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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Residents Help Steer Community Preservation Act Plan

The Community Preservation Act Committee held their second of two community meetings on Monday May 12th at the East Somerville Community School, attended by many residents and two elected officials. Legally, the group only has to hold one public hearing, however, as member Michael Capuano Jr explained, they wanted to have one on each end of the City to gather as much feedback as they possibly could. There is also an opportunity to submit written feedback until May 31st by mail to Emily Monea, SomerStat, 93 Highland Ave., Somerville, MA 02143 or by email to emonea@somervillema.gov.

During the meeting, the Committee outlined their priorities while reminding attendees what projects are allowable, by law, to be funded by the revenue of the CPA tax that was approved by a staggering 76% of the vote. This was the second highest winning margin for this ballot question. In total, 155 communities have adopted the CPA as a way to fund historic preservation, open space, outdoor recreation and affordable housing initiatives.

The CPA can generate between $1.5 - $3.5 million between three sources that include Surcharge revenue (~$1.2 million), City appropriation (Discretionary, up to ~$1.2 million), and State match (~25-50% on surcharge revenue and City appropriation). The Committee highly recommended always supporting an increase of the State match which currently stands at 23%.

The purpose of the CPA Committee is to prepare a budget for Board of Aldermen approval, make project recommendations, create and maintain a CPA Plan. The Committee consists of 9 members that can serve two consecutive 3-year terms. The Committee must represent the areas of: Conservation Commission, Historic Preservation Commission, Housing Authority, Planning Board, Parks and Open Space Department, and the General public. The current committee includes: Michael Capuano-Chair and Planning Board, Dick Bauer-Vice Chair and Historic Preservation Commission, Tanya Cafarella-Housing Authority, Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello-General public, Michael Fager-Conservation Commission, Arn Franzen-Parks & Open Space Department, Ezra Glenn-General public, Courtney Koslow-General public, and Uma Murugan-General public.

After the presentation, attendees were welcome to offer their feedback about what projects they would like to see the CPA Committee take into consideration. The Union Square Post Office, maintaining affordable housing in transit-oriented neighborhoods, and preserving art and oral history were some of the suggestions that were given to the group. I, personally, advocated for the coordination of projects with the City's recently released Capital Investments Plan, as well as, consideration for Hoyt-Sullivan and Junction Parks in Ward 5.


The Committee recommendation to hire a consultant to inventory and prioritize the City's needs on the historic preservation front was met with some hesitancy from the public prompting two members of the Historic Preservation Commission to defend the suggestion citing a lack of funding and staffing that has prevented this type of research to be done in the past. The Historic Preservation Commission takes requests on a case-by-case basis with one member doing the research for each property.

An aspect of the application process that I found particularly uncomfortable concerns the relationship of CPA Committee members and the Board of Aldermen to the applicant. As it stands right now, the State of Massachusetts Ethics Laws apply to this situation disallowing any member of either party (CPA Commission or Board of Aldermen) from financially benefiting from the requested project. It is difficult for me to ignore that in, although a round-about way, there could be some financial benefit if certain Somerville organizations are approved for their projects. I did request that the Committee please take historical/current affiliation, as well as, political contributions made by applicants into consideration before approving. I plan on pursuing these concerns further as I would like to see a level-playing field for the issuance of CPA funds.

The Committee plans on accepting applications for funding, reviewing and making recommendations to the Board of Aldermen for approval by early-2015 as it is the Board of Aldermen, ultimately, who decides who receives the funding.

Handout given at the meeting:
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