LETTER: Resident Urges Voters to Learn About CPA Before Voting

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Dear Watertown Friends & Neighbors,

It is 43 days to Election Day, Nov. 8th. The local referendum, Question 5, regarding the Community Preservation Act is on the ballot again. Vote YES and your taxes will be raised through a 2 percent tax surcharge on your annual property tax assessment for at least five years and possibly beyond. The monies will go to support only three special interests: (1) open space/recreation, (2) historic preservation, and (3) affordable housing.

If passed, a Community Preservation Committee will be established to study community preservation resources, to vet possibilities and needs, and to make annual recommendations to the Town Council on spending the funds. At least 10 percent of the funds each fiscal year will be spent or reserved for later spending on each of the Act’s three community preservation purposes: (1) open space/recreation, (2) historic resources and (3) affordable housing.

Are these your priorities for our town? Did you know about Question 5? Do you understand all that it entails? If not, what information do you need to form an educated opinion?

I’m asking because I’d like to get your take on all this. Proponents of the CPA state that for most Watertown folks this surcharge will amount to ten dollars or so a month – that “It’s a Starbucks coffee a week” and that this paltry sum will generate about $1.7 million ear-marked town tax dollars plus a percentage of state matching funds.

The state match in 2015 was only 29.67 percent. Guesstimates for 2016 are 19 percent; the floor is 5 percent. Take out your property tax bill and multiply it by 2 percent for your ballpark number. Is this how you want to be taxed? Are you now wondering what projects might be on the wish list, how much they might cost, and how they might benefit Watertown? To date there are no specifics. As an aside, many people have said they’d be for a small tax increase if it went to repair all our roads and sidewalks. It doesn’t.

Now let me ask another question. Do you realize a Master Planning Facilities Steering Committee has been meeting all summer with SMMA, an architectural firm, to discuss the dire space needs/conditions of our five aging schools? Do you realize that a debt exclusion vote regarding three different options (1) general renovations or (2) renovations for 21st century education needs or (3) the building of new schools could cost anywhere from $165 million to $203 million to $405 million? The last school override will be paid off in 2018. Does a new education override loom in our near future?

Many two-family homeowners got hit with a large tax increase this year given development pressures. How many tax increases, aside from annual routine property tax increases, are you prepared to absorb? What do your friends and neighbors think about all this? Homeowners will be on the hook and rent increases for tenants are probably not far behind. Five Town Councilors: Dushku, Falkoff, Feltner, Palomba, and Woodland support this CPA tax surcharge. Have you asked them why? Do they think this will endanger future school funding needs? Do they believe the community can support two tax increases?

Are “wants” coming before “needs” in our town? CPA folks at Invest in Watertown will tell you everyone is doing it. Yes, 161 communities have voted for this to date. But we are not everyone, not Belmont, Newton, or Cambridge – we’re Watertown. And for the record, Brookline, a pretty progressive town, did not vote for it as they too had big school needs to address and fund. Before we rush into this vote, we should look at the big picture for our town and identify and prioritize our potential financial commitments. I ask again – Is this CPA tax putting our future school funding at risk?

Your vote is critical! Get informed! Make it count! We Are All Watertown!

Best as always,
Elodia Thomas
Marion Road
617-926-3952

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