CPA funds: To spend or not to spend, that is the question for voters

Above: CPA funds were used to purchase and renovate an affordable home on Parkerville Road last year

Each year at town meeting, voters dole out hundreds of thousands of dollars collected under the Community Preservation Act to projects that range from historical preservation to open space acquisition to affordable housing. Selectman John Rooney suggested this might be the year for voters to hold some of that cash in reserve.

“My feeling on CPA funds … is that we want to try to reserve as much of these funds as possible for work on the police station,” Rooney said at the board’s meeting on Tuesday. “We should allocate as much as we can to the restoration and repair of the police station, which is in dire condition, considering we don’t have funds to build a new one right now.”

The building that houses the police station — formerly the Peters High School Annex — is considered an historic structure, so CPA funds potentially could be used to renovate and restore it.

Southborough has somewhere in the neighborhood of $380K to allocate to CPA projects this year. Community Preservation Committee Chairman Andrew Mills told selectmen voters could decide to hold all or a portion of that in reserve.

Southborough voted to adopt the CPA in 2003. Under the act a surcharge is applied to property tax bills to fund CPA projects. The state matches a portion of the funds, but the match percentage has declined significantly over the past few years. The latest numbers I could find suggest the average state match has decreased from 100% to about 30%.

Earlier this year the Community Preservation Committee reviewed applications for CPA funds and approved a handful to present to voters at town meeting. In past years CPA funds have gone to replacing windows at the South Union School, purchasing an affordable home on Parkerville Road, and creating the Triangle Park.

Here’s the batch of projects Southborough voters will get to consider this year.

  • Creation of a volleyball court at Woodward – Eagle Scout project ($4K)
  • Affordable Housing Trust fund ($36K)
  • Chestnut Hill Farm ($189K)
  • Establishment of a Historic District along Main Street ($21K)
  • Splash pad at the South Union School ($133K)

What do you think? Which of these projects would you vote to fund? Or should we save our CPA money this year for future projects? Talk about it in the comments.

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13 years ago

YES on the volleyball court, because it is cheap and would have some immediate benefit to the community. For all the other items, NO. This isn’t the time to be spending money on “nice-to-haves,” especially when the state match is not what it used to be.

Mike Hanigan
13 years ago
Reply to  Lisa

I believe we are legally bound to pay $189K payment for the Chestnut Hill Farm project.

I believe that most of these projects would not be accepted by the voters if they were submitted as individual warrant articles. (Just my opinion.) Shouldn’t this give us pause to re-consider the entire CPA process?

Mr. Rooney’s comments about using CPA funds for the fire station imply that he supports renovation of the existing building. Have the selectmen made a determination to renovate that building versus build a new one? I know there has been a lot of controversy on this topic and I have read Mrs Vargas’ complaint to the Attorney General.

Has a consensus been reached on the direction the town should undertake on the Police building?

I urge voters to be very careful designating this building a historical site. Although that might allow use of CPA funds, and in theory allow a reimbursement from the state of 30% of the town’s CPA funds NOT 30% of the building costs, please keep in mind that the “historical” designation itself creates a whole host of added construction/renovation hurdles to overcome. A clear example of this “historical” complication is the windows installed at the South Union. Due to self-imposed “historic” restrictions, the new windows are NOT new windows, they are the old single pane windows with new glazing and repaired sashes with the addition of a sheet of PLASTIC on the inside to function as a sort of storm window.

Let’s hope that if the Police station is designated as a “historic” site, we can avoid these issues.

By the way – I personally think we have some beautiful buildings in town to include the Town House, St Mark’s Church, and the Garfield house. The Police station may be old, but I personally think it is also ugly.

Mike Hanigan
13 years ago
Reply to  susan

Thank you Susan for the info.

You do this town a huge service by hosting this blog. Democracy works best when the voters have access to as much information as possible. Your blog is by far the best source of information in the town.

Also, the discussions are helpful. I’m curious – can you tell us roughly how many folks read yoir blog?

