When Massachusetts launched the Community Preservation Act in 2000, allowing cities and towns to tap into a pool of state money if community voters agreed to add a surcharge of up to 3 percent on local property taxes, the state was matching cities' and towns contributions at 100 percent.
That was a decent deal, and the combined revenue offered communities a chance to undertake a variety of new projects that fell within CPA guidelines.
But as more and more communities came aboard, the state — which generates its side of the CPA money from property deed transfer fees — backed off the match, to the point where it now stands at 22 percent. That's not such a great deal — especially considering communities like Gloucester and Rockport have already borrowed heavily against their own CPA funds to finance projects like the City Hall restoration and renovations to the Rockport Community House.
While the CPA at the start was seen as very optional — that communities could repeal it if voters opted to do so — that's no longer the case in Gloucester and Rockport, which must at least cover the debt service for those projects. And those burdens have fallen more on local taxpayers as the state kept puling back its "matching" grants.
Thankfully, that may finally be changing. The state's House of Representatives this week approved a series of reforms to the CPA through a budget amendment that could double the funding available to cities and towns, while also allowing more flexibility in the projects they can pursue.
The bottom line is that this new amendment, which still mst clear the Senate, would not only restore the state's contribution closer to what voters signed on for in the first place; it would give communities more control over how the money is spent.
That truly is a win-win scenario for all — and might even restore some voters faith that the CPA is well worth the local investment.