Signs have popped up around Watertown this fall, literature has arrived in the mail, and ads have appeared in newspapers and online, all regarding Watertown’s Question 5 – whether the town should adopt the Community Preservation Act.
The CPA would add a 2 percent surcharge to local property taxes, both residential and commercial, to create a fund for affordable housing, open space and recreation, and historic preservation and the town would receive some matching fund from the state. (See more information here.)
Like most town elections, the majority of the funding comes from people and groups in Watertown, but some has come from groups based out of town and even out of state.
In the campaign finance report filed by Invest in Watertown, the backers of the Yes on 5 campaign, 26 Watertown residents contributed along with Newton-based Metro West Collaborative Development (which gave $500), whose executive director lives in Watertown and works to build and create affordable housing in communities west of Boston. In total, the group raised $9,822. The biggest contribution was $2,000 (the report can be seen here).
The Concerned Watertown Homeowners has lead the No on Question 5 campaign. President John Labadini said the group spent about $2,000 on signs and advertising, and all the money has been raised from members.
“Any money spent on signs and advertising is 100 percent from Watertown residents,” Labadini said.
The other signs around town opposing Question 5 are from Watertown Strong Schools, whose message is that now is not the right time for the CPA because the residents will soon be asked to approve funding for renovating the town’s schools. Elodia Thomas, who has been active with the Watertown Strong Schools, said they spent a few hundred dollars of members’ own money on signs and advertising.
Neither the Concerned Watertown Homeowners nor the Watertown Strong Schools groups have filed campaign finance reports with the Town Clerk’s office, said Town Clerk John Flynn. Typically, any spending on signs, mailing and advertising must be reported, Flynn said.
Along with the lawn signs and advertising, the Yes on 5 group has also sent out mailers to Watertown voters. Recently, one was sent out about the CPA, but not from Invest in Watertown. This one was from the Trust for Public Lands (TPL).
The non-profit group was founded in 1972 to “save lands for people to enjoy – from neighborhood parks to national parks,” according to the TPL website. The group helps purchase land for parks, and also works on campaigns that secure public funding create public land and land conservation.
Some people in Watertown, particularly those opposing the CPA wondered why a national group got involved in a local election.
Tony Palomba, a Town Councilor and active member of Invest in Watertown, said that the Trust for Public Lands offered their assistance.
“We didn’t approach them,” Palomba said. “They are a member of the State Community Preservation Coalition. They provide education materials, presentations and advice to communities looking to adopt the Community Preservation Act.”
The mailer does not even mention Invest in Watertown, Palomba said, who said it is focuses more on the CPA in general.
According to the TPL’s website, the group has helped pass 486 ballot measures nationwide, which have created more than $59 billion in voter approved funding for parks.
Jennifer Van Kampen, who is executive director of Metro West Collaborative Development and involved in Invest in Watertown, said that the Trust for Public Land has been active in Massachusetts.
“Since then they have often provided educational materials to voters in the 161 towns/cities that have had the question on the ballot, I’m sure they ran similar pieces in several of the 16 towns that currently have CPA on the ballot,” Van Kampen said.
Palomba added that the Trust for Public Land has been involved in supporting the CPA since it was proposed, and helped write the legislation. Kevin Essington, TPL’s Massachusetts/Rhode Island State Director is on the steering committee of the Community Preservation Coalition.
Question 5 is on the back of the Watertown ballot, at the bottom. A “Yes” vote supports adopting the Community Preservation Act, and “No” opposes the adoption.