the land the way Duxbury is used to.”

Selectman Shawn Dahlen said that even if the CPA surcharge is reduced, the town would continue to try to take land out of development.

“The town won’t stop bringing forward opportunities to buy open space,” said. “The CPA has done a good job taking a small amount of money from each individual and parlaying it into some bigger purchases.”

Dahlen pointed out that because the town received a lower interest rate on the construction projects bond than it had projected, that residents’ tax bills will not increase as much as initially thought.

The $100,000 exemption will help as well, he said.

Sullivan felt that any savings the town could take on taxes was necessary: “We can’t dismiss small efforts to cut areas that can be cut,” he said.