The Community Preservation Committee (CPC), mindful of shrinking town and state revenue, is taking a careful look at articles to put before Town Meeting in the spring. The committee received 17 applications for funding which it has whittled to 11.
Christopher Morely, CPC chairman, described the CPA projects under consideration during a Finance Committee budget hearing last night.
The 2000 Community Preservation Act (CPA) allows municipalities to levy a surcharge of up to 3 percent on property taxes to fund open space, affordable housing, historic preservation, and recreation projects. The state contributes matching dollars.
For years the town received a 100 percent match from the state, but that amount was reduced to 71.26 percent for FY08.
Morely said the state is projecting a 35 percent match when funds for FY09 are awarded in Oct., 2009.
The town’s CPA funds are estimated at $2.3 million with interest earnings through the end of the current fiscal year about $297,000.
The two controversial CPA proposals for residents at Monday’s meeting concerned the CSX land purchase and a rail trail concept plan which would be drafted by town departments. The CSX purchase price is approximately $475,000. An article for a rail trail concept plan would ask for the transfer of up to $25,000 left unspent from a previously-approved 2007 Town Meeting article.
The CSX rail corridor purchase was approved at Town Meeting in 2008, but needs to be re-appropriated. The land runs through a main drinking water supply area and connects town-owned Mahoney Farm and town-protected Nobscot Mountain. The town is negotiating the purchase and applying for grants while the Water District has pledged $25,000 toward the purchase.
The purchase of the property, said resident Carole Wolfe, in her opinion, “is in reality for rail trail development rather than for well water protection.”
Wolfe said that CPA funds are being used to repay bonding amounts “that will be in place for years to come” on prior land purchases while the state’s allocation of matching funds is decreasing.
“This narrow strip of land isn’t going anywhere,” said Wolfe. “If there is no pressing need to purchase the CSX property, would it not be a wiser course for Sudbury to take, to retain as many CPA funds as possible to put toward more worthy, urgent and desirable future projects?”
Resident Jim Nigrelli asked about contamination along the rail bed and the town’s obligation to clean it.
“Some contamination was found and it was very minor. The bottom line is that it will cost the town nothing,” said Jody Kablack, Town Planner. “We fully expect the property owner to clean the land up.”
Kablack said that the purchase of the CSX land, previously identified as a priority, was all about timing. When you have a motivated seller, she said, “you really have to move forward.”
Sudbury adopted the CPA at the 2001 Town Meeting and at a Town Election in March 2002. The 3 percent surcharge went into effect with the start of Fiscal Year 2003 on July 1, 2002.
Resident Robert Stein proposed “suspending” the CPA surcharge for the coming year due to the declining match from the state and the tough economic climate.
The CPC is responsible for debt associated with $13.5 million in CPA land purchases, said FinCom member Bob Jacobson, “you can’t do away with CPA because you’re committed to the debt service.”
According to the Community Preservation Coalition, only a handful of the140 cities and towns who have adopted the CPA have tried, unsuccessfully, to revoke it.
The revocation process requires both a ballot and town meeting vote.
To repeal the CPA surcharge would not be prudent, explained Kablack after the meeting, because the town would be responsible for the annual debt service – $1.1 million this year – with no CPA funds from the state to pay it. Kablack added that there is legislation pending that would fund the CPA match at the 75 percent level.
Nigrelli and Wolfe also questioned the wisdom of appropriating another $25,000, and several months of town staff members’ time, to a concept plan for the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail Project. Wolfe said the total cost of design, construction and maintenance are unknown, and may be a multi-million dollar cost the town is unwilling to incur for a recreation amenity.
“How much more money will Sudbury residents be required to spend on this project before we will know if we will even be allowed to build it?” said Nigrelli.
Kablack said that if the rail trail article does not pass at Town Meeting, the town would still move forward with a concept design, “as a lower priority for the town” because the town needs to be up to speed with neighboring towns that are moving forward on trail design.
Resident Dan De Pompei urged the CPC to craft the article to give the Rail Trail Conversion Advisory Committee some oversight of the town’s work on a concept plan. The committee has volunteers with expertise as well as “a vast range of opinion on how it should be done.”
The committee provides “the only open forum” for discussion of the rail trail, said De Pompei, who added that the committee has expressed frustration over a “communication problem” with the town.
“I don’t think the solution to the communication problem is to put that concept plan in the hands of town employees,” said De Pompei.