The Community Preservation Committee is authorized to allocate funds to taxpayers for the restoration of the British Church

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Grand Barrington – The city government and several Great Barrington nonprofits will be $ 650,000 richer if voters approve the taxpayer-funded grants at the city’s annual meeting in the spring.

The Great Barrington Community Preservation Committee (CPC) voted at its January 19 meeting to fund the nine Stage 2 applications remaining, to the tune of $ 652,959. Most were unanimous or near unanimous committee votes, Chairman Tom Blauvelt said in an interview.

The most controversial proposal was a request for $ 230,000 from the First Congregational Church on Main Street to restore the stone and masonry walls on the presbytery, which serves as accommodation for the pastor. The committee held a vigorous debate on whether it was appropriate and legal for the city to allocate funds to a church.

Much of the opposition is rooted in the so-called establishment clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibits the establishment of a state religion, as does a similar prohibition in the state constitution known as the anti-aid amendment.

Five years ago, the Unitarian Universalist Meeting in South Berkshire successfully asked the CCP for $ 60,000 to fund repairs to its historic church on Main Street in Houstonic. Photo courtesy of UUMSB

In 2015, the South Berkshire Unitarian Universalist Meeting requested $ 60,000 from the CPC to fund repairs to its historic church on Main Street in the city’s Housatonic neighborhood. Housatonic resident Michelle Loubert, who circulated a letter opposing the funding, said she was “offended as a citizen”.

Then-President Karen Smith said at the time that the issue of funding for the Community Preservation Act (CPA) and religious buildings had already been considered by the state’s CPA watchdog. , and that the city council review all city by-laws before obtaining final approval from the state attorney. General’s office. The CPC therefore sent the request to the municipal assembly, where it was approved.

This time, the CPC presented the proposal in David J. Doneski, the city attorney, who responded with a four-page memorandum citing the case of Caplan v. City of Acton. In summary, Doneski believes that the grant to a religious institute is permissible.

“In my view, the Caplan decision does not require a determination that an appropriation of CPA funds for the First Congregational Church project would violate the Anti-Aid Amendment,” Doneski wrote. “Therefore, I think the Community Preservation Committee might consider approving the funding request. “

“I was uncomfortable until I got the opinion of the town lawyer,” Blauvelt said.

Saint James Place received a CPC grant in 2015. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Over the years, two other grant applications have been made to the CPC by non-profit organizations that own buildings formerly used as places of worship: Place Saint-Jacques, which received a grant in 2015; and Restoration of Clinton Church, which applied this year. Both were desecrated several years ago.

Saint James Square has been lovingly redeveloped as a cultural center and event space by Fred and Sally Harris, while the former Clinton AME Zion Church is being restored by a non-profit organization. Both are historic preservation efforts – one of the eligibility criteria for CPA funding.

This year, the CPC approved nine projects for funding. Click on the descriptions of the individual projects to see the detailed proposals:

City of GB – Housatonic Rail Trail Improvements$ 30,000

City of GB – Mansfield Lake Water Quality Studies$ 70,000

City of GB – McAllister Wildlife Refuge$ 31,300

City of GB – Ramsdell Library Archaeological Study$ 9,800

City Historical Commission – inventory of landscapes and open spaces$ 6,000

Congregational Church – repair of stone and masonry walls in the presbytery$ 240,859

Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center – replace emergency exit doors$ 15,000

Restoration of Clinton Church – second phase of restoration work$ 200,000

Construct, Inc. – rental assistance and microcredits$ 50,000

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Total: $ 652,959

Blauvelt said a key question about nominations, and one of the first questions asked by the committee at its meeting when nominees make their case, is whether the project has other sources of funding.

The non-profit organization that works to restore the old Clinton church AME Zion has requested a grant of $ 200,000. Photo: Terry Cowgill

“We are sometimes hesitant to be the only source of funding,” explained Blauvelt. Of Clinton Church Restoration, he added, “They have received quite a bit of funding from different programs.

The Clinton Church Project received funding from various sources, including a National Park Service Civil Rights Preservation Grant of $ 400,000, as well as a private fundraiser. Other non-municipal applicants have also received grants and maintain active philanthropic programs.

State Community Preservation Act is a voluntary state law that allows municipalities to fund projects that support the preservation of open spaces, affordable housing, historic preservation and the creation of recreational resources.

In the case of Great Barrington, nominations must also conform to the city’s award-winning program 2013 master plan. The city adopted the CPA in 2012, both through a municipal assembly and a ballot vote, by a two-thirds majority.

The CPA also provides for a significant annual contribution of state funds to each participating municipality through Massachusetts. Community Preservation Trust Fund.

The state contribution varies, but, at the local level, the CPA is funded by a 3% property surcharge on the value of residential and commercial properties above the first $ 100,000 of assessed value. Great Barrington expects to raise approximately $ 350,000 locally each year.

According to the Community Preservation Coalition, 186 municipalities in the state – more than half – have adopted the CPA. To date, 243 communities in Massachusetts have voted for adoption of the CPA. Of these, 53 percent of the state’s 351 municipalities have adopted the CPA, representing a 76 percent adoption success rate.

Some conservatives have applied that CPA is just a workaround for Proposal 2½, a 1980 ballot initiative that limited municipal tax deductions, with some statutory and overriding exceptions, to increases of 2½ percent per year.

Across the political spectrum, former Boston alderman Lawrence S. DiCara, a well-known progressive, argued five years ago in CommonWealth magazine that Prop 2½ expanded income equality in the state and that the CPA actually made it worse.

For obvious reasons, wealthier cities are more likely to adopt the Prop 2½ and / or CPA waivers. These already affluent communities then have more tax revenues to improve, while the poorest communities continue to languish, according to DiCara’s thought.

“The Massachusetts Community Preservation Act only adds to the inequality fueled by the 2½ proposition,” DiCara wrote. “Residents of each municipality pay to the fund through the use of the Deed Registry, but only affluent communities that are able to pass these tax increases are eligible to receive these matching state grants.” However, since the publication of DiCara’s article, Boston, Holyoke, Pittsfield, and Springfield – hardly easy – having kissed the CPA.


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