From fixing dilapidated masonry at Oakes Ames Memorial Hall, to designating funds for a new Habitat for Humanity home, Easton voters overwhelmingly supported a diverse group of projects funded by the Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds at Town Meeting Monday night.
All in all, voters approved $3.16 million of funds to be spent on CPA acquisitions, with the majority of the funds ($2.8 million) to be borrowed, through bonding. They also demonstrated strong support for the CPA by soundly rejecting an article to reduce the CPA real estate tax surcharge from 3 to 1.5 percent.
The support had members of the Community Preservation Committee quite pleased with their progress.
“We had a victory celebration yesterday – we were full of ourselves!” said Avery Williams, the committee’s clerk.
But it also left a small group of people worried about future spending. Albert Benson, a former finance committee member, said he introduced the article to reduce the CPA surcharge because he wanted to make some points, even though he didn’t expect it to pass.
He said Easton CPA funding has gone up from $405,000 in 2002, to $900,000 in 2010, even though the surcharge has remained at 3 percent, due to escalating property taxes.
“It not only affects residents, if affects businesses, and they’re not in the best shape,” he said.
Benson said his biggest objection was that the town had been borrowing to pay for CPA projects, instead of using available funds. While he said he favored most CPA articles, he was against the two that involved borrowing.
“If we cut the funds in half, at least we’ll cut it down,” he said.
Finance Committee Clerk Kimberly DuBois spoke against another article to borrow $500,000 to help purchase the Governor Ames Estate, saying she was concerned about interest. Resident Robert Hicks agreed.
“I think this is a nice project, but it’s not funded wisely. All you’re trying to do by borrowing money is to raise the cost of the project,” he said.
But CPA supporters said they should not deplete all the CPA funds. Selectmen Chairwoman Colleen Corona said it was important to preserve money for potential big parcel acquisitions in the future.
“If they spend the money now, they’ll have no money to buy those parcels,” she said.
She also said that the town was not irresponsible with its borrowing, and that it had maintained the same debt service (at 8 percent) for the last ten years.
In the end, most people voted for all the CPA articles, and fewer than 20 people voted to reduce CPA funds. Williams said his committee worked hard to pack the meeting with supporters, and they wanted to crush any further attempts to reduce funds.
Benson said however that people will continue to be concerned about overspending. He said if the town has another override in the future, he’s certain residents will want to see the CPA surcharged reduced.
Approved projects included:
$500,000 (to be borrowed) to fund a portion of the purchase of the Governor Ames Estate, at 35 Oliver Street. The money goes towards purchasing a conservation restriction on the property, which includes 48 acres and historical structures.
The property will be sold by the Ames family to Trustees of Reservation, a non-profit organization that specializes in purchasing, preserving and caring for land designated for public use. The non-profit organization plans to open up the estate for public use, in about two years, using a stable as a visitor’s center. Organizers are planning a one-year planning process, to begin in 2012.
The entire project will cost about $4 million, but a representative from the Trustees, said they’ve already received commitments of $3 million in private donations.
$140, 000 for restoration work at Oakes Ames Memorial Hall, designed by H. H. Richardson. The project will not go forward without a matching grant.
$120,000 of restoration work for Phase II of the Queset Garden, behind the Ames Free Library. The work includes repairs to the stage (where there was a fire) and three walkways that are ADA compliant.
$25,000 to help fund construction of a new habitat for Humanity house, at 12A Highland Street. The South Shore Habitat for Humanity purchased the land from the town for $1, and it is now seeking additional funds to complete the project.
$2.37 million (to be borrowed) to buy completed multi-use playing fields at Chestnut Street. The project includes 16.7 acres of land, and if the deal goes through, the land will be owned by the town, and controlled by the town’s Recreation Department. A preliminary plan includes five multi-use playing fields, a playground, and a 144-car parking lot.