A minority report written by three members of the Community Preservation Act Committee (CPAC) urges their fellow Committee members to reject a request for CPA funding from the Jones Library.
The request, which initially was for $1.5 million but was reduced to $1 million, is “to assist in the construction of new quarters for the Special Collections department of the Jones Library.” At their January 30th meeting, CPAC had voted 7-0-1 (Michael Birtwistle abstaining) in favor of granting $1 million to the Jones, but after further research, some members of the committee began to question whether the request fit within allowable uses under the Historic Preservation category of CPA funding.
Those members sought guidance from the Community Preservation Coalition which helps municipalities understand and implement the CPA. In a written response from Coalition Executive Director Stuart Saginor on February 15th, Saginor affirmed that the Jones proposal did not qualify for Historic Preservation CPA funds and further, that it was “similar to other towns’ attempts to utilize CPA funds for budget supplanting, which is forbidden by the Act.” Indeed, if the CPA funds were granted, the Town’s portion of the cost of the project would be reduced by that amount. The proposal is “not an acceptable CPA project, no matter what the building holds,” wrote Saginor.
The Coalition’s website has a simple chart illustrating allowable uses of funds under each category. Historic Preservation CPA funds may be spent to acquire, preserve, rehabilitate, or restore, but not to create or support, historic resources. Saginor argued the construction of a room is creating something new and hence is not allowable, regardless of what it would be used to store.
CPAC member Diana Stein also reached out to the Massachusetts Department Of Revenue (DOR) for advice, which is “the ultimate arbiter of any CPA issues,” according to the minority report. Two individuals from the DOR contended that the library’s proposal “definitely does not qualify for CPA funds under the category of Historic Preservation.” Multiple members of the committee wished to receive more clarification of the DOR opinion but this did not happen despite efforts by the Chair, Nate Budington, mostly due to the disruptions caused by COVID-19.
At a joint Finance Committee and Community Resources Committee meeting on June 2nd, Budington reported that after he shared the CP Coalition’s opinion with the Town Manager Paul Bockelman, Bockelman decided to seek an opinion from the Town Attorney, KP Law. The Attorney returned a contrary opinion, contending that the proposal does meet the definition of historical preservation and is permissible under the CPA.
Because of restrictions enforced due to COVID-19, the CPAC has not been allowed to meet since early March, preventing the full committee from discussing the library proposal further without violating Open Meeting Law. In lieu of meeting, members Budington, Stein, and Birtwistle decided to write the Minority Report outlining their concerns that the Jones proposal did not meet “the spirit and intent of the [Community Preservation] Act,” and that the KP Law opinion focused on “finding a legal loophole.”
Councilor responses to Budington’s comments were mixed. Steve Schreiber said he would defer to the Town Attorney and accused members of the CPAC of “going rogue” and “fishing for other answers.”
Budington pushed back, reminding Schreiber that it was the Town Manager that sought another opinion once he learned of the Coalition’s guidance. Budington took issue with the accusation that they were “going rogue” and contended that they were trying to play by the rules and do the right thing. Schreiber then apologized for his comment.
Councilor Evan Ross thought the opinion of the Town’s attorney should prevail, adding that it “gives us the cover to move forward with [the library’s proposal].” He said that approving the CPA funding of the library proposal now would send the signal that the Town was committed to the Jones expansion project.
Councilors Dorothy Pam and Cathy Schoen said that they found the minority report very helpful. Schoen felt the library’s CPA proposal was not time-sensitive. Schoen and Councilor Lynn Griesemer both expressed support for postponing a vote on the proposal, noting that it was contingent on the library’s expansion project going forward. Finance Committee Chair Andy Steinberg mentioned more than once that they were not going to be dealing with the library’s CPA request in this round of budget review.
A meeting of the CPAC where a vote on the library proposal was on the agenda, has been postponed from June 11th to Thursday June 18th at 6pm. Public comments on the Jones proposal or on any other part of the CPA report can be emailed to the staff liaison to the committee at firstname.lastname@example.org, or made during the meeting on the 18th.