Swampscott Prepares Community Preservation Act Town Meeting Proposal

SWAMPSCOTT, MA — Swampscott’s push to join the state’s Community Preservation Act — which provides state matching funds to cities and towns that fund certain projects with a property tax surcharge — will likely come before town meeting members in May and voters in November.

That was the timeline set forth during Wednesday night’s Select Board meeting as members advanced discussions on the means to fund historical, recreational, housing and open space initiatives through the state program.

Select Board member Doug Thompson said 195 communities across the state have adopted the program since it became state law in 2000. Danvers voted down a proposal for the tax surcharge to fund the CPA last spring.

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“Seventy percent of Massachusetts is already benefitting from this,” Thompson said. “So guess what? Our taxes are being used to help every other community across Massachusetts do all of these great things. It’s been nice for us to be so generous. But it’s time for us to share in the wealth.”

Under the program, communities can charge up to a 3 percent tax surcharge on the annual bill — not the assessment — with the money then going into a trust fund used to fund eligible projects. In a town where the average home value is $500,000, the full 3 percent surcharge would amount to $140.88 annually.

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In Swampscott, where the average value is closer to $900,000, a 1 percent surcharge would result in a $92 tax increase annually for the average homeowner, while a 1.5 percent charge would mean $137 per year and the full 3 percent increase would mean $345 per year.

Thompson said a 1 percent surcharge, combined with expected state matching funds of about 20 to 30 percent, would mean about $600,000 in available funds for these projects each year.

“This isn’t peanuts,” Thompson said. “Hopefully everybody contributes a relatively modest amount and you generate a fairly significant fund. And remember this is every year. So you don’t have to spend it every year. You can start to build stuff up. So after a couple of years, you may have a million or $2 million actually that you can choose to do something with.”

Thompson said that if the CPA passes the town meeting vote in May, and then the townwide vote in November, funds for projects could be available to the town by 2026.

“As a member of the Affordable Housing Trust for two years,” Select Board Chair David Grishman said, “there is no recurring revenue (there). That group had to be so judicious with their funds simply because they didn’t know when that next check was coming. So I think by giving them a recurring stream of revenue it allows them to go out and do more.”

Thompson said between now and the town meeting the Select Board will have to craft the language for the warrant, including making a decision on the level of surcharge (between 1 and 3 percent) that will be proposed for annual property taxes.

(Scott Souza is a Patch field editor covering Beverly, Danvers, Marblehead, Peabody, Salem and Swampscott. He can be reached at Scott.Souza@Patch.com. X/Twitter: @Scott_Souza.)

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