By John Laidler
Chelsea city councilor at large
Earlier this year, the Chelsea City Council voted unanimously to place a Community Preservation Act referendum question on the November ballot. Voters will decide whether to allow a 1.5 percent property tax surcharge to preserve open space and historic sites, create affordable housing, and develop outdoor recreational facilities. The council acted in response to problems it was hearing from its residents.
Chelsea has not been immune to the alarming rent increases in the Greater Boston area in recent years. More and more of the working-class residents that make up our community and provide its identity have been forced out. In the last six years, over 2,400 units of housing have been built or permitted in Chelsea, with less than 8 percent of them affordable.
We also have been consistently hearing from parents, youth sport leagues, and other stakeholders about our need for more open space and improved play spaces. Despite the money we have spent to upgrade parks and the affordable units that have been built by a local nonprofit, many in Chelsea feel more needs to be done.
Residents also have bemoaned the fact that some of our historic buildings and grounds such as the Bellingham-Cary House and the Garden Cemetery are in need of repairs. The CPA provides Chelsea a powerful tool in addressing all those needs.
The council is sensitive to any additional tax burden placed upon homeowners, which is why it recently increased the owner-occupant exemption by $450 and pushed for a 10 percent rebate on water/sewer rates for elderly homeowners. The CPA proposal includes an exemption for the first $100,000 in value for residential and commercial properties, and for low-income households and low- to moderate-income seniors.
The CPA would generate an estimated $625,000 from the surcharge and state matching dollars. The city estimates a condo owner would see a $21 surcharge; a single-family owner $36; a two-family owner $48; and a three-family owner a $57 surcharge.
So far, 161 Massachusetts cities and towns have adopted the CPA. I think it’s fair to ask Chelsea homeowners to give back a little of the recent tax exemption increase to make their community a better, healthier, and more affordable place to live for our working-class families.
Todd B. Taylor
Chelsea Planning Board member, Republican State Committee member
Chelsea voters should reject the adoption of the Community Preservation Act on Nov. 8. Beloved by left-wing politicians desperate to raise taxes by any means necessary, the CPA would allow for the collection of extra property taxes to be held in a special fund, which would be spent based on proposals by an unelected board on affordable housing, historic preservation, green space, and recreational facilities.
This is not how responsible municipal governments should operate. Good government meets the specific needs of the city, and provides for essential services such as police and fire departments, education, and other local needs.
The CPA, however, works backward: so-called “progressives” create a separate fund, then decide what should be done later, almost guaranteeing waste. This is the wrong way to manage taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars,
This is a bad idea in principle, but in Chelsea, it’s also one part of an ongoing shell game. As a member of the Planning Board, I was recently tasked with evaluating new city ordinances. Developers will now pay into a separate fund if they do not provide 15 percent of their units for affordable housing or don’t meet green space requirements. This is yet another of Chelsea’s roughly 25 separate funds that exist outside the city’s budget, making transparency hard to attain.
While advocates claim they are setting aside these funds for specific purposes, the opportunity to “cry wolf” about budget shortfalls and the need for tax hikes grows.
Currently, 16.9 percent of housing in Chelsea is classified by the state as affordable, placing the city in a tie for the fourth-highest ranking among all municipalities in the state. Chelsea has already addressed its need for subsidized affordable housing and green space and even added more revenue with new ordinances. Why do we need yet another tax, no matter how small?
Supporters of the ballot question are trying to draw a link to the recent increase in the residential tax exemption. They contend Chelsea residents shouldn’t mind paying approximately $50 extra through the CPA because of that recent $450 average tax cut. Reducing Chelsea’s tax burden is great; there’s no need to do the opposite.
I encourage Chelsea voters to do their homework, call their city councilor to demand transparency, and vote “No” on Question 5 to reject the Community Preservation Act.