Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Final Straw?

CPA Committee voted 7-0 (with 2 absent) to support Ballot Question #5

No surprise the Amherst Community Preservation Act Committee voted last night after little to no discussion to support the ballot question doubling the CPA tax, err, I mean "surcharge," from 1.5% to 3%.  Unanimously.

Which is kind of like the fox guarding the hen house requesting the farmer, "send more chickens!"

Amherst currently has the highest tax rate in the area ($20.97/$1,000 valuation with average tax bill of $6,712/) second only to Longmeadow (at $23.15 valuation with average tax bill of $7,558)  In fact, Longmeadow has the highest tax rate in the entire state.

And our public safety departments are stretched beyond the breaking point.  We badly need 5 additional police officers, five additional firefighters and a new $12 million fire station in South Amherst.

CPA money, however, can only be spent on open space/recreation, historic preservation and public housing.  All of which are admirable, but hardly a priority over public safety. 

In 2008 the attempt failed by only 172 votes out of 10,416 cast.

In the next coming weeks a series of dominoes will fall in support of this financial burden on already overburdened taxpayers including the Historical Commission, Conservation Commission, Leisure Services and Supplemental Education (Rec Dept), Housing & Sheltering Committee and of course our illustrious town "leaders", the Select Board.

Last night, moments before taking the vote, CPA committee Chair Peter Jessop said, "It's important this be a unanimous vote."  The Committee also voted unanimously to authorize Mr. Jessop to act as a PR flack to promote the measure with the mainstream media (what's left of it).

Area Tax Rates & Average Total Tax Bill:

Amherst $20.97/$1,000 total $6,712
Hadley $10.64/$1,000 total $3,278
Northampton $15.39/$1,000 total $4,597
Belchertown $17.72/$1,000 total $4,303
Sunderland $13.98/$1,000 total $3,850
So. Hadley $16.41/$1,000 total $3,682

In 2007 Amherst Town Meeting spent $268,000 ($128,000 of it CPA money) to "save" the privately owned Kimball House (brick building foreground) now dwarfed by home in rear


Anonymous said...

We definitely need to spend more money on stained glass windows. Let's just round it up to 5%.
My God, where do these idiots come from???

Larry Kelley said...

From money. Too much money.

Anonymous said...

Glad I don't live in Amherst. When are people going to stop throwing money away? This town keeps bolstering high wages for people at the top and leaving the tax payers left to approve nonsense.

Anonymous said...

"My God, where do these idiots come from???"

Amherst, Massachusetts actually.

Larry Kelley said...

Karma for the infected blankets (sarcasm).

Anonymous said...

Why isn't Pelham, on your list? It is basically equal to Amherst. Don't they count?

Larry Kelley said...

Pelham $20.40/$1,000 $6,186 total
Leverett $19.20/$1,000 $5,807 total
Shutesbury $20.60/$1,000 $5,044 total

Would you like me to list all 350 some odd municipalities?

local taxpayer said...

Ummm, lets see, a bunch of people put other people in charge of spending their money and expected they to do it with care???

This community loves committees more than their own offspring.

The real question is how another town beat Amherst at Amherst's game?

Also clearly the town as a whole does not agree with the need for more police, even if you and I could agree on this. A few cops are a drop in the bucket in such a town budget, they are not being hired because in some way shape or form, they are not really in demand by the community.

Local taxpayer said...

It does see like a reasonable request to list other local towns that share Amherst's services and general philosophy of big govt.

The author's comment at the end of his last post is one of the least mature responses I have seen from him to date. As if he does not recognize that information on Pelham would be more relevant than P-town? If he does not, then what value is any of the writing and if he does, he just insulted someone to deflect off topic, either way, comment in poor taste from someone who I thought had higher journalistic standards.

Anonymous said...

FYI,South Hadley has 2 separate Fire/Water Districts so you need to add those tax rates to the Town tax rate to get the total. District 1 (generally southern part of Town) is $18.65 and District 2 is $19.21

Anonymous said...

You have made the case against the surcharge. Your listing of tax rates, which I assume is accurate, is eye-popping. I don't understand today's sarcasm regarding our current Select Board, since you know who some of the alternative members would be. I share your impatience regarding our public safety staffing, and especially regarding the long-deferred fire station.

I'm not advocating one way or the other, but you have failed to mention the state match that brings more revenue into the town as the surcharge percentage goes up. This is an important consideration in deciding how to vote.

