More than 10 years after the Community Preservation Act provided a funding source for towns across the commonwealth to sponsor historic preservation, open space, affordable housing and recreational initiatives, Vineyard towns are taking a fresh tack toward pooling their resources on regional projects.
With budget season underway, the six town community preservation committees are reviewing an array of regional projects that range from the relocation of the Gay Head Light in Aquinnah to a Little League baseball field in Oak Bluffs.
A total of more than $1.1 million in regional requests using CPA money will come before voters at annual town meetings in the spring.
The new trend has sparked conversation among the town community preservation committees.
“This is the first time where it’s suddenly going, wow, we’re talking about several of these projects, let’s think about a strategy,” said Derrill Bazzy, who is chairman of the Aquinnah committee. “We realize regional applications are only going to increase. It’s a beautiful way to fund things.”
The Community Preservation Act was signed into law in 2000. The law allows towns to raise money through a three per cent surcharge on property tax bills. The state provides matching funds and towns may use the money for the stated objectives of historic preservation, open space, recreation and affordable housing. Town community preservation committees review applications and make recommendations to voters for how to spend the funds.
Aquinnah and Chilmark adopted the act in 2001, and the other four towns followed in 2005. In 2012, the state legislature adopted new language to encourage regional projects.
“The state of Massachusetts is very interested in cost savings from regional projects,” said Community Preservation Coalition executive director Stuart Saginor by telephone this week. “There is no mandate that communities must do this . . . but it was a recognition by the state legislature that CPA is the type of program that could benefit from regional projects.”
While a handful of towns in the western part of the state have begun toexplore regional projects, Mr. Saginor said the Island is something of a trend-setter when it comes to using CPA funds for regional projects. “Certainly the Vineyard has embraced this concept very strongly,” he said.
“Totally unique,” said Oak Bluffs CPC chairman Joan Hughes. “We are unique in that although we are six separate towns, we’re all in this together. . . and quite a few applications really do affect the entire Island. With the Gay Head Light we truly feel we should help the community; it’s one of the icons of the Island,” she said.
“This could really be a positive resource on the Island if we get it right,” Mr. Bazzy said.
Six regional projects are proposed this year. In addition to the lighthouse in Aquinnah and the ball field in Oak Bluffs, they include a proposal by the Island Housing Trust to build affordable apartments in Vineyard Haven, a slate roof for the Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s new home at the old marine hospital, a project to archive old records of the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society, and electrical upgrades at the Dukes County courthouse in Edgartown.
Mr. Bazzy called the lighthouse relocation project a prime example of cooperation among Island towns. Some $3 million is needed to relocate the light, which is threatened by severe erosion and must be moved in the next year. The town is requesting a total of $500,000 in community preservation funds this year from the five other towns. Although it has not voted formally yet, Aquinnah is expected to contribute some $100,000 from its own CPA fund.
“We understand as the smallest town on the Island that we are dependent in so many ways on the cooperation from all the towns on the Island,” Mr. Bazzy said. “Here’s a project that really is of interest to the whole Island — it’s a landmark and something we all love. . . so we’ve reached out to our extended family and we’ve only got so much time to do it and this is one shot.”
Still, when it comes to regional use of CPA funds, each town has its own philosophy.
Paul Munafo, chairman of the Tisbury community preservation committee, said in-town projects come first.
“We’re completely in support of community projects and regional projects certainly . . . but it all comes down to the voters and how they feel about it,” he said. “This year we had a big Gay Head Light request, which we didn’t fund fully because we couldn’t.” He continued:
“As chairman I like to look at things that benefit our town first before we start dispensing funds to other areas, because, let’s face it — the money is coming from our tax base. For me and a large number of our members that should be the first thing we look at.”
Edgartown community preservation committee chairman Margaret Serpa expressed a similar view. “We’ve looked at things within town to take priority and then see what we have outside of that and how we want to do it,” she said. “I think we’ve addressed each one differently because they are different. A lot of them we’ve put on conditions that all towns must contribute in order for us to contribute our share.”
In the end this year, support for the regional projects is uneven. Based on committee recommendations, the Gay Head Light and courthouse electrical upgrade will come before voters in every town this spring. Aquinnah and Chilmark are the only towns not being asked to contribute funding for Penn Field, but only because they have so few children who play Little League. The Marine Hospital roof will come before voters in Tisbury, Chilmark and Oak Bluffs for funding, but not in West Tisbury and Edgartown. The agricultural society request to preserve historic records will come before voters in Tisbury and West Tisbury, but not in Chilmark, Edgartown or Oak Bluffs. The Island Housing Trust affordable apartments will come before voters in Tisbury, Chilmark West Tisbury and Edgartown, but not in Oak Bluffs.
Aquinnah has not reviewed its CPA requests yet, but it is expected that the majority of town funding this year will go toward the lighthouse project.
Statewide, 155 municipalities have adopted the CPA legislation, and since its inception nearly $1.2 billion has been raised under the provisions of the act for more than 6,600 projects. That includes 1,000 outdoor recreation projects, 3,200 appropriations for historic preservation, 7,300 affordable housing units created or funded and 19,200 acres of open space preserved.
A state budget surplus last year allowed $25 million to be returned to the CPA trust fund, which will translate to a higher state match for towns this year.
“The four areas of the CPA lend themselves very strongly to regional participation and that is the direction the commonwealth as a whole is moving toward,” Mr. Saginor concluded.