More updates

Falling behind on my posts again.  Where does the time go?

(This post has become "CPA Central."  Lots of interesting consideration of Question 4 in the comments.)

  The Select Board doesn’t meet today (10/13) because of the holiday.  We will meet at 8:00 tomorrow morning, just for about an hour, to take care of a few things – the main one being signing the Town Meeting warrant.

  Those who pay attention to the packet info might wonder why it includes draft minutes for 10/6 when I haven’t put anything on the site from that meeting yet.  Those minutes are from the half-hour meeting preceding the long (really long… like four hours…) meeting that began at 6:30.  Because they were officially two separate meetings, they need separate minutes, but I thought I’d just combine the meeting summaries into one, and alas, I haven’t finished the minutes for the 6:30 meeting yet.  Why so complicated?  The 6:00 meeting was in the 2nd floor meeting room so that the Town Room could be set up for the Four Boards meeting (Select Board, Finance Committee, School Committee and Library Trustees) that kicked off our 6:30 meeting.  I hope to have the minutes and meeting summary done soon.

  Also per the packet materials:  often ZBA Special Permit Decision info is included, and those are really quite interesting.  They get posted to the web site, but aren’t usually up when I write up the packet contents so I don’t link to them (and I don’t go back and update them later, sorry.)  But you can check them out on the page that has all the submitted minutes, agendas, etc. for many committees.  Click here and scroll to the bottom for ZBA stuff.

  This week’s Bulletin will have “for” and “against” columns from the Select Board regarding the ballot question about increasing the CPA surcharge to 3%.  Gerry and Diana wrote the “for” column, and Alisa and I did the “against” one.  It’s a tough issue, and many disagree about it.  There’s no doubt that the CPA has been and will continue to be a great resource for Amherst, but with our already-grim budget situation (please, PLEASE, read through the PowerPoint presentation at and then fill out the questionnaire) and the potentially devastating local impacts of the deteriorating economy, I can’t support raising that surcharge right now.  If we are going to ask people to accept higher tax bills, I think it ought to be for funding the essentials of Town government, not just open space, historic preservation, affordable housing and recreation.  I worry that making this increase now would jeopardize an override later, if one becomes necessary.  People are strapped.  We have to be judicious in asking them to pay more.  But this is for the voters to decide. 

  Speaking of the Facility of Community Choices Committee presentation, you can watch rebroadcasts of the October 2nd forum weekdays all this week at 1:00 p.m. on ACTV channel 17.  (Not home?  Set the VCR or DVR. It’s just over one hour long.)  They also have a great display at the Jones Library, and will be doing smaller forums around town with different groups.  The web site has those details.  (Where it says committee calendar – those are the times and locations of their forums.)

  Went to the groundbreaking for the new New England Environmental building last week.  This is an ideal sort of project for Amherst – a local business doing environmental consulting work, opting to stay here and expand, and doing so with ultra-green construction.  Hooray!

  Went to the Chamber’s Annual Legislative Breakfast.  It was the whole gang:  Congressman John Olver, State Senator Stan Rosenberg, State Representative Ellen Story and Town Manager Larry Shaffer.  A lot of talk about the Wall Street bailout, the State’s bleak budget picture, and the enormous mess that would result if Question 1 passes (repeal of the State’s personal income tax.)  A lot of tough budget stuff confronting politicians at every level. 

  My last two weeks of Select Board meetings and events:  9/29:  office hours at Black Sheep, Budget Coordinating Group meeting (SB representative;) 10/1: meeting with Gerry about Town Manager evaluation process, agenda setting meeting, Conservation Commission meeting(SB liaison); 10/2: Facilitation of Community Choices Committee meeting (SB liaison,)  FCCC Budget forum; 10/3: Police ride along; 10/4: Fire Department open house, Renewable Energy Fair; 10/6: office hours at Black Sheep, New England Environmental groundbreaking, Select Board meeting; 10/7:  meeting with Town Commercial Relations Committee Chair (SB liaison,) Public Works Committee meeting (SB liaison;) 10/8: agenda setting meeting, 10/9: lunch with the Town Manager; 10/10: Chamber Legislative Breakfast, Parking Task Force meeting (SB representative)

  October is my month to be Vice Chair again.  This involves meeting the week before a Select Board meeting to plan the agenda with the Town Manager and the Chair.  Also, the Vice Chair runs the SB meeting in the Chair’s absence.  For those who notice that our seating arrangement at the meetings changes, that’s why.  The Vice Chair is always on the Chair’s left, with the next in line to that person’s left, and so on.  On the one hand, I think rotating this position every month is a little goofy – no committee does that.  On the other hand, those agenda setting meetings are so important – you learn more than just upcoming agenda stuff – that everyone needs that opportunity.  (Better yet:  more of the info from those meetings needs to be communicated to the rest of the Select Board members, and in a more timely manner.)  A theory is that being Vice Chair lets you get your items on the agenda, but the fact is that we can request any item to be included at any time.  I think you really just tend to pay more attention to what’s on the agenda when you’re in that role.

