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Community Preservation Act backed in Swampscott

SWAMPSCOTT — Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald is pushing for the town to adopt the Commonwealth’s Community Preservation Act, a 23-year-old law that provides municipalities with state-matching funds for projects involving open space, historical preservation, and affordable housing in exchange for a local property tax surcharge.

Since its inception in 2000, the CPA has distributed $3.15 billion to the 195 Massachusetts cities and towns that have adopted it. Fitzgerald said he saw firsthand how CPA funding could boost a municipality’s development when he worked as former Peabody Mayor Michael Bonfanti’s chief of staff.

“Peabody has done so many significant things with the Community Preservation Act that it would never be able to do otherwise,” Fitzgerald said. “If you just look at all the other communities in the Commonwealth that have implemented the CPA, you know, it’s really been just an extraordinary grant program.”

Swampscott’s participation in the program would result in a local property tax surcharge of no more than 3%. A 1.5% surcharge, Fitzgerald told the Select Board last week, would result in a $45 annual tax increase for a home valued at $380,000 per year. According to data collected from the online real estate brokerage website Redfin, the median sale price for a single-family home in Swampscott is $750,000.

Funding for many of the town’s current large-scale projects, such as the transformation of Hawthorne by the Sea into a community space or the conversion of a Pine Street property into veterans’ affordable housing, could be supplemented with state funds under the CPA, Fitzgerald noted.

“I hope Swampscott can take advantage of this because it’s such an extraordinary community. It has such a rich history, but it is starved for open space, it’s starved for affordable housing and inclusionary housing. It really needs these state dollars,” Fitzgerald said. “Swampscott pays into these funds, but it gets zero back from it… I want to see some of those dollars Swampscott taxpayers pay going to the town of Swampscott.”

Last week, Fitzgerald proposed the outline of a Town Meeting warrant article that would support joining the CPA. In the event that it is approved at Town Meeting, a CPA committee would then be established to garner public input and proposals for funding.

In an interview Wednesday, Fitzgerald said the Select Board will discuss the next steps for CPA implementation, including future meetings with the Open Space Advisory Committee, Finance Committee, and Conservation Commission, at its next meeting in September.

“This is the right time to do this. We’re on a precipice for doing some absolutely extraordinary things, but we’ve got to do it in a way that’s financially prudent. The CPA, I think, is a gateway to that financial prudence,” Fitzgerald said.

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