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City officials support state's proposal to amend the CPA

Date: 2/17/2010

Feb. 17, 2010.

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM -- City officials are showing their support for a statewide bill to enhance the Community Preservation Act (CPA), legislation that has helped to fund numerous citywide projects at minimal cost to taxpayers.

More than 70 legislators calling for the continuation and rehabilitation of the program have underwritten the bill, filed by State Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem (D-First Middlesex and Norfolk). The CPA allows municipalities to vote in a one percent surcharge on property tax to fund projects in four areas: open space, historic preservation, affordable housing and recreation, a portion of which is matched by the state.

"Of course we support anything that would prolong or make the CPA an even better [entity]," Louis Russo, chair of the town's CPA Committee, said, adding that the bill will guarantee a first round match of 75 percent, among other refinements.

Russo noted originally the town received 100 percent matching funds; however, the economic downturn has led to only a 35 percent return.

The CPA has been able to fund numerous projects throughout town including the restoration of the Thomas Smith House for $97,000, the creation of School Street Park for $1.6 million, the establishment of McGrath Park for $28,000, as well as contributing $248,000 to the Agawam Housing Authority, among other projects.

City Councilor George Bitzas, member of the council's Ad Hoc CPA Committee, proposed a resolution supporting the Senate bill, citing that funds could be used to repair and construct a new track, bleachers and tennis courts at Agawam High School. Such endeavors would remain unfunded by the town's budget.

"We definitely need this fund," City Councilor Jill Simpson, chair of the council's Ad Hoc CPA Committee, said. "From parks or historical preservation, this is a good way to keep doing some of these projects without having to say no or letting things go by the wayside."

State Rep. James Welch, a legislator who has undersigned the bill, said he is unsure of how successful the bill will be in the legislature given the difficult economic climate.

"Any hit to funding that communities have depended on is very difficult to cut but at the same time we need to be smart and make sure that it's not overly burdening communities [with additional taxes]," he said.

The bill is currently assigned to the Committee on Ways and Means. Once turned over to the House and Senate, the bill will be signed into law, provided Gov. Deval Patrick chooses to endorse the legislation.