To the Editor,
In 2005 I worked to pass the Community Preservation Act (CPA) for Watertown—a small surcharge on real estate tax bills that releases matching CPA funds from the state. These funds can support Watertown’s affordable housing, open space, historic preservation, and recreation projects. It was defeated and we have paid a steep price.
Watertown residents, like all Massachusetts residents, have indirectly paid into the CPA trust fund with fees on real estate transactions and additional general revenue contributions since its start in 2000. For 16 years we have funded these same projects in 161 other Massachusetts communities. And Watertown has nothing to show for our contributions to this fund.
Then, as now, the CPA makes good financial sense for Watertown. By voting Yes on Question 5, you vote to return funds to Watertown. You vote to grow a 2% investment by around 27%. Yes on Question 5 would generate an estimated $1.7M annually from Watertown taxpayers. And it would add an estimated $400K each year to our town budget from the CPA trust fund. This is a good deal by any measure.
Three things happened when Watertown voted down the CPA in 2005. We lost the opportunity to invest $12M-$15M of our own funds in Watertown. We left $7.5M – $9.5M in state CPA funds on the table. And we asked Watertown taxpayers to pay every penny of projects that would have been supported by the state. CPA funds would have defrayed the $3M cost of renovating Victory Field and helped with the recent $800,000 Town purchase of property for the bike path. CPA funds for projects like these would free up money to support our schools and other budget priorities in Watertown like salaries and benefits for our municipal employees.
A Yes Vote for Question 5 will add approximately $70 – $150 per year to your tax bill (depending on your home’s value), or about $6 – $12.50 per month. For those of you concerned that the CPA will put our neighbors living on limited incomes in financial jeopardy: an income exemption is available for those who need it.
For others who believe an annual projected $150 tax increase on the most expensive homes in Watertown will limit the success of an override to fund the renovation of the schools in 2-3 years—quite frankly—this is unproven speculation and unknowable.
We can cast our vote based on an unfounded fear that the good, generous citizens of Watertown won’t support their schools when asked 3 years from now.
Or we can vote Yes on Question 5 based on the facts of a strong business case. When Watertown puts skin in the game by investing in our own community, the state will give us money to fund projects we already pay for. We will be able to support our neighbors living on limited incomes by funding affordable housing.
And, importantly, we will increase our budget flexibility to support critical priorities, like our schools. Who knows? Perhaps a Yes Vote on the Question 5 would give the Watertown budget enough flexibility so we wouldn’t need an override for the schools.
We can’t afford to make the same mistake again. On November 8, make the smart financial decision for Watertown. Please join me in voting Yes on Question 5 for the CPA.
(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.)