CPA to go back before voters in upcoming election

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Canton voters will have a little extra drama to look forward to this year on election night thanks to the addition of a fourth ballot question that once again proposes passage of the Community Preservation Act.

Tuesday will mark the third time since 2006 — and the second time in the past calendar year — that residents have been asked to accept or reject the measure, which enables adopting communities to establish a separate fund for the preservation of open space, historic resources, affordable housing, and outdoor recreation.

The last time the CPA came up for a vote in April, it was rejected by a fairly wide margin; however, supporters are banking on far better results during a presidential election, which is why they rushed to get the question back on the ballot by way of a petition rather than revisiting the issue at a future town meeting.

Deb Sundin, who led the petition drive, said the ballot question is seeking the same parameters that were considered in the last election: a 1 percent surcharge on the annual real estate tax levy, excluding the first $100,000 of residential property and with exemptions for low-income residents and low- or moderate-income seniors. The town would also be eligible for annual matching funds distributed through the statewide CPA trust. (Click here to view a pro-CPA video editorial courtesy of Canton Community TV.)

Supporters have characterized the CPA as a “no brainer” and an “investment in the future of Canton” with massive upside and little to no risk for the town. They point to projects all over the state that have been paid for with CPA dollars and dream about similar opportunities in Canton — from the creation of community gardens and new parks to the renovation of historic municipal buildings and improvements to senior housing complexes.

They also note that the program would be heavily vetted, as each potential project, after being selected by a seven- to nine-member committee, would have to be approved by voters at town meeting.

And yet the CPA is not without its critics, most of whom focus on the additional tax burden at a time when the economy is slow to recover. Recently, the Board of Selectmen voted 4-1 to oppose the measure, following the lead of the Canton Association of Business and Industry (CABI) and the Economic Development Committee.

Gene Manning, who is president of the former and chairman of the latter, has insisted that their opposition is based solely on economic forces.

“Basically what it comes down to is a tax inequity in Canton,” said Manning, citing the split tax rate of $11.91 for residences and $24.23 for businesses. “We support the four pillars of the CPA. All of our business owners are very, very sensitive to this.”

Manning added that the business community has been great supporters of the town and the schools over the years and is simply trying to retain its competitive advantage, especially with several neighboring towns not participating in the CPA program. (Click here to view an anti-CPA video editorial courtesy of Canton Community TV.)

Sundin, however, believes the town will have no trouble staying competitive if the CPA were adopted, and she pointed to the town of Braintree, which has a split tax rate and a large business base, as a good comparison. She added that Canton has a history of giving tax breaks to businesses, so “it’s fair to expect that they will support the community in terms of paying their share of taxes.”

But while taxes appear to be the biggest sticking point among CPA opponents, some residents, such as Council on Aging Chairman John Friel, have additional concerns.

Friel believes it is unfair to residents to bring the measure back for a vote without giving them a chance to digest the recent changes to the CPA law, and he worries about the process that seniors must go through to obtain an exemption, which includes filling out a lengthy form that is written in “legalese.”

Sundin, in response, claimed that the ballot question is identical to the one considered in April, while noting that the CPA changes only make the measure more attractive, including a provision that allows communities to fund improvements to existing playgrounds and parks.

The good news for both sides, at least, is that the issue will be decided with good, old-fashioned democracy — at the ballot box on Tuesday, November 6.

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