Gloucester manages about 18 playgrounds and a collection of playing fields and parks from Burnham's Field to Magnolia Woods.
A good bit of them, city officials say, could use some reinvestment.
Now, a proposed amendment to the state's Community Preservation Act could let them do just that.
The state's House of Representatives has unanimously approved an amendment to the state's Community Preservation Act (CPA). That amendment would double the state match for cities and towns and widen the scope of how CPA funds can be used — including for the maintenance of current municipal open spaces, not just ones purchased previously with CPA dollars. The amendment passed with the House budget Wednesday night.
"The only way we could fix up what we already had is if the land was purchased through CPA," said Community Preservation Committee Chairwoman Sandra Dahl-Ronan. "CPA was only in existence in 2000."
Gloucester adopted the statute with voters' approval in 2008.
Dahl-Ronan said the proposed amendment would allow the city to use those revenues to do some work at places like city ball fields and Newell Stadium.
The CPA, signed into law by then-Gov, Paul Cellucci in 2000, allows municipalities to assess a surcharge of up to 3 pe cent on property tax bills to pay for historic rehabilitation, housing, and open space preservation projects. Gloucester taxpayers pay a 1 percent property tax surcharge, Rockport taxpayers pay the surcharge limit of 3 percent, while Essex tacks on 0.5 percent and Manchester adds 1.5 percent.
State Sen. Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, said he's looking to add a similar amendment to the Senate Budget, scheduled for a vote late next month. He said he's focused on adding language that would allow CPA money be used for playing fields that weren't paid for with CPA. Specifically for projects like Newell Stadium, which, Tarr said, got him focused on that.
"The goal should be to have good playing fields regardless of when they were acquired," he said.
But there's a limited amount of CPA funding to go around regardless of the additional uses. When the state started the Community Preservation Act, Dahl-Ronan said it matched at 100 percent. Currently, that match is down to 22 percent because of lower deeds revenues and more cities and towns adopting the CPA statute.
The House amendment proposes adding another $25 million to the Community Preservation trust fund, which matches city CPA revenues. The fund now garners about $26 million each year from fees on real estate transactions.
At the moment, Gloucester has around 11 projects seeking CPA funding. The projects, worth $590,000 combined, are seeking about $319,000 in CPA support.
The city maintains a substantial number of parks, playgrounds, trails and ball fields, Steve Winslow, the city's community development project manager. said. The priority, he said, is to take care of what the city owns already, rather than acquire new land for open space. CPA as it stands, he said, can only be used to purchase new property or maintain property purchased with CPA funding.
"What we haven't had is enough resources to improve those (areas) in a good way," said Winslow.
Gloucester has a strong park system, but lacks the resources to make substantial improvements to them, he said. The city, he said, sought several grants but didn't get them for repairing Burnham's Field, and the CPA funding could go to do some capital improvement kind of work there. Other parks, like Stage Fort and Magnolia Woods could use the help as well, he said.
While Newell Stadium wasn't eligible for CPA funding in 2010, said Gloucester Fishermen's Athletic Association fundraising chief Dick Wilson, the GFAA will apply for some of those funds if the Senate passes the bill. CPA will help, he said, but in 2010 it wouldn't have made more than a dent in the fund-raising efforts.
"We're still going to apply for it," Wilson said.
The changes, said John McElhenny, Open Space and Recreation Committee chairman, are consistent with what the committee's been working on. Having the option to use CPA if substantial improvements are necessary, he said, is important for maintaining some of the only green spaces that central Gloucester has. The parks and ball fields, he said, are great assets, and used by a lot of people.
"This is good news for any kid who plays basketball at Burnham's Field, uses the playground at Stage Fort Park or plays soccer at Magnolia Woods - any existing park, playground or athletic field in Gloucester. This change would make it easier to raise money to improve those places," McElhenny said.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.