By: Kim Driscoll, Mayor of Salem
Since it was signed into law in 2000, the Community Preservation Act has strengthened the local economies of 161 municipalities across the commonwealth, including Salem. It has raised $1.6 billion for local projects, created thousands of construction jobs and more than 9,400 affordable housing units statewide. The law has boosted tourism through completion of 4,000 historic preservation projects, the conservation of 23,471 acres of open space and the initiation of almost 1,500 local parks and recreation projects.
At the Nov. 8 election, 16 new towns and cities, including some of Salem’s North Shore neighbors, will decide whether or not to adopt the CPA. This is the highest number of communities voting on the CPA in the last 10 years — a testament to the huge popularity of this program.
Unfortunately, however, some recent news coverage of the “pros and cons” of the ballot questions has failed to paint a comprehensive picture — particularly around the state match from the CPA trust fund. Therefore, I think this is an important time to share with our neighbors some of the extraordinary benefits and improvements Salem has realized since beginning our CPA program in fiscal year 2014.
For starters, Salem has received $325,133 from the CPA trust fund in just two years — state money that would have gone elsewhere had we not adopted the law. The trust fund distribution, which has exceeded 30 percent or more of local funds statewide for the past few years, is ultimately affected by the number of cities and towns that adopt the CPA. Due to the CPA’s numerous successes in communities throughout the state, legislators, as well as Gov. Charlie Baker, hold the CPA in high regard and have acted to supplement the trust fund for the benefit of CPA communities statewide. Over the past four years, the Legislature has allocated $56.4 million in budget surplus funds to the CPA trust fund. As more communities adopt the law this November, legislative support is likely to only grow stronger.
Salem has been able to accomplish so many projects that would have been impossible without CPA funding. First, we’ve completed some long-needed renovation projects, such as replacing the historic windows on Old Town Hall, which dates back to 1816, and restoring the roof of the Salem Public Library, which was built in 1855.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace at The House of the Seven Gables historic site had also been in critical need of restoration work for many years. Without the CPA, further deterioration to the house Hawthorne was born in could have resulted in permanent damage to a Salem historic landmark and its legacy in American literature. Our funds also helped us restore the Choate Memorial to its original bronzed glory and allowed us to create a scenic, multi-use, fully accessible trail on Winter Island, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Beyond helping us preserve our historic places and landmarks, the CPA is also improving the quality of life for our residents and neighborhoods. The students at Bates Elementary school have a brand new playground thanks to CPA. The previous 25-year-old structure couldn’t be repaired and had been deemed unsafe — and off limits to the children — for years. Today, kids in our community enjoy a new state-of-the-art, ADA-accessible structure where they can play safely. We’ve also transformed a blighted, vacant paved lot in our urban Point neighborhood into an environmentally friendly park that provides an open, urban oasis in this densely populated neighborhood.
In just a few years, we’ve accomplished great things — and this is only a partial list. The CPA has been a terrific success and a blessing to the entire community in Salem and we believe it can be for our neighboring communities, too.
Kim Driscoll is the mayor of Salem.