  October is also the second month of my two-month stint doing committee appointments.  In September, I shared that role with Diana, and in October, I share it with Alisa, which is how our revised system is working.  Different people handle this task with different degrees of effort and recruitment.  Diana is particularly good with this – I told her that I think she should do it all the time.  But it’s a lot of work.  So the best I can muster is to deal with any committee applications that come in, and to put out a general plea:  Please consider applying for a board or committee!  We have so many – surely you can find one that suits your interests.  Among the current vacancies are:  Planning Board, Conservation Commission, Public Works Committee, Public Transportation and Bicycle Committee, Town Commercial Relations Committee, and more.  This is how the important work of the Town gets done, folks – we really need your help!  Read up about different committees here, and follow the link to submit a Citizen Activity Form.  Some appointments are by the Select Board, and others are by the Town Manager.

  Lest you think that life on the Select Board is all work and no play – Gerry, Alisa and I, along with Assistant Town Manager and Finance Director John Musante, will be one of the teams competing in the Amherst Education Foundation’s Annual Trivia Bee on October 30th.  Diana is out of town that day, so John agreed to take her spot.  (And Larry is one of the judges for the event.)  This will be fun and it will raise important money for the schools.  And apparently costumes are a big part of this event, so stay tuned. 


YES on 4 said:

Food and Shelter! What could be more essential than working farms (not merely "open space") and affordable housing?

The beauty of the Community Preservation Act (CPA) is that for every dollar raised
in Amherst, as much as another dollar comes back to Amherst. In fact, because of the way matching funds are allocated, that extra dollar - or even more - would go somewhere else first - to another town or city which is fully funding its CPA already, like Northampton or Hadley - should Amherst decide not to fully fund its CPA on November 4.

And unlike the regular property tax, Amherst's CPA fund is progressive, exempting low income residents as
well as the first $100,000 in residential property value, meaning most folks in Amherst pay only pennies per day for the myriad benefits of the CPA.

More matching funds means less pressure on other areas of Amherst's budget. That makes the need for big overrides or severe budget cuts less. And then all the other "essentials" we care about - schools, libraries, public safety, public works, public health, public transportation - have a better chance being adequately funded as well....

Please, Stephanie - please, dear readers - please... vote...

Yes on 4 on November 4th!

Confused on 4 said:

I was completely with Stephanie on my reasoning for wanting to vote NO on 4...I felt as if it would raise taxes to benefit only a small portion of our town...when our town is in dire need of money just to fund basic services for all citizens.

But you make some good points about the matching funds. Could you please list for us some recent projects that were funded through CPA money here in Amherst? Perhaps if you could demonstrate to us that the funds really do go to essential projects that support the entire community, you might be able to sway some of us NO voters.

YES on 4 said:

The following site has a lot of information:

Besides listing of CPA projects in Amherst, providing links to other communities,
answering FAQs and so forth, you might follow the "Comments" link to thoughtful
essays by Aaron Hayden and Jim Oldham.

Still not sure said:

Thank you for posting that helpful link...but I am still unsure. One of your big selling points (for me) is the potential for matching by the state up to 100% if we increased our tax to 3%. I see that even without the increase, we were matched at 65% last year. Not as good as 100% but not bad. But with the national financial crisis and our state's dire financial straights, do we know for SURE that if we increase our tax to 3% that the state will match this 100%? Is it guaranteed? Is some minimal level of matching guaranteed by the state?

Larry Kelley said:

Of course what “Yes on 4” fails to mention is that only “homeowners” are allowed the first $100,000 exemption on property taxes—commercial properties pay 100%.

And with Amherst only having a 10% commercial tax base, we don’t need any more impediments.

CPA money is spent as though it were manna from heaven. Take for instance the soccer weeds, I mean fields, at Plum Brook. CPA legislation clearly says you can only use CPA money to improve land that was originally purchased with CPA funds. Since that property was purchased way back in the early 1970’s…

Eva Schiffer said:

Still not Sure:

Thanks for your thoughtfulness. I think the CPA is great. Before Amherst adopted it, there had never been ANY money for affordable housing in the budget, and hardly any for historical preservation. Thanks to CPA, we've been able to appropriate a great deal of money to a large number of important projects for both. (As well as for open space, of which we have successfully protected a great deal all along.)

The state match has of course been an enormous help. It comes from a fund (the state CPA Fund)that is fed from Registry of Deed fees. Accumulated money is distributed annually, according to a formula, to communities that have adopted the CPA: The first 80% goes to those that have voted a surtax of less than 3%. The remaining 20% is used as an additional disbursement to those that have voted 3%. Until last year, the match was 100%(of the first 80% for Amherst's 1.5% surtax), but we knew that, as more and more communities adopted the CPA and started getting their piece of the state fund, the match would decline. And last year, as you noticed, it did -- to just 65%. And unless some communities rescind their adoption of the act, I don't foresee any likelihood of that percentage increasing again. The only statutory guarantee is that it is never supposed to go below 5%. So it's true that we'd get more match money if we voted the increase to 3%. But it wouldn't be 100%. And, as Stephanie says, it and the additional surtax could only be used for additional open space, historical preservation, affordable housing recreation projects.