The CPA money essentially is in a different compartment in terms of revenue. It is not fungible: if we don't spend it, it doesn't then become available for other pressing needs. A voter who is not simply reacting blindly (of whom I assume that there are a few reading on this blog) would want to look at the whole array of recipients for CPA money, many of which were entirely worthy, and not just the North East Street building.

I do agree that the extra focus on CPA every year tends to make our spending priorities appear to be skewed, sometimes away from projects long overdue and seemingly unaddressed, projects that are core basics for a municipal government. Some voters may view more CPA revenue as taking us further off the track, if only in what we spend valuable meeting time talking and thinking about.

Several of our leaders, including Ms. Brewer, advocated against the surcharge increase last time. Their argument was in anticipation of an override the following spring. They won the day then. I will be looking to hear the discussion on Select Board but also on Finance Committee. Despite the ridicule on this blog, there is currently no lack of wisdom on those two boards.

I voted "yes" last time, but I sense taxpayer exhaustion and discouragement in town, especially when it comes to our school administration and its spending levels, including a suspicion that we have been driving people of limited means out of town.

Nevertheless, this CPA vote requires more thought than just a snap judgment. Is it ok to call for an open mind on this one?

It's become a mantra for me, but here goes: there is no substitute for paying close attention to Town Meeting, what it does, how it functions (eating up time and making many residents think they don't have time to serve on it) and how individual members vote, when they show up. It continues to be unclear to me that the will of Town Meeting reflects the will of the majority of our residents, if they chose to inform themselves, but, if people opt to sleep through the process, what else are we to conclude?

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

I think the CPS surcharge will add about $85 to my $8500 tax bill. This is money well spent since it will go to things we will all use and benefit from.

On the other hand, Amherst property owners pay high salaries for average services. Many roads have potholes, fields are poorly maintained. and we have high paid town administrators who apparently won't return an email. The schools spend tons of money for average results. (The kids from high education/income households do great, of course, but that would happen anyway.) The schools add expensive administrators and programs with few demonstrable results for the students.

Let's put our tax money into bread and butter services and help out the police dept that is stretched to the max. I'm fine with adding to CPA funds for things we can all see and use. But no, no more overrides.

Larry Kelley said...

At the May 4th Town Meeting where we overwhelmingly passed the routine CPA items, the total amount for all of them combined was $276,000.

Peter Jessop told Town Meeting they were keeping, "276,000 not allocated in a bucket."

So if they can't even come up with enough projects to fund at the 1.5% level, why the hell should we double that for them to squirrel it away "in a bucket."

Larry Kelley said...

Correction: That should have read they were keeping "$270,000 in a bucket."

Anonymous said...

"Open space/recreation, historic preservation and public housing."

It may not include public safety but it sure is a catch-all for everything else. This was originally sold as a save open space surcharge (really a tax), but building housing is exactly the opposite of preserving open space, and since it can go to polish doorknobs, or add more gold leaf where needed, it's really a slush fund at the taxpayers expense.

Anonymous said...

LK: "CPA money, however, can only be spent on open space/recreation, historic preservation and public housing"

The CPA tax is causing a domino effect of higher taxes. Every property bought up comes off the tax rolls, leaving the rest of us to cover the same expenses - plus carrying costs for the new property. The more properties acquired by the town, the faster the effect.

Please, vote against the increase. It is bad enough already.

Dr. Ed said...

What was it Maggie Thatcher said about running out of other people's money to spend?

Now, how comes I'm broke? said...

Larry, you may call it

"Ponziville" whenever you are


I know I am.

-Squeaky Squeaks


Tom McBride said...

The CPA has been nothing but a drain on our community. The organization somehow got in when a Republican was governor. They come into the community saying they have terrific projects for us, but ultimately taxes are raised, and property values continue to climb because of them, making it possible that only the wealthy can to live in single family homes. The median income of those living in a single family home is over $100,000, and will continue to climb because of organizations like the CPA, and others with good intentions, but people who know nothing about economics. What they are doing for affordable housing will have no effect on the statistics. A wolf in sheep's clothing. They should of been of been booted out a long time ago. People see the tagline, "free money", and they can't resist, but the town slowly becomes more elite. We're not aristocrats, are we? Although some of us call ourselves progressives. They're completely deluded people.

Anonymous said...

Initially towns who passed the CPA would get a 100% match from the state for projects. What is the typical match now?

Dr. Ed said...

And folks, when you demand PILOT funds from the state, don't think they won't count the state's part of the CPA money as part of that...

Larry Kelley said...

The match has fallen as low as 26%.

Since entering the program Amherst has raised $3,356,053 via property tax, err, surcharge increase, with a match of $1,938,548 from the state for a grand total of $5,294,601