Community Preservation Committee Looks to Get Process Rolling

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The committee chosen to oversee the money raised by the Community Preservation Act in Watertown will be hiring a consultant and a part-time coordinator to educate the public and help figure out how the money will be distributed.

Watertown voters approved the CPA in November 2016, and the property tax surcharge brings in about $2 million a year, plus the state will chip in matching funds (19 percent in Fiscal Year 2019). The money can be used on a variety projects, but they must relate to at least one of three areas: affordable housing, open space/recreation or historic preservation. At least 10 percent of the funds must be spent on, or saved in a fund for, each of the three areas.

Elodia Thomas, chair of the Community Preservation Committee, said that she hopes that residents will become excited about the possibilities for the Community Preservation Act funds.

“There is so much drama going on in town, this is good drama. Hopefully this is something people can get behind,” Thomas said.

She added that while the Community Preservation Committee members oversee the process, they will not be the ones to come up with ideas. The committee will come up with a set of recommended projects which will then go to the Town Council for approval.

“We will hold a public meeting so we can hear about projects,” Thomas said. “It is not our job to generate the projects.”

Anyone can come up with an idea, she said.

“I can be from a high school students, a business, someone who works for the town, someone who lives in the town,” Thomas said.

The committee will also be publicizing what projects are allowed, and how to fill out the application.

“We are trying to put out information on what the project can be, the criteria they are looking for,” Thomas said. “When they suggest a project it should include X, Y and Z. Also, what is not allowed.”

The Community Preservation Committee held its first meeting in February. To help figure out the criteria and how to get word out to the public, the committee recently decided to create two positions. The Community Preservation Act allows for five percent of the funds to be used for administration.

“We put out a request for qualifications, we are going to hire a consultant who will do a good job getting into the community to publicize the issue of the CPA and develop a plan for what the needs and resources we have,” Thomas said. “We will also hire a part time coordinator to work with the consultant and the committee.”

One major question that must be figured out is how the process will work. Some communities come up with a proposal in a timeline aligned with the town budget process, while others take proposals for projects on a rolling basis.

The committee will also look at what other communities have done with their CPA funds. Some have started with small grants to both test the application criteria and to get people excited, Thomas said.

Some examples include in a program in Chelsea where projects of up to $50,000 were funded, and in Medford they had grants of $10,000 available.

Thomas hopes the committee receives good applicants for the consultant position, and then they can start the process leading up to funding the first set of projects.

“If we get a consultant on board by September we are hoping next spring to start the process of evaluating projects,” Thomas said. “It will be about a year since we started meeting. That’s pretty fast. Some communities take a year and a half to two years.”

More information about the coordinator position can be found here: https://www.watertown-ma.gov/jobs.aspx?jobID=408

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