Now, even without the increase, we'll continue to pursue all these to the extent we can, as we should, with the money we'll continue to receive from our current 1.5% surtax plus whatever the match will be over the years. But with a $2.6 million funding deficit in 2009 for just the level of current town services, I can't support earmarking ADDITIONAL money for these good causes and risk putting basic services in jeopardy.

I completely agree with Stephanie. And I completely disagree, on this issue, with Aaron Hayden, much as I admire and support his candidacy for Select Board. Who knows, maybe he'll reconsider.

Ed said:

Affordable housing is like alcohol, tastes good but has consequences.

Every affordable unit you build (or "preserve" which means de-student) means about 2 more kids in the school system, at $17K per. Along with other services to our most expensive population, single mothers with children.

So what you then get into is creating additional tax obligations out of these obligations. So to with "open space" preservation, that is land taken off the tax rolls and not developed and thus not taxed.

The real issue is if Amherst is to be an urbane city or a farming hamlet -- the places like Lexington and Concord can afford to be both but Amherst simply can't. And if you are going to have the open spaces and farms and pastoral views, you aren't going to have the municipal budget for services -- or you can have that but either need bigger highways (like the Rt 9 bypass through Marks' Meadow) and/or to build on the preserved land.

You can be Springfield or you can be Whatley but you can't be both...

Anonymous said:

Ed and Eva: without securing more affordable housing soon
Amherst will drop below the 10% level, at which point all that
useless farmland will become the target of developers using
40B to override local zoning and build whatever they please
as long as a quarter of the units are affordable, so be careful
what you wish for.

Eva ignores: the Town is already saving capital funds by using
the CPA (see, Town Hall renovations).

Eva neglects to admit: a huge chunk of Town capital (and CPA)
funds have been tragically wasted for one of her pet projects:
the weedy Plum Brook playing fields (the "new Cherry Hill"?)

Ed: "You can be Springfield or you can be Whatley but you can't
be both..." - very profound, very deep, and very wrong.

Zestabs said:

I agree that increasing the affordable housing stock is one of Amherst’s key needs. I’m very pleased that Fall Town Meeting will be asked to approve the formation of a municipal housing trust. Such a trust would be able to accept CPA funds (among other funding) and bank them so that they accumulate and can be used for significant projects. Unfortunately, money is only one of the hurdles facing the creation of affordable housing in Amherst. The battle between open space and development/density is even more challenging. Often, people love something when it's hypothetical, but not so much when it's actual.

We have a lot of key needs right now, and as the economic news continues to get worse at every level, it means it will continue to get worse for Amherst. To me, that makes this entirely the wrong time to increase people’s tax bills for such narrowly-defined spending categories, no matter how worthy. If we want people to pay more, we should have the discretion to determine the priority usage for those dollars.

Having a little pot of money off to the side to spend on certain “extras” while essential services are threatened is kind of like spending your “birthday money” on a spa treatment while your electricity gets shut off for lack of payment. We face major budget problems this year and in the coming years, and so while we debate and make increasingly painful cuts, we’ll also increase the amount raised and spent for CPA-eligible projects? That just isn’t logical to me. But again, the voters will decide.

I’m not persuaded by the argument that CPA reduces other budget pressures. The specifics of the Town Hall project made it a lucky anomaly. CPA law is clear that it is not intended to fund regular maintenance and operating expenses – that would defy its purpose, and we should respect the spirit as well as the strict letter of this important act. The more we co-opt those funds for things we have a municipal responsibility to pay for, the less we have to invest in the areas we wanted CPA for in the first place.

Zestabs said:


Neil said:

Ed: "You can be Springfield or you can be Whatley but you can't
be both..." - very profound, very deep, and very wrong.

That's Ed in a nutshell.

Eva Schiffer said:

Adding to Stephanie's last point: The CPA specifically prohibits CPA funds being used to supplant funds that the town has available in the budget; CPA funds can only be used to supplement them.

As for the weary old point about all the CPA money for Plum Brook: It's a little more than $40,000 a year, for 10 years -- vs. HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of dollars we've spent every year on EACH of the other three categories.


I agree with part of Stephanie's cute sound-bite: the Plum Brook fiasco is the moral equivalent of "birthday money" for a "spa treatment"!

But, but, but: can Stephanie seriously say the same about the land protected for farming
or the affordable housing made possible by the CPA? Seriously?

Go ahead then: Tell that to the farmers and the new residents!

Reality checks: upcoming expirations of affordability easements at several large housing facilities will make securing affordable housing a tremendous challenge for Amherst; even if Amherst were at the 3% CPA level; and even the maximum allowed fraction (80%) of the CPA funds were dedicated each year for the next several years to securing affordable housing.

Imagine that: both Aaron Hayden and Jim Oldham (and Gerry Weiss and Diana Stein) all agree
on this issue?

Reason: on this issue THEY HAVE IT RIGHT!

