I’m Vice Chair of the City of Newton Community Preservation Committee. I’d like to provide some facts that are relevant to Mayor Fuller’s proposal to use Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to purchase 17 acres of Webster Woods from Boston College. (Full disclosure: I’m also a board member of the Newton Conservators. The board supports Mayor Fuller’s proposal.)
The CPA is a state law that was adopted by Newton voters in 2001. The law allows each city or town that adopts the CPA to levy a surtax in addition to the regular property tax bill. Newton chose to levy a surtax of 1%.
In 2016, the median value of a single-family home in Newton was about $800,000, and its property tax bill was $9,000. The additional CPA surtax of 1% added $90 to the home’s annual tax bill.
CPA revenue is permitted to be spent only on four types of projects: affordable housing, historic preservation, open space protection, and the purchase and rehabilitation of recreational land.
The CPA surtax is expected to generate about $3.6 million in the current fiscal year. In addition, Newton receives considerable state matching funds. All use of CPA funds must be approved first by the 9-member Community Preservation Committee (CPC), and then by the City Council.
In the years since Newton adopted the CPA, the money has been used to acquire or create 148 permanently affordable housing units, to rehabilitate 24 historic buildings, to acquire 30 acres of park and conservation land, and to rehabilitate 91 acres of city-owned playgrounds, parks, and conservation areas.
When the city acquires a small open space parcel, it uses current CPA revenue. But three open space parcels (Kesseler Woods, Newton Community Farm, and the addition to the parkland next to the Crystal Lake Bathhouse) were too expensive to be purchased with current revenue. In each case, the city issued bonds to fund the purchase. The bonds were repaid from CPA revenue over a period of years. Mayor Fuller has proposed that the City Council approve the issuance of CPA-backed bonds to fund the purchase of Webster Woods.
The CPC has adopted target ranges to guide its decisions on how to allocate available revenue among the four types of allowable uses. The target range for open space protection is from 15% to 25% of total CPA revenue. When the CPC reviews the Mayor’s Webster Woods proposal, it will consider how much of the open space target revenue will be needed to pay the debt service on the bonds, and whether devoting these funds to preserving Webster Woods will leave the CPC with sufficient flexibility to fund other open space acquisition projects in the coming years.
To learn more about the CPA in Newton, please visit the CPC website: http://www.newtonma.gov/gov/planning/cpa/default.asp