Community Preservation Act

The Community Preservation Act (CPA) is a Massachusetts state law (M.G.L. Chapter 44B) passed in 2000. It enables adopting communities to raise funds to create a local dedicated fund for open space preservation, preservation of historic resources, development of affordable housing, and the acquisition and development of outdoor recreational facilities.

Funds are raised locally for these purposes through imposition of a voter-authorized surcharge on local property tax bills of up to 3%. Several exemptions to the CPA surcharge can also be authorized by voters at the time of adoption. Local adoption of CPA by a community triggers annual distributions from the state’s Community Preservation Trust Fund, a statewide fund held by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, which the law also establishes. Deed recording fees charged by the state’s Registries of Deeds are the funding source for the statewide Community Preservation Trust Fund. Revenues from these two sources—the local CPA property tax surcharge and annual distributions from the state’s Community Preservation Trust Fund—combine to form a city or town's Community Preservation Fund.

Adoption of the CPA requires a two-step process: 1) initial approval by the local legislative body OR local certification of a ballot question petition with signatures of 5% of the registered voters of the community, followed by: 2) approval by the majority of the local electorate at a municipal ballot election. Communities must decide during the process of adoption what level of CPA property tax surcharge, up to 3%, to implement, and which of three possible exemptions to the CPA surcharge will be allowed. The voters then authorize, through their acceptance vote at the municipal election at which the CPA ballot question appears, this proposed surcharge level and exemptions.

Once a community has adopted the CPA, it is required to establish a local Community Preservation Committee, composed of from five to nine members, to administer the CPA program locally. There are five required members of a Community Preservation Committee, including a designated representative of each of the five following municipal boards: the Conservation Commission, the Historical Commission, the Planning Board, the Housing Authority and the Board of Park Commissioners. Communities can add up to four additional Community Preservation Committee members at their own discretion, drawn from the public, local government, or other municipal boards or committees. These can be elected or appointed positions, again, at the discretion of the community. The primary statutory responsibility of the Community Preservation Committee is to accept applications for, review, and recommend CPA projects to the community’s local legislative body for approval. Only CPA projects that are approved by the local legislative body can receive funds from the community’s Community Preservation Fund.

Communities may spend their CPA funds for projects in the following broad programmatic areas: Open Space, Historic Preservation, Affordable Housing and Outdoor Recreation. The CPA requires each adopting community to annually appropriate, or reserve for future appropriation, at least 10% of its estimated annual CPA fund revenues for open space projects (excluding recreational uses), 10% for historic preservation projects, and 10% for affordable housing projects. The remaining funds each year can be used on projects in any CPA programmatic area, or for recreation projects. The CPA statute describes in detail allowable uses of the funds within the four broad programmatic purpose areas, determining what projects are eligible for CPA funding.

To date, 148 cities and towns, 42% of the state’s municipalities, have adopted the CPA. The number of communities participating in the program has risen concurrently with a decline in fees collected by the Registry of Deeds, due to the contraction of the housing market after 2005-6. This has resulted in a decline in revenues to the state’s Community Preservation Trust Fund, and thus a decline in annual distributions from the state’s Community Preservation Trust Fund to most participating communities over time. (Communities that adopt CPA with the full 3% CPA surcharge are eligible to participate in two additional annual CPA fund distribution rounds each year, and the funding formula within the CPA law governing these rounds allows some smaller, less resource rich communities to still receive a dollar for dollar annual match for CPA funds raised locally.)

Distributions from the state’s Community Preservation Fund occur on or around October 15 of each year. From 2002 to 2007, communities received a dollar for dollar match of funds raised through the CPA program locally. In October 2008, the FY2009 CPA annual distribution fell below the dollar for dollar match rate for the first time, to a level of 67% of local surcharge revenue on the first distribution round. In October 2009, the FY2010 distribution again fell, to a level of 34% of local CPA revenues raised on the first round. In October 2010, the FY2011 distribution was 27% of local revenues on the first round.

CPA Trust Fund Distributions

October 15, 2002 - $17.8 million to 34 communities

October 15, 2003 - $27.1 million to 54 communities

October 15, 2004 - $30.8 million to 61 communities

October 15, 2005 - $46.3 million to 82 communities

October 15, 2006 - $58.6 million to 102 communities

October 15, 2007 - $68.1 million to 113 communities

October 15, 2008 - $54.6 million to 127 communities

October 15, 2009 - $31.5 million to 135 communities

October 15, 2010 - $25.9 million to 143 communities

October 15, 2011 - TBD to 148 communities

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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