Farmland and open space preservation, creation of affordable housing, and the other CPA investments, are community interests and responsibilities. They are not municipal budget responsibilities. CPA was created because these were worthy and important areas of community interest for which cities and towns desired a structured mechanism -- like taxation -- to support. In good economic times, the municipal and community interests are served in parallel, and the system is seamless. In bad economic times, the seams are glaring. We have a dedicated area of “taxation” that can ONLY support the community responsibilities, regardless of the dire straits of the municipal responsibilities. Question 4 looks to INCREASE the “taxation” for spending on those community responsibilities at the same time the municipal responsibilities face ever-greater cuts. Additionally, I’m concerned that increasing the “taxation” for those community responsibilities now endangers the ability to increase taxation to fund the municipal responsibilities later. As a citizen, my personal priority is funding the municipal responsibilities. As an elected official of the Town, I consider defending and prioritizing the municipal responsibilities to be my job.

Community interests and responsibilities are supported by a traditional network of dedicated funding organizations. It is fortunate that those of us for whom these community interests are personally meaningful can contribute to those organizations and invest in those areas. CPA is not the only way to support preservation of open space and farmland, etc. Taxation IS the only way to pay for EMTs, police officers, teachers, road repairs, and so forth.

I support the CPA and its funding areas. But when it is in conflict with municipal funding responsibilities, as I believe that increasing the CPA percentage now is, the municipal responsibilities take precedent.

I thought my “spa treatment with birthday money while the electricity gets shut off” explained all of that rather succinctly. Willful misunderstanding and distortion of a clear point, and the “Beware exploitative 40B development!” are pages straight out of McCain’s playbook from last night’s debate. Come on Anon, you can do better than that. ;-)

Anonymous said:

Very well put Stephanie. If given the choice of paying for teachers, police, fire etc. vs. purchasing the lawn in front of the old boys club, the lawn will lose. Personally, I can't afford the "spa treatment" when my family can barely afford pasta these days!

Richard Morse said:

It seems to me that Stephanie and other opponents of Question 4 are guilty of classic overthink here.

The enumerated purposes for CPA money are worthwhile ones, important to the well-being of the community. They are only "extras" or "spa treatments" in the context of our frustration in funding other worthwhile, non-CPA civic goods.

I too am frustrated with our inability to build consensus around a long-term budget plan and the funding for it. I'm tired of the reluctance to fund the police and fire departments to a level that's consistent with what neighboring communities expect: Town Meeting continues to have a very dangerous blind spot in this regard.

But holding up everything else waiting for these changes doesn't make sense to me. The logic is a classic case of "The Perfect as Enemy of the Good". I've scoffed at similar "let's wait" logic when the opponents of any kind of development in town have tried to stall matters in Town Meeting until some other precondition is met, like the Master Plan, for example.

I thought it was a bad idea to have this question on the ballot at this time, which is why I voted against doing so in Town Meeting. But with the matter now on the ballot, I'm voting for the overall health of the community, the additional funding, even if it is for limited purposes.

The motto on this and the other ballot questions should be this: do no harm. I believe that's what I'm doing when I vote "yes".

Anonymous said:

Another reason to vote NO on question 4, the money from the state might not be there. this is an article for the New Bedford paper:

BOSTON — SouthCoast towns will be getting less state money for open space, affordable housing and historic preservation this year under the Community Preservation Act.

For most of the decade, towns across the state got a 100 percent match from the state because they voted for a property tax surcharge of 1 to 3 percent as a local contribution. This year, many towns — including most participants in SouthCoast — will get a state match as low as 67 percent.

The drop-off is expected to be even sharper next year.

More municipalities have joined the program, and the state's only funding source for matching grants — a $10 to $20 fee on registry of deeds transactions — has plummeted in a softening real estate market.

The number of communities enrolled in the CPA has jumped from 34 to 133 since 2002. And statewide registry fees have fallen from a high of $53 million in 2003 to $27 million last fiscal year, which ended June 30. The number is expected to be about the same in the 2009 fiscal year.

The change means Dartmouth, which imposed a 1.5 percent surcharge in 2002, will get a $788,888 state match this year, or 67 percent. Towns typically borrow against what they have been promised in CPA grants to get projects moving.

While the cut was expected this year, next year has "a lot of uncertainty," said Edward Iacaponi, Dartmouth's treasurer and finance director. "We are going to be very careful that we don't overextend the fund with a lot of borrowing."

Municipal officials expected the drop, having been warned for months that it was coming. Katherine Roth, the associate director of the Community Preservation Coalition, said cities and town were told ahead of time the 100 percent match wouldn't last forever.

Towns will now have to be more nimble in how they use the money.

The law requires that at least 10 percent of the money be used in each of three categories: affordable housing, historic preservation and open space.

"It just means there will be less money available to expend in those categories," said Jeffrey Osuch, Fairhaven's executive secretary.

Fairhaven voted for a 2 percent surcharge in 2005.

The CPA was signed into law in September 2000, having been modeled after the now-defunct Cape Cod Land Bank.

Towns across the state are getting a 67 percent match in the first round of funding. Communities that imposed a full 3 percent surcharge — like Wareham and Cape Cod — were eligible for a second round of funding, which boosted them from 70 percent to 100 percent.

But next year, the DOR is estimating that the first-round match will drop to 35 percent. Under state law, if the money is not available, the match could drop as low as 5 percent.

Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem, D-Newton, has filed legislation that would raise registry fees to guarantee a state match of no lower than 75 percent.

It would also allow cities to use part of their meals or hotel taxes to qualify for CPA instead of a property tax surcharge. The bill would let municipalities use CPA funds to improve recreation land that was not purchased with CPA funds. Currently, the prohibition on spending on recreation land that was not bought with CPA money makes the program less attractive to cities, which have little open space to buy.

The Community Preservation Coalition backs the bill. The Legislature did not act on it this session, but it will be refiled in January.

Doug Pizzi, a spokesman for the Community Preservation Coalition, said the CPA has been a good deal for communities, with a much higher match than most state programs.

"Over time, it can go as low as 5 percent," he said. "The reason we really need this bill to pass is we don't want to see the match going any lower. We want to continue to see the Community Preservation Act be the useful tool that is it is for communities."

Richard Morse said:

The matching money is not the point.

The issue is: what is my responsibility as a voter? And that's something that reasonable people can disagree about.

Matching money or no matching money, this vote adds to the public treasury. One of the few things that Ronald Reagan was right about is that money spent at the local level is more carefully monitored by the public than money spent by state and federal governments. I believe that is true in Amherst.

I wish that we were addressing our fiscal problems differently, but nothing's perfect. I am not waiting for Santa Claus to show up to fund the core services of the Town. Altbough my top priorities for the community do not appear to be the same as many of my fellow Town Meeting members, I am confident that this money will ultimately be well-spent.

So, with the ballot question (and the resulting money for the community)staring me in the face, I believe that my responsibility is to vote "yes". Ultimately, it's about the additional money and the good things that can be done with it.

Larry Kelley said:

Yes, Mr. Morse the matching money is precisely the point as advocates use that as the main selling pitch. In Massachusetts we have one of the strongest Consumer Protection laws in the nation--allowing for triple damages if the consumer wins in court--although naturally it does not apply to government.

And I would guess the number one point of litigation is "false advertising".

Per Rich's "the perfect as enemy of the good" -- I don't see my argument that way. I see it more as "this good may be the enemy of a greater good."

To me, it boils down to: do you believe that increasing the CPA surcharge now has an impact on the ability to increase "regular" property taxes later, if that becomes necessary? If your answer is "no," then it is easy to vote for the CPA surcharge. If your answer is "yes," then it is not so easy.

I think people have a limited amount of willingness and ability to pay more taxes. Is this the best way to "use up" some of that? I don't think so.

Larry Kelley said:

Yes Stephanie, a CPA tax increase now will most definitely have a detrimental (‘disastrous’ is probably a better word) effect on the ability to increase “regular” property taxes later.

If folks really think we in Massachusetts are undertaxed with that evil Prop 2.5 then they should get out of their Lazy Boy’s and collect the signatures required changing it to Prop 3%, or 4% or 5%.

After all, CPA is just a circumvention of Prop 2.5 (and again--the main selling point is the matching funds from the state that are quickly becoming less and less of a match)

Anonymous said:

I thought matching money is THE POINT, if our cpa surcharge was increased then we would be eligible for an increasing percentage of matching money. Maybe I am wrong, wouldn't be the first time. If the money is drying up, then why vote yes? Also, money is needed for a wider range of services, public safelty, schools and so forth. For both those reasons i am voting NO!!!
Also thank you Larry for your points.

Marcy Sala said:

This discussion points to several truisms about our community at the moment:

1) Reasonable people can disagree about what the best course of action might be for the town while still holding the best interests of the town at heart.

2) We have a lot of unfunded or at least underfunded needs as a community and are struggling to figure out how to address that fact and/or prioritize in relation to it.

3) Things are likely to get worse on this front before they get better.

4) Assuming you agree with points 1 thru 3, we need to do a lot of work as a community to identify common ground of agreement around what those priorities might or should be in order to develop consensus around potential plans of action to address them:

5) We are all going to have to accept less than what we wish for. "Perfect" (as potential enemy of the good) is no longer even part of the equation we have the luxury of considering. And it hasn't been for a while.

6) There is a Select Board election on November 4th, the results of which have huge ramifications for how we will be able to mire through this mess. We need to inform ourselves about the leadership choices we have before us and vote accordingly.*

7) We should consider taking up a collection for Stephanie to send her for that spa treatment, if only to thank her for providing this forum for information and civil discourse on our behalf. It is amazing, given all the other demands on her time as a Select Board member, that she has been able to keep up with this commitment.

* in case anyone's interested, information about my candidate of choice (even though I disagree with him on the CPA ballot question) can be found at:


Rich Morse makes many excellent points, in essence: fully funding the CPA makes sense regardless of whether there is state matching money, because the CPA fund provides resources for things which are vital to our community development.

Yet because the matching money is an important part of the CPA, it is also worthwhile understanding better how it works, and how being at the 3% can really benefit us. One might say there are two sides to the metaphorical coin, and we win both ways:

Tails - even though there has never been a guarantee that any community will get a 100% match, unless Amherst agrees to full CPA funding, our future chances of receiving a 100% match will be slim.

