Since the beginning of this year, I have been contacted by numerous supporters of the Community Preservation Act (CPA) seeking my endorsement for the CPA, Ballot Question #5. I have stated to all, I would be hard-pressed to ask more of my constituents, in light of the overwhelming real estate tax increase this past fiscal year. I truly appreciate everyone’s willingness to listen to my viewpoint.
On Jan. 17, 2016, I sent communication to Town Manager Michael Driscoll, stressing the fiscal plight of many East Enders relative to their substantial real estate tax increases. I have tried to address the concerns of many constituents who have sought my help with the tax abatement process. Residents Town-wide continue to affirm that Watertown is financially not viable for their children and many valued Town employees. Were you one of the many who reached out to me for assistance?
The State Community Preservation Act offers four possible exemptions, and a lesser 1 percent surcharge as in Boston’s Ballot Question, to lessen the cash burden on property owners. Watertown’s CPA Committee chose a 2 percent surcharge and only one exemption for persons qualified for low income housing or senior low or moderate income housing in the Town. I requested information about the exemption guideline from Mr. Driscoll’s Administration Team and would be happy to share upon request.
In the 2005 CPA initiative, the first $100,000 of value was exempt; not so in 2016. According to the Jan. 19, 2016 minutes of the Watertown Housing Partnership: “the enactment would likely include an exemption for the first $100,000 in value.” Obviously, the exemption did not occur.
On Oct. 19, 2016, the Town Council’s subcommittee on Economic Development and Planning met to discuss: How to Support Small Business. Unfortunately, the exemption option to exclude class three commercial and class four industrial properties from the 2 percent surcharge or first $100,000 of value were not brought forward for consideration. Will there be rent increases for small business owners if there is an escalation clause in their lease?
Within the past month, I have been contacted by distraught tenants of a local apartment building. It seems that upon lease renewal, there will be a 4 percent rent increase. Very simply, on a $2,000 per month rental, that’s an increase of $80/mo.; prior to any adjustments for real estate tax increases. The increase places the age 55, plus tenants in a very difficult financial position. Will other rental owners follow suit?
If after five years, Watertown residents wish to revoke the CPA, repeal of the surcharge requires the same process as the enactment. Will you start the process? Also, Sections 11 and 16b clearly state, the surcharge will remain in effect until all contractual bond obligations have been fully discharged. Will you keep a watchful eye on bonds, issued in anticipation of revenue?
Although, all the projects within the scope of Community Preservation are worthy endeavors; still unknown is the tax rate for Fiscal Year 2017. On what will the 2 percent surcharge be based for the coming years? Plus the fact of a looming debt exclusion override. The formula and percentages found in the FY 17 Tax Classification Hearing Document, presented to the Town Council on Oct. 25, 2016 as a First Reading, are quite enlightening; please take the time to review.
It is the responsibility of each voter to make an informed decision on Tuesday, Nov. 8. How will the acceptance of the CPA affect the finances of your family; your livelihood and collateral hardship on tenants? Your vote will make a difference for years to come.
All the best,
Angeline B. Kounelis
District A, East End, Town Councilor
(Editor’s Note: the last letters about the Nov. 8 election will be run on Sunday Nov. 6, and must be submitted by Saturday, Nov. 5 at 5 p.m.)