Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Do I qualify for an exemption?

A: Low income homeowners and low to moderate income senior homeowners are exempt from the CPA surcharge.

For low to moderate-income seniors (60+), maximum income is defined as follows*:

1 Person household: $68,460
2 Person household: $78,240
3 Person household: $88,020
4 Person household: $97,800

Low-income for non-seniors in Somerville is defined as follows*:

1 Person household: $54,768
2 Person household: $62,592
3 Person household: $70,240
4 Person household: $84,499

For ALL homeowners, the first $100,000 of assessed property value is exempted in calculating the CPA surcharge.

* These numbers are based on annual median incomes and are subject to change over over time. For more information, please review the 2012 CPA Affordable Housing Income Limits table here.


Q: Who decides how this money is spent?

A: When the CPA is adopted, a Community Preservation Committee (CPC) is created to make recommendations to the Board of Alderman about what projects should be funded. No CPA projects may receive funding without being recommended.


Q: Who is on the committee to decide projects?

A: The committee is composed of 5-9 representatives, with at least one from each of the following organizations: Housing Authority, Historic Commission, Conservation Commission, Planning Board, and Board of Park Commissioners. The remaining 4 committee members are selected by appointment or election, which is determined once the CPA has been adopted.


Q: On what will the money be spent? What are some examples?

A: The base requirement is that 10% of CPA funds go to each of the following areas: Open Space, Affordable Housing, and Historic Preservation. The remaining 70% of the funds can be spent or reserved for future projects in any of these 3 areas, or for funding outdoor recreation projects.


CPA funds may never be directed to the general city fund; they may only be spent on the CPA 3 core areas.


Q: By how much will my property taxes increase?

A: For the average homeowner, a 1.5% surcharge means less than $35 a year:

Estimated Surcharge for Average Taxpayer at 1.5%  (with first $100,000 exemption) 
Type of Dwelling FY13 Average Value* Estimated Annual CPA Surcharge Based on Ave. Value
Single Family $405,000 $32.89
Condo $323,500 $16.89
Two Family $487,000 $48.99
Three Family $550,300 $61.42

Q: How much money will this raise?

A: $1.2 million a year. This is based on a 1.5% surcharge, with the first $100,000 of residential property exempt. This does not include any revenue that Somerville would receive annually from the state CPA Trust Fund.


Q: Am I exempt from these payments?

A: Low-income homeowners and low and medium-income senior homeowners are exempt from the surcharge. The first $100,000 of assessed property value is exempted for all homeowners, as well as Class 3, commercial, and Class 4, industrial, property owners.


Q: How much will the state match?

A: The state expects to have $50 million to distribute for the 2013 fiscal year. Since Somerville is eligible for multiple rounds of funding each year and is being matched as if it had a 3% surcharge, the city could receive over a quarter million in additional funds in 2013.


Q: Is this permanent? Will they increase the rate?

A: The surcharge cannot increase unless it goes through another ballot process similar to the one by which it was adopted. During its first 5 years, the act may not be rescinded. After 5 years, however, it may be removed by ballot.


Q: Why do we need this? Isn’t there already money for these issues?

A: The majority of our property tax money goes to schools and other City operating functions and very little goes to “investments” such as parks/open space, affordable housing and historic preservation.  This gives the community a tool for directing money to specific projects.


Q: Do the Aldermen have to vote on the projects to be funded?

A: Yes. First the local Community Preservation Committee reviews all projects, and then sends their recommendations to the Board of Alderman, where a majority vote is needed to approve funding. No projects will reach the Alderman without being approved by the committee first.


Q: How do we know that the funds will be used as they are supposed to be?

A: With mandatory representation from the Housing Authority, Historic Commission, Conservation Commission, Planning Board, Board of Park Commissioners, the Community Preservation Committee has Somerville’s best interest in mind. They review all project proposals and insure that each approved project receives its allotted funds.


Q: If we don’t pass it this year, can we try again next year?

A: Yes! Though strategically this is a good time – on presidential election years, there is a 100% success rate for towns seeking to adopt the CPA. But, should it not pass, we can try again next year.


Q: Why now?

A: This summer, the CPA was amended to make it more favorable to communities like Somerville. Previously, the funds could only be used to acquire NEW open space, of which Somerville has very little. The amendments allow for the funds to be used to improve existing parks and open space, such as the Community Path and athletics fields.

Somerville is also benefiting from what is called the Blended CPA, another of the amendments this summer. Essentially, the Blended CPA allows communities to implement a surcharge lower than 3%, but to use existing municipal funds to bridge the difference to the 3% cap. The state will then match at 3%, not the actual surcharge amount. For Somerville, this means that residents will only see a surcharge of 1.5% but the local preservation trust will receive state matching as if there were a 3% surcharge in place (so we max out our matching potential with only half of the possible surcharge!)

Finally, there is a 100% success rate for communities seeking to adopt the CPA during presidential election years. On off years, the success rate is 52%. Also, with the injection of an extra $25 million to the state trust, this is a good time to gain access to those funds!


Q: This is great for wealthy communities, but not for Somerville, right?

A: Wrong! This is great for Somerville, too! With its triple focus on parks and open space, affordable housing, and historic preservation, the CPA would bring much-needed funds to address some of the city’s most important needs.