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Committee recommends adopting Community Preservation Act in Shirley

Committee recommends adopting Community Preservation Act in Shirley
Committee recommends adopting Community Preservation Act in Shirley
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Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct information pertaining to how the CPA surcharges are assessed and the date of the Town Meeting.

SHIRLEY — After nearly a year of meetings, research and outreach, with positive input from nearby towns that have benefited from adopting the Community Preservation Act — Ayer, Groton and Lancaster — the CPA Implementation Committee has concluded that it would be a boon to Shirley, too.

Chair Paul Przybyla presented the committee’s recommendations to the Select Board at its Oct. 17 meeting.

A one-line header might read: We should adopt CPA, here’s why.

Summarizing his group’s 20-page report, Przybyla gave a boiled-down but enlightening overview, sketching the history of the CPA, how it works and how it could benefit the town.

The committee, appointed earlier this year by the Select Board, consists of Przybyla and three other members, Janet Tice, Nancy Henderson and Marie Elwyn, representing the Planning Board, Historic Commission and Conservation Commission, respectively.

Created as an act of the Massachusetts Legislature in 2000, CPA imposes a voluntary surcharge on people’s property tax bills in communities that adopt it, ranging from 1-3%.

Unlike other tax hikes, the CPA surcharge doesn’t affect the tax rate. “This is not a tax rate increase,” Przybyla said.

The committee recommends seeking a 1% surcharge in Shirley, he said, with the first $100,000 in value omitted, plus a couple other exemptions.

Specifically, Shirley’s average property value for a single family home — $365,000 — would generate a surcharge on the annual property tax owed for only $265,000. At 1%, that adds $39 to those annual tax bills, Przybyla said.

According to the law, funds garnered by the towns — enhanced by “matching” funds from the state — are set aside in a CPA account that can only be accessed to help pay for community initiatives and projects in three categories: open space and outdoor recreation, affordable housing and historic preservation, with 10% of the balance set aside for each one of those purposes at the outset.

The remaining 70% may be directed — in full or in part — to any of the three categories.

Estimates based on assessed property values overall suggest that the town could take in $100,000 from CPA surcharges the first year, with an added $32,000 from the state, Przybyla said.

Among other provisions baked into the law, the CPA nest egg is overseen by a committee that includes representatives from town boards related to CPA categories, plus at-large members.

The CPA Committee’s charge includes reviewing project applications and making recommendations to governing bodies such as Town Meeting, which gets the final say on how that money is spent.

Noting pending projects specific to Shirley, Przybyla said that CPA money could help repair and restore historic, town-owned buildings such as the War Memorial Building, School House #8 and the iconic Center Town Hall, which needs a significant amount of work that will call for a hefty infusion of funds, perhaps over several years. If approved as a CPA project, it would have less impact on the town budget.

Privately-owned buildings important to the community are also eligible for CPA funding, such as the Historic Meetinghouse, Przybyla pointed out.

Possibilities Przybyla mentioned are not endless, given the law’s restrictions. But they are persuasive.

With three historic districts in Shirley and a number of community projects envisioned or pending, CPA funds could help cut overall costs to the town and could help key initiatives move forward. Besides the buildings, Przybyla noted a couple: new turf and lights for the town’s athletic fields, for example, and/or replacing the pool liner at Benjamin Hill Park.

Not all the law’s parameters are set in stone. For example, CPA money can be used to leverage loans or to provide the town with required “matching funds” for a government grant, Przybyla said.

On behalf of the committee, he asked the Select Board to include an article on the Nov. 28 Town Meeting warrant, seeking adoption of the CPA.

If it passes by a majority Town Meeting vote, the measure would be be placed on the May 2023 town election ballot, he said, and if townspeople favor it, the next step would be to create the CPA Committee. Once adopted, the surcharge would kick in for the next fiscal year, he said.

The board voted unanimously to insert the warrant article, as requested, and to act on the committee’s recommendations if the CPA is adopted, a move that all three members said they support.

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