Donna McDaniel
13 years ago

I hope that someone from the CPC will respond to this and provide a list of projects that have been completed and are ongoing over the last several years…
I certainly can’t name all the projects but I know of these three:
the preservation of the town’s official records–that’s all the births, deaths, marriage, town meetings, etc., which have endured wet basements and mold and general deterioration since 1727. They have been restored, when necessary, and preserved both in microfiche and modern bound copies.
The Historical Society has benefitted from some repairs to the museum building as well as display cases so that some of its large collection can be shown safely.
Through the Society (and CPA), I will be publishing a book in the next several months based on interviews with more than 30 (and counting) long-time residents (interviews recorded and transcribed) who have talked with me about Southborough the way it was when they were growing up and, for example, going to Miss Neary’s one-room school house on Oak Hill Road, or how it was to survive the 1959 tornado. A CPC Historic Preservation grant supports that work; the Society pays for the printing.
Again, I hope the CPC will give us a run-down. Also someone needs to clarify this–the CPC funds go into different categories such as Open Space Preservation, Affordable Housing, Historic Preservation, and whatever else I don’t recall… as far as I know you cannot chose to put all the money into one of those categories and there are guidelines for how the funds are allocated and how much can be kept and perhaps how much needs to be spent during some time period. this is not an official vesion but I know these things need to be explained to all of us before misinformation is spread around.

13 years ago

The fourth category for CPA projects is “Recreation.”

13 years ago

I believe you are right susan. The first three have required set-asides, but “Public Recreation” is another approved use for the remaining 70% at the town’s discretion.

Townie D
13 years ago

Woodward already has an outdoor volleyball court that no one uses!

John Boiardi
13 years ago

The CPA seemed like a good idea when it was passed with the State providing a 100% match. The state match is now 30%. With the current economic climate how soon will it be that the state provides zero matching funds? The CPA should be abolished by the town. It is nothing more than a real estate tax. Let the worthwhile projects proposed by the CPA stand the test of a warrent article, justified and supported at town meeting.

Al Hamilton
13 years ago
Reply to  John Boiardi


A number of the projects that have been approved under CPA would never have even made it to the warrant if they had to undergo as much scrutiny.

We should drop the CPA as soon as we have paid off the Chestnut Hill Bond. I would happily support a 1% Prop 2.5 override to replace the CPA with the same local money flowing to the General Fund where it will be spent more wisely and with better oversight.

13 years ago
Reply to  John Boiardi

Each CPC project IS given its own warrant article for approval at town meeting which is presented individually and either supported or not supported at Town meeting by the BOS and Advisory. All the projects we have seen funded have been approved just like any other warrant article – some funded multiple times by multiple warrant atricles. You have only your fellow residents to “blame.” They hear the INDIVIDUAL warrant articles and the status of the BOS and Advisory support, the microphones stand there ready for questions or objections and then the Town Meeting votes. The process is exactly the same. IF you don’t believe me, sign out a video tape of a recent town meeting from the town clerk’s office and watch it.

As for the state match, 100% was great, but in these economic times, 30% is nothing to sneeze at, if we vote the use of the money wisely for the benefit of the town.

Al Hamilton
13 years ago
Reply to  Clarification


You are correct that each is presented as it’s own warrant article. Typically late on the second day when folks are itching to be done. Since the money for these articles is “pre collected” we never have the same sort of debate that we have on a regular money warrant article.

These expenditures have no effect on our taxes. The money has already been voted and taken out of our pockets. In effect we are not asking the question “Would I be willing to raise my taxes in return for this project?”. If we had to ask this question I think we would have gotten a very different answer to some of the projects we see around town.

So, I think it is very fair to vote from time to time to see if we want to continue to participate in this program or would we like to use that taxing authority for something else or, perish the thought, keep our own money in our own pockets.

13 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

If our neighbors leave early or are “itching to be done” that is their way of expressing their interest in participating. I have often seen not a single question raised regarding a CPC project warrant article vote. Come, Stay, Participate,pre-educate yourself or accept the consequences. What I am tired of is the few who don’t support CPC taking it out on the projects themselves. Many residents feel that CPC has done very good things for the town and would vote to retain it, even with only a 30% state contribution.

To your final point, I agree completely. We should vote on it from time-to-time, for the reasons you stated but also so that people cannot claim that it is something the town and we residents simply “do without thinking” as you seem to imply. If it is voted to be repealed, then so be it. The will of the people will have spoken. We will have to come up with the payment for Chestnut Hill on our own however and without any percentage from the state until it is paid off.

