The BUNS Guide to Ballot Question 5

Written by Rob Carter

By Rob Carter
BU News Service

Bostonians and residents of 15 other municipalities will be voting on whether to approve the use of a Community Preservation Act on Question 5 this Tuesday.

The CPA is a state law which allows for municipalities in Massachusetts to add an additional property tax. The new tax revenue would be dedicated to three areas of community development: affordable housing, public parks and open spaces, and historical site preservation.

The goal of the program is to have businesses with area ties help fund efforts to preserve and improve the community, said Kate Norton of the Yes for a Better Boston Committee. She said that this campaign is “built on a broad-based coalition of community members, businesses, and major corporations.”

In 2001, an attempt to pass a CPA surcharge in Boston failed after it that faced serious opposition from big businesses.

This year there is no organized opposition to Question 5. Norton said this may have contributed to the measure “flying under the radar a bit,” but also stands as a testament to the grassroots campaign’s ability to get businesses to support the question.

Boston is using the CPA to propose an additional 1 percent surcharge to property taxes in the city. In order to not work counter to the goal of generating more affordable housing, the first $100,000 of property value is exempt from this tax. The surcharge will also be waived for low-income families and low-to-moderate income senior citizens.

To help residents figure out exactly how much the surcharge would cost them, the city has released an online calculator that estimates tax increase based on their address. On average, Bostonians should expect to pay $24 more annually if the vote passes, according to Norton.

Even with the modest surcharge (the CPA allows for up to a three percent surcharge) and the possible exemptions passing the ballot initiative would raise $20 million for the city. Based on the structure of the law the exact projects the money from the CPA would go to wouldn’t be decided until after the ballot question won. The vote would implement the surcharge and create a Community Preservation Committee, who would recommend projects to the City Council for approval.

If Boston’s initiative passes it would join 161 communities in Massachusetts which have already approved a CPA surcharge. Also voting on Question 5 this Tuesday are Amesbury, Billerica, Chelsea, Danvers, East Bridgewater, Holyoke, Hull, Norwood, Palmer, Pittsfield, Rockland, South Hadley, Springfield, Watertown and Wrentham.

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