Changes to the CPA in Dracut


By: Kathy Richardson – August, 2011

To those who know Dracut, it brings to mind beautiful farms, rock walls, a rich Yankee heritage and a community that stood tall and strong after the tragedy of 9/11.

Dracut is a strong and generous town which holds its rural character dear. The history of this farming community contains stories of great sacrifice, perseverance and service to our nation.

Recently in Dracut the Community Preservation Act, which was adopted by residents ten year ago, has come under some scrutiny and the residents have been asked by some to reconsider the town’s participation in the CPA. Dracut levies 2% of the total annual tax bill towards the CPA fund which is then administered by the Community Preservation Committee. Dracut adopted the CPA tax with the understanding that the majority of funds would be earmarked for open space preservation.

There are benefits to retaining open space in a town like Dracut where 90% of the tax base is residential. Open space preserves areas for wildlife to retreat to, lessening their impact on residential neighborhoods. “Wildlife corridors” can be retained which allows safe migration and movement of wild animals. There is a positive environmental effect from trees that can cool us and protect the soil from excessive runoff. There is also a benefit in that less development equals less money required to support the infrastructure required by that development.

Dracut has successfully run as a town meeting form of government. In June, Dracut held its annual town meeting. For consideration was an article requiring that the CPA tax be eliminated in FY 2013. Close to 300 residents attended and the article was defeated by an amendment that passed by ballot vote (the amendment maintained the current CPA tax). After this meeting, criticisms were heard in regards to the meeting being confusing, unfair, and town officials were characterized as not having listened to the people. In contrast, a special town meeting was held in May to approve putting an override on the ballot for a new Dracut High School. Over 1000 residents attended. The article for the “debt exclusion” was unanimously supported and placed on the town election ballot, and ultimately passed, paving the way for a new DHS. This meeting was heralded as successful, productive and a demonstration of how wonderful the town meeting form of government reflects the needs of Dracut. One might wonder why, those two similar processes with equally important agenda items were seen with such contrast.

Additionally, the state legislature is looking at ways that they can change the initial CPA legislation, as they do every year. The overwhelming fear is that the there will be an expansion of the application of CPA funds towards affordable housing. Our legislature should be aware that the original pact with cities and towns was about open space preservation as a priority. Many residents and tax payers are carefully watching the legislature’s manipulation of intended uses of these funds and will push their town to cease their participation in the CPA if the funds are used for housing options.

Dracut will continue to be watchful of the CPA legislation and hopefully will continue to support open space preservation. The current Community Preservation Committee is committed to open space as their priority. There is a place for development in towns, however the existence of CPA funds as currently written allows for these towns to apply foresight and positive long term planning, protecting their communities at many levels. New England is an incredible place to raise a family, and our children need to understand the environment and how their actions impact the world around them. Open spaces give them a chance to explore the planet we call home, and for that, they will be eternally grateful.

Cathy Richardson’s family has lived in Dracut for generations. She is a member of the Board of Selectman in Dracut.