John Boiardi
13 years ago
Reply to  Clarification

Yes Cpa projects are given warrent articles. Attendese at town meeting are voting on how to spend money already collected as taxes. Try passing a warrent article to complete a project which is not funded by CPA money..

13 years ago

Do away with the CPA. Al is right, now 30% match soon to be 0% from the bureaucrats fo Taxachusetts. Typical unfunded state and federal mandates forced on the surfs. Look at Quinn Bill for Police – totally unfunded now (I dont think it was a good rpgram to start, we have enough $100K a year plus cops now in the Bay State. We dont need a splash pool or another unused volley ball court or another play ground out of towners use (look at the absence of dump stickers). We dont need our town downgraded by low income houseing either. I/WE have worked hard to enter into the town of Southboro. We dont need to “dumb down” our real estate further . If a person wants to move to Southboro there are plenty of “entry level” houses available. And when that person(s) accomplishes more, and builds their portfolio the old fashioned way, earning more and working harder, they too can move up the economic ladder and aquire the nicer or better home (we did). That is how it works and traditioinally has worked just fine. There are too many protected “silos” now in town we dont need, and we do not need any more.

Kelly Roney
13 years ago
Reply to  crazy

It’s fine to argue to lower taxes or to quit CPA, but a few facts should be known.

CPA is not a mandate at all. It’s a law that takes effect only at local option. We the voters of Southborough opted at Town Meeting to tax ourselves to fund it.

The Quinn Bill was another local option, and Southborough by contract is not obligated to fill in where the state can no longer fund Quinn Bill payouts.

Massachusetts does not deserve the label Taxachusetts. In 2008, our state and local tax burden as a percentage of our income was a little below average (9.5% vs. the national average of 9.7%) and 23rd among all states.

We are not adding low income housing. Affordable under Ch. 40B means something specific – it’s really about adding starter homes, which are not increasing as a percent of housing stock. The CPA housing is not from 40B, but it hasn’t brought subsidized low income housing to Southborough either.

Frederica Gillespie
13 years ago

Since adopting the CPA in 2003, the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) has held an Annual Public Forum. A presentation is given on How the CPA Works and on the Application Process. Project ideas and town needs are solicited. Major outreach is done throughout town including legal notices in the newspapers as well as on both local Blogs. Email and hard copy invitations are sent to the Selectmen and all town departments. Flyers have been distributed around town. The Forum is announced at Town Meeting. Every year only one or two interested citizens attend, and yet as town meeting rolls around the complaints start, usually from the same few people who have never attended a CPC Forum or meeting,
After the Public Forum we have a vigorous application process, including more outreach and solicitation of public input. The CPC contacts the Selectmen asking for project ideas and the town’s priorities. The same outreach is done to Town Departments, Boards, Commissions and Committees as well as to the general public.
It seems bizarre to be faulted for not prioritizing a project when neither residents nor town officials have communicated their intentions and/or that project has never been proposed to the CPC prior to the Town Warrant Review.
Come to Town Meeting; vote for or against the proposed CPA projects as you think best for the town.
But looking forward, if you have ideas on how CPA funds could better serve the town or if you have ideas for projects – Please come to the Public Forum May 12th or to one of our monthly meetings.
Posting negative comments on the blog may make you feel better, but it doesn’t help us build a better town. Participate in the process; working together we can fund great projects for Southborough.

Mike Hanigan
13 years ago


I am not a fan of the CPA because I think these projects would get better scrutiny if they were funded in the traditional manner, that is, the voters would have to give their approval to first be taxed, then to spend. With CPA, the money is already taken, and we’re jusy voting on how to spend it. Yes, I know the town voted to participate in CPA, but its clear from the limited interaction at town meeting that most voters view the CPA funding sort of like the Mass Turnpike tolls – you hate having to pay them but what realistic choice do you have if you need to go to Albany? You just crings when you pay the toll!

In my opinion, the very best use of CPA funds was the work done by retired Fire Chief Phanuef at the Veteran’s Memorial across from the Library.

