Housing Fund Initiative Advances Up-Island

Aquinnah Backs Preservation Act


At their spring special town meeting this week, Aquinnah voters spoke with one voice and became the second Island town to approve the Community Preservation Act.

Citizens approved the act with plenty of conviction; the article passed unanimously after a short discussion that included no criticisms of the measure.

"This took 12 years coming out of Beacon Hill. It's a significant act, and I think we need to try it," said Aquinnah selectman Carl Widdis.

The Wednesday evening vote came after citizens waited 45 minutes for a quorum, which for Aquinnah is 33 people. Once the meeting began at 7:45 p.m., it lasted 15 minutes.

In approving the measure, Aquinnah followed West Tisbury which had passed the act at its special town meeting last week. Chilmark and Tisbury will vote on the measure later this spring.

Under the Community Preservation Act, towns raise money by placing up to a three per cent surcharge on local property taxes; these funds are then matched by state funds. The act was approved by the state legislature last year.

Funds must be channeled in three directions: affordable housing, historic preservation or preserving open space and recreation. While a portion of the funds must be devoted to each of these categories, housing activists on the Island have been touting the act as an important step toward easing this crisis.

"In terms of resident homesites in town, this would really be a great help in terms of being able to get things done," said Derrill Bazzy, chairman of Aquinnah's residency homesite committee. "This is a great alternative to coming before the town and asking for money with a yearly warrant article, because for every dollar that comes in, this is matched by the state."

Predictions for Aquinnah estimate that the three per cent surcharge (after a $100,000 exemption) on all properties that the town adopted as part of the act, would raise $24,700 yearly for the town. Add state matching funds to that mix and the town could end up with almost $50,000 a year.

The few comments that were voiced about the act were positive; the only question was a technical one about the procedure if the voters approved the act.

Now that the act has passed on town meeting floor, citizens will vote on it again on the ballot of the town's annual elections on May 9. If it passes there, the town will establish a committee that will set the budget and priorities for the act.

But money can only be delegated to projects after the committee presents its recommendations to the town. "Before any money can be spent that is raised and appropriated under the act, the town has to vote on it," said town counsel Ronald Rappaport.

Before the vote, Aquinnah resident Marjorie Spitz also reminded voters that the money can go to more than housing. "This does include historic preservation," she said. "The money can be used for any of the buildings that have been included in our historic district."

The article passed unanimously.

Citizens also voted to release $750,000 in Chapter 70 funds to the high school from the state. "Chapter 70 funds are what the state gives us basically to supplement what we raise and appropriate from the towns for the schools," said Carlos M. Colley, the district superintendent's business manager.

In order to begin using these funds, the school district needs four of the six Island towns to agree to release the funds, since the money was appropriated after the high school budget had already been approved by the towns.

The school plans to use the $750,000 to help deal with increasing student enrollments. Among other things, funds will be used to purchase textbooks, to hire more assistants in the English as a second language program and to reconfigure classroom space.

The town also voted to transfer $9,000 to map and mark graves in the old cemetery and to survey the new cemetery. They also approved an article that asked to transfer $12,000 that will be used for a startup fund to build an addition to the fire station for the new rescue truck.