For months now, Danvers residents have been caught up in one of the liveliest debates on the North Shore: whether to adopt the Community Preservation Act, which appears as Question 5 on the town ballot.
The CPA, which has been adopted by most of the town’s surrounding communities, would add a 1.5 percent surcharge to the property tax that could be used only for historic preservation, parks and recreation, open space and affordable housing. That has sparked rival groups supporting and opposing the plan, dozens of letters to the editor, and competing community forums.
Ironically, the Derby Summer House is something of a poster child for both sides.
The elegant tea house, a National Historic Landmark designed by renowned architect Samuel McIntire in 1793, sits on the grounds of Glen Magna Farms, where it is owned and cared for by the Danvers Historical Society. But it’s in critical condition — so critical, in fact, that the society got a $50,000 emergency grant from the state to repair damage caused by squirrels gnawing on punky wood and causing serious water damage.
Opponents of Question 5 look at this as proof that Danvers doesn’t need a CPA. The Historical Society got state money to help with the repairs, so why should town residents have to kick in any more?
Supporters of the CPA see just the opposite. The Historical Society, a private, all-volunteer group, still has to raise $50,000 in donations to meet its obligation for the matching grant. And despite this property’s iconic status in Danvers, the town has not contributed a dime to maintain it. Indeed, if the Historical Society had enough money over the years, the building would never have deteriorated to its present state.
The CPA, they say, is a chance to bring another funding source to projects such as this, and to do so without overburdening taxpayers.
We think they make a strong case, and we support adopting the Community Preservation Act in Danvers.
One of the aspects we like most about the CPA is that Danvers residents get to choose projects that they value. A local committee vets requests for funding and makes recommendations to selectmen and then Town Meeting, which must approve all expenditures.
And the town wouldn’t be taking over funding responsibilities for, say, the Derby Summer House or the Danvers Rail Trail or the Rebecca Nurse House, none of which get any town money now. Residents would simply be offering a helping hand, a boost to the sometimes daunting fundraising tasks that private volunteers undertake on behalf of this town’s public treasures.
Moreover, money collected through the local surcharge — an estimated $800,000 a year in Danvers — would be supplemented by money from a state trust fund, which in turn is funded by fees on real estate transactions at Registries of Deeds. Danvers residents pay those fees now, but don’t get any of that money back; instead, it’s shared by the 161 communities that have already adopted the CPA.
The CPA’s burden on individual taxpayers is small, about $5 a month for the average homeowner, and low-income residents pay nothing. But its impact can be significant. Just look around Salem, Beverly and Peabody, where CPA money has helped to restore libraries, build new playgrounds and jumpstart housing renovations.
The CPA is a good deal and a smart move for residents and taxpayers, and we recommend a “yes” vote on Question 5.