The amicably-named Community Preservation Act sounds like a program nearly anyone would enthusiastically support. Many of us believe in the value of historical buildings in giving a town it’s character, maintaining affordable housing, and preserving green space. It conjures up the image of a well-cared-for and friendly town, and who wouldn’t want to live there?
Unfortunately, Watertown has some significant needs. We love our community, but we are not yet the best that we can be. Our five schools are aging and badly in need of repair or replacement. This comes as no surprise to most of us; it has been the topic of discussions for years, culminating in a crisis that this past spring had us cycling through several potential quick-fixes to try and manage a swelling student population for which our old buildings are ill-equipped. Some of our fourth-graders were stuffed into classes of up to 28 kids, our preschool was annexed across two buildings to meet enrollment needs, and children in all of our school buildings still meet in areas that were never designed or designated as classroom space. We have sailed past “overcrowding” and landed squarely in “bursting at the seams.”
We desperately and undeniably need new schools, and we need them urgently. A vote to obtain necessary funding for a five-school master plan will come in about two years (not five to ten years, as had been surmised) and not a moment too soon. This is a long-term project and yes, it will be expensive.
We all love Watertown and of course we want it to have all of the resources and features that any beautiful community might boast. But realistically, we cannot have all of these things at once— and we cannot ask taxpayers to stack tax increases in a short span of time. While some taxes recently went down, multifamily homeowners (like me) were subject to a significant tax increase. Passing the CPA now adds another layer of expense, and puts our community in the position of being inclined to vote against a school override in a few short years out of sheer financial exhaustion. (The cost comparison between the CPA and a school override is irrelevant; two taxes are always more expensive than one.)
I find it disheartening to see the concerns I’ve posited above so enthusiastically criticized and dismissed by some members of our community who wish to see the CPA pass. I understand that it is frustrating to see opposition to something that seems so lovely and universally appealing. I also understand the frustration in holding off on something you want now because others are afraid of something else coming down the pike. But many people are in the position of needing to do exactly that. We make choices every day between things we’d like to have and things we need and can afford. The dismissive attitude towards people who are concerned about floating both the CPA and a school override does not represent the best of who we can be to one another as neighbors. It is very likely that— whether each of us agrees or disagrees on how expensive the CPA and school override combined will be— some people will be primed to vote against our schools out of financial necessity if the CPA passes first.
What seems less likely, I would hope, is the quietly intimated suggestion that voting against the CPA now will necessitate CPA proponents reflexively voting against our schools when an override hits the ballot. Those of us who would vote NO on the CPA because we want to first support our schools are not aiming to pit ourselves “against” supporters of the CPA. It is disheartening to see that message reflected back to us from the YES side. I hope that our neighbors will look with a gentler perspective on the many of us who are trying to balance our school needs, our family financial needs, and our community’s overall wellbeing. Preserving a community’s character comes in more forms than in just the preservation of historic buildings.