Published November 4, 2016 in Watertown Tab and Press:
I understand it can be difficult to keep an open mind throughout a campaign, especially once folks become invested on one side of an issue. Emotions can run deep and opinions become cemented before understanding all of the facts. I am also concerned about underestimating the impacts of Watertown’s rapid transformation.
When approached by the citizen-led Invest in Watertown Committee, I initially expressed concerns about adopting the Community Preservation Act (CPA) this November, given our school building needs and the timing of even a small surcharge on taxpayers, knowing it can be a tough sell any time you seek additional funds. I have attended most of the school-related meetings and community forums this year. In addition to speaking with Watertown constituents, I have researched and spoken with citizens and officials in CPA-adopted communities. My questions included: is this something that could benefit our schools as well as our whole community? The answers kept coming back: yes, yes and yes.
There are many reasons why I am voting “yes” on Question 5, more than can be fully explained in one letter. But here are just a few good reasons to consider it: Vote “yes” on 5 if for no other reason than to return our contributions toward the state CPA trust fund and claim our share of state matching funds. Monies generated from real estate development and income tax currently support the CPA trust fund. But they are supporting all the exciting things that other communities are doing, instead of Watertown. We have paid more than $2 million into this trust fund, and we will effectively continue to subsidize other cities and towns if we do not adopt the CPA on Nov. 8.
What I find so exciting about the Community Preservation Act is how it stimulates creative and innovative proposals to meet the needs of a town, while improving public life and programs for all. Just one of hundreds of examples: Arlington leveraged its CPA funds in support of replacement windows at Drake Village senior complex, to also receive a state HILAPP program match; put another way, $200K of their CPA funds provided the seed to attract the remaining 70 percent needed for this $1.8 million project! The surcharge that Watertown taxpayers would contribute (about $10/month) goes a longer way than one might expect at first glance. I also find it worrisome that we would lose out on about $500,000 from the state match in the first year alone, if we vote “no” on 5.
The CPA works so well that not only has no community advocated its repeal, its adoption has stimulated public participation in defining and reclaiming the local community vision. It empowers citizens and is progressive in its funding with exemptions for low-income households and moderate-low-income seniors. CPA project recommendation and approval process is specifically designed to be participatory - Watertown residents and Town Council get to decide what, how and when the funds are used. Arlington has decided to renovate Robbins Farm Park Field with enhanced ADA compliance, but this is just one of five projects recently approved. Waltham and Newton have created home buyer and rental assistance programs. Year after year our surrounding neighbors are finding ways to enhance and preserve what is special, unique and meaningful while reducing competition for capital funds.
And CPA allows regional collaborations, which means cities and towns can pool their funds for mutual benefit even if the location of “the project” lies fully in one community, including recreational fields. Imagine the possibilities for collaboration if we decide to team up with Waltham, Belmont, Newton, Cambridge – all of whom have already adopted CPA.
CPA funds are used for open space and recreation, community housing, and historic preservation – which includes archives, artifacts, archaeology; we have many needs in order to claim our historical heritage, including preserving maps and documents, whether they are in the Assessor’s office, the Commander’s Mansion or the Police Department, etc. You can see there is much to ponder.
I ask for your willingness to consider the many facts and benefits about the Community Preservation Act before voting. I welcome your questions. Learn more from the public database at CommunityPreservation.org or InvestInWatertown.wordpress.com or even YesBetterBoston.com websites. I hope you will join me in voting “yes” on 5.
Lisa Feltner, District B Town Councillor