By Richard Ross
The dialogue in opposition to Amesbury’s proposed adoption of the Community Preservation Act (“CPA”) via Ballot 5 in this November’s election has been focused primarily on the cost to taxpayers, which is real, and its threat to the building of Amesbury Elementary School, which is not. But the proposed inclusion of Amesbury into the CPA program transcends those issues. Some opponents like to cast CPA as another, “progressive” tax and spend program that will harm young and old alike. CPA is a progressive initiative, but not in the political sense; not as we have come to associate that word with liberal/left programs.
CPA is about preserving Amesbury’s historic treasures; conservation of open space for the purposes of protecting our environment and creating outdoor recreational opportunities; the creation and rehabilitation of playing fields and parks for our youth programs and active adults; and developing more affordable housing for the less fortunate among us. The values reflected in these initiatives are shared by many of the families and businesses that we want to attract to our community and contribute to its growth and success.
Forward thinking parents want to live in communities of compassion, where they and their children can be close to and enjoy parks and open space. Businesses seeking to relocate and/or expand want to be in communities that are populated by families because they are consumers of products and services and offer a potentially stronger work force. And as new families and businesses move here, our tax base expands. This is the kind of progress that makes communities thrive. So yes, CPA is a progressive program.
Amesbury has had some successes with CPA-type initiatives, and our leaders are to be commended for that. But historically these projects have been “catch as catch can” and not part of an established program. Once CPA has been adopted, a Community Preservation Committee consisting of not less than 5 or more than 9 politically and professionally diverse people will be established in accord with the CPA rules. This committee will identify and prioritize potential projects that meet CPA criteria and advise the City Council accordingly. Our citizens can have confidence that historic preservation, conservation, recreation and affordable housing are goals that will always be part of our government’s strategic planning and that there is money set aside specifically to achieve those goals.
Finally, the adoption of CPA will give Amesbury the leverage it needs to think larger about the kinds of projects it can undertake. For example, let us assume that a parcel of land on the Merrimack River possessing significant environmental, conservation and historical value comes on the market and the price is one million dollars. To buy, and then conserve and protect that property, Amesbury would likely need purchase money from any one of the various federal and state programs established to protect and conserve such a property. But those programs don’t just write blank checks. They want communities to have “skin in the game” and a vested interest in the theme of these programs. By adopting CPA, not only are we demonstrating our commitment to historic preservation, conservation and park creation, we are establishing a funding source for these programs, a portion of which could be used as the down payment for that property. The result: we become eligible to do much more ambitious and diverse projects at a fraction of the cost to us.
Yes, the adoption of CPA will result in a small tax increase. But the resulting benefits to our community will far outweigh the cost, both short and long term. There are a lot of small towns in Massachusetts like Amesbury that are struggling to make their futures as glorious as their past. These other towns are competing with us for the same financial and human resources needed to reach that goal. The adoption of CPA is an announcement to families, businesses and government programs that we are a progressive, forward thinking community that shares and is committed to their values.
Richard Ross is Chair of the Invest in Amesbury Committee