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Mayor Linda Tyer joined supporters in Park Square on Wednesday to advocate for the passage of ballot Guestion 5, the Community Preservation Act.

Tyer Advocates For Adoption of Community Preservation Act

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Parks Commissioner Joe Durwin says the money will go toward historic preservation, parks and open space, and affordable housing projects which often don't receive the funding needed from local budgets.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayor Linda Tyer says the Community Preservation Act will "get Pittsfield ready for good things to happen."
The mayor joined more than a dozen supporters of the local ballot question calling for the adoption of the program, which they say will help bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to Pittsfield to help with an array of projects. The act calls for a surcharge on the tax bills of 1 percent, with the first $100,000 value being exempted.
That is matched by a state allocation, which in previous years has been trending at about 30 percent.
"I take it very seriously when we ask our citizens to contribute more of their hard-earned money for community endeavors. It is a very serious question that we all have to contemplate. The Community Preservation Act is a very compelling reason for asking citizens to vote yes on Question 5 because of the guaranteed state matching funds. For every one of our city dollars, the state is going to match that," Tyer said.
According to Stewart Saginor of the Community Preservation Coalition, in Pittsfield that 1 percent would have generated $383,613 from local taxpayers last year. That would be matched by $113,933 by the state for a total of $497,546.
That money goes into a fund, which is controlled by a locally created Community Preservation Committee, to use on affordable housing, parks and open space, historic preservation. Tyer cited the historic preservation piece as a major reason why she is supporting the question.
"The Community Preservation Act will provide the city of Pittsfield with a source of funding that can be used for saving our historic treasures and putting to good use for the enjoyment of residents and visitors alike — places like the Springside House, St. Mary's Church, the Thomas Allen House, and even historic Wahconah Park," Tyer said. 
A previous ballot effort had been defeated some years ago. Its return for a ballot vote was at first spearheaded by those looking to save St. Mary the Morning Star, a Tyler Street church that was eyed to be razed to make way for a Dunkin' Donuts. The push for adopting CPA has since gained supporters of other historic properties and parks advocates.
"This has been an amazing, amazing campaign for a ballot initiative. In the last few weeks, we've put up over 300 lawn signs across the city, we've had close to 20 letters in local papers. It is just an amazing response and feedback in this community that has been very unifying," said Joe Durwin, a parks commissioner and leader of the efforts to restore the historic Springside House.
There hasn't been much vocal opposition — besides tax-hawk and former School Committee member Terry Kinnas and local attorney Kermit Goodman — leading the group to feel confident going into election day.
"The Community Preservation Act is so much of what this community is all about and the things we really value," Durwin said.
Statewide, the act has been adopted in 161 communities and 16 more have it on the ballot this fall. The state's match comes from a Community Preservation Trust Fund, which gets its revenue from fees filed at registries of deeds for property sales. In recent years, the state has supplemented that fund with additional allocations, including $10 million from Gov. Charlie Baker in the 2017 budget.
In other parts of the state, numerous programs and projects have been completed including rental assistance, first-time homebuyer programs, building brand-new affordable housing units, or demolishing or repurposing dilapidated buildings for housing. It can be used to clean up the site of an old gas station and turn it into a park. It's been used to preserve historic documents of a municipality.

Supporters were at Park Square for two hours on Wednesday rallying for votes.

In Westfield, a historic whip factory, the only one remaining in the "whip city," is being redeveloped by a private developer into a museum with the help of CPA funds. The Academy of Music in Northampton renovated its facade with CPA money in exchange for a preservation restriction. In nearby Williamstown, it's helped guarantee affordable units alongside market-rate apartments in a restored mill and funded the purchase of a vacant church as a preschool.

Tyer said the funds have created some 10,000 construction jobs through selected projects and it is time to bring that benefit to Pittsfield. She went on to say that money from the city of Pittsfield's registry fees have gone to pay for community preservation projects elsewhere.
"I'm voting yes on Question 5 and I hope the people of Pittsfield will join be because it is time to makePittsfield ready for good things to happen," Tyer said.
The funds have a fairly unrestricted use. The projects are determined by the committee which consists of representatives from the Conservation Commission, Historical Commission, Planning Board, recreation, and the Housing Authority with the city having the ability to appoint up to four more at-large members. The only requirement is that the projects fit into those four categories — categories that proponents say are typically cut from local budgets.
At a recent meeting about the question, Durwin refuted claims that it would be an excuse for the city to cut the Parks Department budget even more, because that budget is already barely enough to keep with maintenance. Instead, he sees the new source of revenue as a way to supplement and accomplish the goals typically placed on a backburner.
"We want to be a city that is not, as some detractors have said, a dying city. We want to be a living, thriving city that is going forward," Durwin said on Wednesday.

Tags: ballot measure,   Community Preservation Act,   CPA,   election 2016,   

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