Tuesday’s election to feature single contest, CPA voteBy Jay Turner
A lone contest to fill a vacancy on the Housing Authority and a ballot question on the adoption of the Community Preservation Act will be the two major attractions in the upcoming townwide election scheduled for Tuesday, April 3.
The rest of the ballot will resemble the past few elections, with a bunch of incumbents and a smattering of newcomers all running unopposed. They include Selectman Avril Elkort, who is seeking her ninth consecutive term, Selectman Sal Salvatori, who is running for a fourth straight term, and Planning Board member Jeremy Comeau, who is after a third straight term. Other incumbents running unopposed for reelection are Town Clerk Tracy Kenney, Assessor Rocco Digirolamo, School Committee member Cynthia Thomas, and library trustees Joyce Wiseman and Joan Schottenfeld.
In addition, newcomer Beth Magann is running unopposed for library trustee, and former Board of Health member Dr. Richard Levrault is seeking a return to the post in place of Paul Alfano, who is running instead for Housing Authority.
Alfano, a former Housing Authority employee, will square off against former authority board member John McSweeney, who served consecutive five-year terms from 1985 to 1995. The single seat became available after Ronald Grinnell, who was last elected in 2010, resigned from the board earlier this year.
Alfano, who is coming off a seven-year stint with the Board of Health, previously held a summer maintenance position with the Housing Authority mowing lawns as a teenager.
“The Housing Authority holds a special place in my love of Canton,” Alfano wrote in a recent letter to the editor.
Alfano believes his experience on the Board of Health would make him an asset to the authority, and he has pledged to do what he can to make all housing smoke-free before the end of his term.
His other top priority, if elected, would be to rehabilitate the authority’s existing buildings, and he is confident he could help in this area, citing his past experience on the town’s Building Renovation Committee.
Alfano’s opponent, McSweeney, also considers himself uniquely qualified, having already served the authority for two terms.
McSweeney said he left the board in 1995 to devote more time to his family and career. Now semi-retired and ready to return to public service, he believes his combination of education — including a master’s degree in public administration — and his many years of experience working in facilities management would make him an “ideal candidate” for the Housing Authority position.
Both candidates also weighed in on the ballot question, which asks voters to adopt the Massachusetts Community Preservation Act (CPA), described by the commonwealth as an “innovative tool for communities to address important community needs and finance specific community preservation acquisitions and initiatives.”
Approval of the CPA would allow the town to create a dedicated funding source that would be used for open space protection, historic preservation, affordable housing and outdoor recreation.
In Canton, the funding would be generated through a 1 percent surcharge on the annual real estate tax levy, excluding the first $100,000 of taxable property and with exemptions for low-income housing and low- or moderate-income senior housing. In addition, the state would match an estimated 25 percent of the funds raised locally.
Alfano said he supports passage of the CPA, in large part because it requires at least 10 percent of the funds raised annually to be set aside for affordable housing — which can include housing for seniors. Alfano also noted that the town’s residents already contribute to CPA projects, since the funding that comes from the state is derived from a surcharge on real estate transactions at the state’s registries of deeds.
“No longer should Canton let the proceeds from housing sales in Canton go to neighboring towns when we could keep and use the funds at home,” he said.
As for McSweeney, he counts himself among the group of voters who support the CPA in principle but oppose it for Canton — at least for the time being.
“I think it’s a good act,” he said, “but the timing isn’t good for it. I don’t think, with the economy the way that it is, that it’s appropriate at this time.”
The leadership of the Canton Association of Business and Industry expressed similar sentiments during a recent appearance before the Board of Selectmen, and just last week four of the five selectmen voiced their own opposition to the measure, citing concerns over the additional tax burden while also agreeing that the town has sufficient open space and affordable housing.
The CPA’s supporters, on the other hand, contend that the benefits of the program would greatly outweigh the costs, which have been pegged at around $42 per year for the average homeowner.
Among the greatest benefits, they say, is the ability to decide as a community how to spend the funds, as well as the ability to leverage those funds to accomplish larger projects in partnership with non-profit and for-profit developers.
Supporters also argue that the CPA would help stimulate the local economy and create new jobs by putting people to work on restoration and housing projects. Furthermore, they say the CPA money could be used on municipal projects, thus freeing up capital dollars to be spent on other community needs.
“Just look at what other towns have accomplished with CPA,” noted Deb Sundin, the chairman of the Conservation Commission and a driving force behind this latest effort to adopt the act in Canton.
Sundin, who is president of the Voters for the Preservation of Canton, a pro-CPA political action committee, believes the best arguments for the program can be found in the various “missed opportunities” that have come and gone since 2006 — the last time the CPA was considered by the voters in Canton.
Among the examples, she said, is a piece of property on Reservoir Pond that could have been acquired by the town to facilitate greater access to the waterway. Instead, it was snatched up by a developer who is now constructing a condo project on the site.
The good news, according to Sundin, is that there are many other opportunities that the town could still take advantage of with CPA funds — everything from recreational facilities on York Street to the preservation of the historic Revere barn and copper rolling mill at the former Plymouth Rubber site.
Supporters are also quick to point out that any CPA expenditure would be thoroughly vetted through a two-step approval process — first by a five- to nine-member Community Preservation Committee, and then by the voters at annual town meeting.
Then again, adoption of the measure would still have its price — in this case, a higher property tax bill — and there continues to be concern about the state matching funds, which have dropped precipitously since 2007, from a high of 100 percent to its current rate of approximately 25 percent.
Despite this fact, Sundin said there is a good chance the distribution will increase as the real estate market improves. In the meantime, she said, “25 percent is still a pretty darn good return on your investment.”
At this point, with only four days until the election, Sundin has been encouraged by the response from residents and remains hopeful that the measure will pass come Tuesday.
And while she would love to have the support of the business community and every town official, Sundin said the CPA supporters are perfectly content with allowing the voters to decide.
“It’s really up to the town at this point,” she said. “As citizens, they are certainly entitled to their vote.”
Polls will be open to all registered Canton voters between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. at four locations: Canton High School for precincts one and six; Dean S. Luce School for precinct two; Blue Hills Regional for precinct three; and John F. Kennedy School for precincts four and five. A precinct map is also available at the town clerk’s website: www.town.canton.ma.us/Clerks/precincts.htm.
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