Heads - because the CPA matching formula strongly favors those communities at the 3% CPA level, there is a plausible scenario in which each ADDITIONAL dollar raised in Amherst could result in MORE* than an ADDITIONAL dollar of state match.

This may be worth considering when deciding whether to vote YES on 4.

*Here's a (purely hypothetical, but rather realistic) example to illustrate how valuable it could be for Amherst to move up to the 3% CPA level: suppose staying at the 1.5% level meant Amherst got only a 33% state match next year (as some have predicted), but suppose moving to 3% resulted in a 80% match (what Northampton got this year; other 3% communities like Deefield still got nearly 100%); then at the 1.5% level Amherst might raise about $300K locally with a $100K state match, while at the 3% level we might raise $600K locally and get a $480K state match - that's $680K more per year than we'd otherwise have for community development, and a lot of that could be invested in things which would alleviate the need for bigger overrides in the future - and if you care to do the math, you realize that every new CPA dollar raised locally could result in nearly $1.27 MORE in state match!

Abbie said:

In my years on Town meeting the vast majority of proposed uses for CPA funds have been to protect land from development, with the notable exception of Town Hall maintenance. Part of the persistent argument for protecting all this land has been that if we allowed housing development then this would increase the number of kids in school and thus the "burden" to pay for these new kids it would fall to the tax payers. If the crowd who brings forth these articles truly believe this then Affordable Housing would have the same, if not, greater impact. DO NOT be fooled- this is not about increasing affordable housing. I would vote for it if that were true. Instead, it is about protecting every last available acre in Amherst from development of ANY kind. If we are to get ourselves out of our financial doom we have to have additional sources of revenue. If all land is protected from development, where are we going to get any new revenue?

I am voting NO on 4.

Jonathan O'Keeffe said:

The anonymous commenter above uses some dubious math to arrive at the assertion that Amherst could get more than a dollar back from the state for each new CPA dollar raised locally.

The commenter asserts that it is "realistic" to think that Amherst might get a 33% match at the 1.5% level, and an 80% match at the 3% level. This is totally unrealistic, and is in fact impossible. Using the commenter's numbers, this scenario would require Amherst to receive $280K as a second-round distribution next year. If Amherst had been at the 3% level this year, it would have received $108K in the second-round distribution. If the first-round distribution is cut roughly in half next year, from the current 67% to the 33% figure under discussion here, then the second-round distribution would be cut roughly in half as well, to around $55K. The structure of the CPA law, which uses a fixed 80/20 ratio to allocate the first- and second- round distributions, makes it impossible for the first-round distribution to be cut in half while the second-round distribution more than doubles.

A more accurate accounting of the scenario presented by the commenter above proceeds as follows: At the current 1.5% level, Amherst would raise $300K locally, and would receive $100K from the state in the first round, and would receive nothing in the second round. If we raise our local surcharge to the 3.0% level, then we would raise $600K locally, and would receive $200K from the state in the first round, and $55K in the second round. Comparing the 1.5% level to the 3.0% level, we would pay an additional $300K in local taxes, and we would receive an additional $155K from the state. Thus, each additional dollar raised locally would bring in about $0.48 extra from the state, not the $1.27 cited above.


Did Abbie ever met a fact she liked?

In fact (from memory - please check out for more details):

Plum Brook is the largest single CPA expenditure so far.

The Town Hall restoration is next.

Then the preservation of the historic Kimball house (which actually took some land OUT
of Chapter 97 conservation protection and is adding 7-figures to the tax base, though you
gotta giggle when you go by there on North East St).

There are also large number of smaller historical preservation projects ranging from West Cemetery
to Special Collections at the Jones Library.

Then there are several affordable housing projects, ranging from the Main Street apartments to
the Habitat house at the edge of Amherst College.

Finally, there have been a handful of land preservation efforts; most of these protected prime working farmland which pay taxes but don't require school, police or fire protection - in fact, these working farms are considered the best "profit centers" in the entire mix (short of power plants).


Thanks to Jonathan for checking the hypotheses in the "purely hypothetical" example. Agreed: the scenario he sketches is much more likely, though by focusing the hypothetical numbers, he may be missing the main point of that hypothetical, which was that by going up to the full 3%: not only does the AMOUNT of CPA matching increase, but also the RATE of matching increases. In his example, the rate of 33 cents on the dollar goes up to 48 cents on the dollar. In the first example, percentages were simply picked to illustrate an extreme situation, which may indeed be less plausible (if not actually impossible). The fact that some 3% communities (like Deerfield) received a (near) 100% match this year, while others (like Northampton) received only an 80% match (compared with Amherst's 67% match) means there is even more subtlety which neither example completely accounts for. While it is a reasonable rule of thumb to say "the second-round distribution would be cut roughly in half as well", strictly speaking a higher amount in the second (and third?) round(s) of matching may be possible, though probably not as high as the "purely hypothetical" example suggested.