The CPA project I have yet to figure out is whether it was a wise expenditure to spend funds on the Beal project.

The CPA project that I think was just plain nuts is the money spent from the “CPA buckets” as “historical” AND as “recreation” for the Triangle. Its over and done with but do you think anyone would have voted for that project if it had been called the “Southville Road median improvement fund” ? ;) I hope it looks nice in the springtime.

Thank you for the hard work you do behind the scenes for the town of Southborough.

Donna McDaniel
13 years ago

Another (long!)note, this time on affordable housing or rather, the confusion that always seems to arise between two words: subsidized and affordable.
I note that I am a member of the Affordable Housing Trust Committee but haven’t consulted with any other members to write this so I don’t represent them; none of what I say is new. In fact, most of this has been in any number of my Villager columns over the last 22 years.
The committee, as the word “Trust” suggests, oversees the use of funds for affordable housing, not all of which are from the CPA. Another committee—the Southborough Housing Opportunity Partnership has been working for over 20 years to promote and facilitate affordable housing for the town and thus is the active group charged with searching out suitable properties (not an easy job).
You can read all about both these committees in more detail in the Annual Town Report every year. The library may have copies of the 2009 report; the 2010 report will be available a few weeks before Town Meeting.
In fact, I suggest that some of those who send us your opinions for how the town should be run would do well to read the Town Report so that you base your statements on solid facts and information. This would go for anyone deciding to run for office as well. The town’s business is open to all—every penny that we spend is accounted for in the town report where you can also read about what every town committee and department, large or small, does to serve the town.
Below I offer:1) A reminder of the significant difference between low income and affordable housing which some people either don’t know or insist on making up their own definition and 2) Comments on the existing affordable housing.
1) For those who persist in telling us —falsely— that “affordable” is code for “low-income” housing, I quote from one of many columns I wrote on this. Our subsidized housing is Colonial Gardens for low-income elderly (I believe built by the state—someone else remember?); Town Meeting had to approve the zoning use. The Housing Authority runs that plus a low-income multi-family house that you likely have driven by any number of times without knowing it, plus eight low-income special needs units, again which I would doubt you have seen.
Determining “affordable.” The income of a potential purchaser must be around 80 percent of the area median income—approximately $64,000. The unit’s price is proportionate to income. The applicant has to qualify for the mortgage and be able to pay the normal costs of home owning—utilities, repairs, etc. The home is not subsidized in any continuing way. Preference goes to people who have lived in town at least five of the last 15 years or who’ve worked for the town for at least five. The units must remain affordable for 99 years. Should there be a number of qualified applicants, a lottery determines the successful purchaser.
2) Our affordable housing: I notice the photo of the Parkerville Road house in My Southborough was taken before it was finished so it looks quite ramshackle. As the caption notes it has been renovated. Assabet Valley students did just about everything from top to bottom; mostly the CPA funds paid the owners for the house they decided to sell (after some price negotiation) and for materials used by Assabet and a few other special projects. All in all, done with GREAT savings.
It wouldn’t be fair to send you to take a look at another affordable unit— a brand new house built on land the town acquired for unpaid back taxes…the owner and neighbors might not welcome sight-seers, but I would defy you to distinguish it in any way from the neighboring houses. In that case a developer who(as town bylaw requires) made contributions to the town’s affordable housing fund rather than build affordable units in one of his projects actually built the house with that money plus some CPA funds. Another great deal for the town.
Finally, there ARE newer subdivisions in town with affordable homes, including in the Meetinghouse Lane development on Middle Road. They look exactly like the others, and like the other neighbors, the owners are as responsible and likely just as nice to know.

13 years ago
Reply to  Donna McDaniel

While I am a firm believer in affordable housing, could you check your facts on the house on Parkerville? Didn’t the Town pay 189K for the house, use 64K of CPA funds with the help of Assabet, who did a wonderful job and are selling it as affordable at 189K? I could be wrong and you would know better.

Not a big believer in the Town being in the real estate business and refurbishing homes though. Do we traditionally purchase homes for affordable and lose money on them?

If I am wrong I stand corrected and apologise, I think that Meeting House is a great example of what a good affordable housing unit can be and how the Town can benefit.

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