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Clarksburg to Consider Community Preservation Act
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
07:04AM / Saturday, February 17, 2024
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CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The Select Board on Thursday voted to place the adoption of the state Community Preservation Act on the town meeting warrant at the request of the Historical Commission.
The state law allows for towns to add up to a 3 percent surcharge on property taxes to fund historical preservation, open space and recreation and affordable housing that can be matched by state monies.
"We've become as a Historical Commission aware of the Community Preservation Act for us in the way of raising funds for historic preservation," Commissioner Susan Brandon told the Select Board. "But there's also other things that these funds can be used for  ... Now, when you hear these things, you're going to think of projects that we're thinking about doing as a town -- protecting open space, preserving historic sites, buildings and resources, developing outdoor recreational facilities, building parks, playgrounds and recreational fields, and creating affordable housing."
The money raised through the surcharge could be matched by up to 100 percent by the state's Community Preservation Trust, she noted. The first round of funding each October would provide an 80 percent match and communities like smaller and less affluent towns can receive another 20 percent match in round two and three. 
"Communities with the lowest equalized property valuations and smallest populations are placed in the most favorable deciles and Clarksburg is rated at decile one and is provided the highest level of funding, a full 100 percent match."
The trust is funded by real estate transaction fees collected by the Registry of Deeds. In fiscal 2023, that came to more than $4 million. There are 196 communities in the state that have adopted the CPA, including Great Barrington, Pittsfield and Williamstown. 
"The monies that are collected from the surcharge stay in our community. We create our own local Community Preservation Fund, overseen by the town accountant and tax collector," Brandon said, adding "the CPA funds can also be used to buy software for the town accountant or tax collector to process the surcharge."
Commission Chair Jeanne Moulthrop read off a long list of projects funded through Great Barrington's CPA Committee that included repairs and renovations at its historic Town Hall, Mason Library and the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center; restoration of the "Newsboy" monument; farmland preservation; creation of and improving trails, and access to the riverfront. 
Williamstown is evaluating nearly $400,000 in requests this year that includes funding for the Affordable Housing Trust, a public fitness court and a skate park. 
The commission has calculated that the town could bring in about $70,000 a year by raising $35,000 with a 100 percent state match. This is based on a 3 percent surcharge along with exemptions of the first $100,000 in property value and for senior and low-income property owners. 
"So we give a little and get a lot," said Brandon.
The average value of a Clarksburg home is $225,151;by exempting the first $100,000, the surcharge would be applied to the taxes of $15.13 per $1,000 valuation on $122,151, which is $1,894. Three percent of that is about $55.44.
"We estimate the 643 taxable parcels at an average of a $55.44 surcharge, which comes to $35,647.92 to be matched by the state at possibly 100 percent," Brandon said, who offered the board a chart showing how it could affect higher properties up to $600,000 ($227).
If adopted, the town would create a Community Preservation Act Committee to review and recommend projects for funding, with the town meeting voting on the final decisions. The committee would consist of representatives from various committees including the Select Board and the surcharge would be billed as part of the real estate tax. 
"I guess we are hoping that you will support this effort because without your supporting that work going forward to bring it to the community or, you know, to a ballot question in November," said Moulthrop.
Brandon and Moulthrop said they had lots of information to share and warrant language provided through the Community Preservation Coalition. Town meeting would have to vote to put it on the ballot at the next town or state election. 
"I'm not opposed to this going on the warrant," said Select Board Vice Chair Daniel Haskins. "Just put it to the residents to vote on.  ... We've got in the ballpark $35,000, and we're getting $35,000 value back so over a couple of years of it building up, you could definitely do some projects with this."
Select Board member Jeffrey Levanos called it a "win win" but said it would have to be explained well to voters and to the boards and committees that would participate. 
The board also appointed Patricia Morrissey to the Historical Commission, which is still missing one member, and discussed the commission's need for shelving storage for town records. 
"We really need some type of a mechanism or ability to efficiently categorize and store it. And a lot of it is historical in nature," said Town Administrator Carl McKinney. "And I will say this, my hat's off to the Historical Commission for the hard work and diligence over the last several years in getting the Historical Commission up and running in a meaningful, productive manner."
The commission is using a former office on the first floor of Town Hall as a display area and has taken over a classroom on the second floor in former school for storage. McKinney said he is still pricing and looking for funding for about eight units of mobile archive shelving.
This type of shelving is frequently used in museums and for records keeping since it allows for high density storage with easy access. The board supported the project dependent on cost and financing. 
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