Anonymous said:

For the wonks out there, here's the full text of the law explaining how the state matching funds
are distributed in (up to 3) rounds to the various communities; using this, one can check what is possible (and guess at what is plausible: something a bit better than what Jonathan just sketched, but - as more communities move up to the 3% rate - necessarily approaching that sketch, at least on average):



Chapter 44B: Section 10. Annual distributions of monies in trust fund

Section 10. (a) The commissioner of revenue shall annually on October 15 disburse monies from the fund established in section 10 to cities and towns that have accepted sections 3 to 7, inclusive, and notified the commissioner of their acceptance. The community shall notify the commissioner of the date and terms on which the voters accepted said sections 3 to 7, inclusive. The municipal tax collecting authority shall certify to the commissioner the amount the municipality has raised through June 30 by imposing a surcharge on its real property levy and shall certify the percentage of the surcharge applied.

(b) The commissioner shall multiply the amount in the fund by 80 per cent. This amount distributed in the first round distribution shall be known as the match distribution. The first round total shall be distributed to each city or town accepting said sections 3 to 7, inclusive, in an amount not less than 5 per cent but not greater than 100 per cent of the total amount raised by the additional surcharge on real property by each city or town. The percentage shall be the same for each city and town and shall be determined by the commissioner annually in a manner that distributes the maximum amount available to each participating city or town.

(c) The commissioner shall further divide the remaining 20 per cent of the fund in a second round distribution, known as the equity distribution. The commissioner shall determine the equity distribution in several steps. The first step shall be to divide the remaining 20 per cent of the fund by the number of cities and towns that have accepted said sections 3 to 7, inclusive. This dividend shall be known as the base figure for equity distribution. This base figure shall be determined solely for purposes of performing the calculation for equity distribution and shall not be added to the amount received by a participant.

(d) Each city and town in the commonwealth shall be assigned a community preservation rank for purposes of the equity distribution. The commissioner shall determine each community’s rank by first determining the municipality’s equalized property valuation per capita ranking, ranking municipalities from highest to lowest valuation. The commissioner shall also determine the population of each municipality and rank each from largest to smallest in population. The commissioner shall add each equalized property valuation rank and population rank, and divide the sum by two. The dividend is the community preservation raw score for that municipality.

(e) The commissioner shall then order each municipality by CP raw score, from the lowest raw score to the highest raw score. This order shall be the CP rank for each municipality. If more than one municipality has the same CP raw score, the municipality with the higher equalized valuation rank shall receive the higher CP rank.

[There are two subsections (f).]

(f) After determining the CP rank for each municipality in the commonwealth, the commissioner shall divide all municipalities into deciles according to their CP ranking, with approximately the same number of municipalities in each decile, and with the municipalities with the highest CP rank shall be placed in the lowest decile category, starting with decile 10. Percentages shall be assigned to each decile as follows:—

After assigning each municipality to a decile according to their CP rank, the commissioner shall multiply the percentage assigned to that decile by the base figure to determine the second round equity distribution for each participant.

[There are two subsections (f).]

(f) Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, the total state contribution for each city or town shall not exceed the amount raised by the municipality’s surcharge on its real property levy.

(g) When there are monies remaining in the trust fund after the first and second round distributions, and any necessary administrative expenses have been paid in accordance with section 6, the commissioner may conduct a third round surplus distribution. Any remaining surplus in the fund may be distributed by dividing the amount of the surplus by the number of cities and towns that have accepted this chapter. The resulting dividend shall be the surplus base figure. The commissioner shall then use the decile categories and percentages as defined in this section to determine a surplus equity distribution for each participant.

(h) The commissioner shall determine each participant’s total state grant by adding the amount received in the first round distribution with the amounts received in any later round or rounds of distributions, with the exception of a city or town that has already received a grant equal to 100 per cent of the amount the community raised by its surcharge on its real property levy.

(1) Only those cities and towns that adopt the maximum surcharge allowed by this chapter shall be eligible to receive additional state monies through the equity and surplus distributions.

(2) If less than 10 per cent of the cities and towns in the commonwealth have accepted sections 3 to 7, inclusive, and imposed and collected a surcharge on their real property levy, the commissioner may calculate the state grant with only one round of distributions, or in any other equitable manner.

[There is no subsection (i).]

(j) After distributing the trust fund in accordance with this section, the commissioner may keep any remaining funds in the trust for distribution in the following year.


From a close reading of the above (44B10) you can imagine a situation where a lot of communities are at a CPA rate under 3% but only a few are at the full 3%; the many would divide the first-round "pot" to get a modest first-round match, and the few would then divide the second-round "pot" to get a hefty second round match; and if a surplus remained in the state CPA fund, there also could even be a third-round distribution to those few at 3%. Regardless of how small the first round match was (though it must be at least 5%), the overall match in all three rounds cannot exceed 100% according to the above; however the *marginal* match in the second and third round could *in principal* be even greater than in the *purely hypothetical* example discussed above. THE REASON WE DON'T SEE THIS IN PRACTICE IS BECAUSE THIS CREATES A STRONG INCENTIVE FOR MOST COMMUNITIES TO ADOPT THE CPA AT THE FULL 3%. Amherst was cautious when it first adopted it at 1%, and remained cautious when moving up only to 1.5% a couple years ago. But now that many communities are adopting the CPA at the full 3%, this give an equally strong incentive for Amherst to do so as soon as possible too.

(By the way, Jonathan, wouldn't getting $155K in match for the additional $300K raised locally really be a bit more than 52 cents on the dollar :-)


([typo] ... 51 cents ... ;-)

Not confused any more! said:

Thank you for posting that article about probable changed in the State matching dollars, using Dartmouth as an example! The primary reason I was thinking of voting for the increase in CPA tax was because with an increase in state matching, it would have given us "more bang for our buck," even if it would also increase taxpayer burden. But, if that increase in matching money seems increasingly unlikely and with the taxpayers already wondering if there is an override in the future just to keep the town running, it is clear that I should be voting NO on this one.

Richard Morse said:

I think that one can cast a vote without embracing every argument that has been made on behalf of that vote. I believe that Mr. Weiss and Ms. Stein oversold the case for "yes" in their column, but that's their choice.

I expect the matching funds to diminish if not dry up completely.

Similarly, I'm voting for Barack Obama on the same day even though I do not believe that everyone below $250,000 is going to see no increase in their taxes. I think that that claim is unfortunate but I believe the thrust of what he is saying and I take it as a statement of intent: the middle class needs a break after the past eight years.

I read many of the arguments for "no" above and I'm disappointed by them. I understand that the open space, anti-development advocates are driving this vote but CPA is much more than that. The NIMBYs are not the only ones with a say about the expenditure of CPA funds, as Ms. Jensen suggests, and her comment indicates a serious lack of attention about CPA expenditures thus far.

For me, the question is simple: do you want the public goods that this money will buy or not? If the answer is "yes", can you personally afford the tax increase? For me, the answers are "yes". I understand that for some the answers are "no", but some of the people above are making a different argument.

They are saying that there's going to be some political trade-off between their "no" vote and a "yes" vote later on an override. I find this notion to be one of the feeblest, least substantiated examples of political expectation that I've ever heard from people I otherwise respect. It's almost as if they are looking for an excuse to vote "no". I remember the signs saying "no more overrides" and I take the bearers of those signs at their word. But why we would surrender to these folks on this vote expecting them to throw the community a bone later is beyond me.

I know it's passe and a sign of political naivete in these mean economic times to say positive things about town government. But I see a community suffocating to death for lack of funding. I also see people that I admire and respect sitting on boards and committees, including on the CPA Committee. I trust that they would spend this money wisely. After all, we watch them carefully.

Rich Morse

Robert said:

I think there have been good points made on both sides here. However, I will be voting no on the CPA increase. If I knew for certain that the money would be used for affordable housing OR historical preservation, then I would vote yes.

However, Town Meeting has a history of never meeting a land conservation proposal that they didn't like. Now, there has been some change there but not enough. I don't want to give the CPA committee any more money in which to propose buying land that could be used to develop parcels for business. Economic development is the only significant and likely way to increase funding other than overrides. We have enough conservation land, we have enough farm land we need a bigger commercial tax base. Giving people like Jim Oldham, Mary Wentworth, Carol Gray and Vince O'Connor more money to keep land from being developed is, to put it simply, a bad idea.

Larry Kelley said:

Interesting (in a good way) how many of his supporters--and even campaign staff--disagree with Mr. Hayden on CPA, yet are still going to vote for him.

Robert said:

Definitely going to vote for him, even though we disagree on this issue. With the Select Board race, it is about the overall picture and he is is still the overall best candidate.

see why at (shameless campaign plug)

Warren Buffett said:

Invest in Amherst. I would.

Why would anyone forego a likely 50% annual return on investment?

Vote YES on 4.

Now there's a solution! said:

Warren, then please DO invest! We could use $3 million to balance our budget next year. And when you visit, you can golf and swim in one of our many pools!

Richard Morse said:

A painfully frank discussion (or even debate) about the overall tax burden of Amherst residents is way overdue. There have been some Amherst Bulletin columnists that have attempted this in the past, but the discussion has never included political leaders putting their reputations on the line on behalf of the truth.

This is what I believe to be true about taxes in Amherst, and I'm open to challenge on all or any of these:

1) The middle class everywhere has been overtaxed relative to the very wealthiest people in America. For comparison, just look at what the wealthiest people in America were paying in taxes in the middle of the last century.

2) BUT, relative to other industrialized countries that aspire to the same standard of living as we do, Americans are not overtaxed. Having said that, no one is talking seriously about returning to the confiscatory top marginal tax rates that existed prior to Reagan.

3) Massachusetts has some of the most reasonable sales taxes in the nation. Just travel out of state and try to buy anything.

4) In the past 10-20 years, Massachusetts has migrated down the rankings of states on overall tax burden to the middle of the list. Massachusetts as Taxachusetts is no longer true.

5) In the past 10-20 years, the overall tax burden of Amherst residents has not increased significantly relative to inflation. You would not think that if you listened to the dialogue in this town.

I understand that no one wants to confront the continual complaining about taxes that seems endemic to this country, but if we don't, the victim is the community, our children, the poorest among us, and the future of this nation.

This is why I say that there's an elaborate mythology about taxes that Ms. O'Keeffe and Ms. Brewer have chosen on Question 4 not to challenge, but simply to succumb to.

Rich Morse



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