Pirone Park playground among projects targeted for CPA funding 

AYER — The contaminated playground at Pirone Park is among several projects being considered for Community Preservation Act funds.

The Community Preservation Committee is tasked with overseeing the CPA funds, reviewing proposals seeking to tap into those funds and with making recommendations to voters at the Annual Town Meeting.

At a recent online forum, the CPC sought input to envision how CPA dollars might be used over the next five years. Thirty-two people attended the virtual event. Other outreach efforts included a survey and a focus group, with a public hearing planned in August.

Building a new playground at Pirone Park was among the projects forwarded for priority consideration. With the popular Kiddie Junction now decommissioned and slated for demolition due to high levels of arsenic detected in the wooden play structures and surrounding soil, a subcommittee is working on a plan to replace it, and add handicapped access required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which the old structures didn’t have.

Voters at the 2021 Annual Town Meeting agreed to provide $400,000 from CPA funds and appropriate additional money as well, in all committing $720,000 to the playground project.

Other envisioned CPA-funded projects that forum participants came up with ranged from generic to specific and included affordable housing, beefing up the town’s rental assistance program, creating pocket parks on Main Street and other areas in town, and more public dock access at Flannagan Pond.

With seven sites identified at the pond as possible places to create public dock access for canoes and kayaks, perhaps with parking, a Department of Public Works study now underway may pinpoint an “ideal” location. Town Meeting this year assigned $25,000 for the study, including weed control.

The forum panel included CPC members, including Chairman Janet Providakis. Members also represent other town boards such as the Conservation Commission, Historic Commission, Housing Authority, Affordable Housing Committee, Housing Trust, and Recreation Commission.

Facilitators were Delaney Almond and Jenn Goldson, consultants from J.M. Goldson, the firm hired to assist the CPC in its five-year planning mission.

CPA money comes from taxpayers, who voluntarily placed a surcharge on their property tax bills to create the CPA account, bolstered by matching funds from the state, kicked in at varying percentages each year based on the surcharge voters agree to accept, which ranges from 1% to 3%.

And it’s taxpayers who — via their votes at Annual Town Meeting — get the final say on how that money is spent, within CPA rules.

Given that there may be more than one applicant per category, or “competing interests” vying for CPA funds, the question becomes how to decide which ones the town should fund, the consultants explained. Which was, in part, the purpose of the forum, to see what residents’ priorities might be.

The Community Preservation Act, established as a Massachusetts law in 2000, states how the CPA fund can be used. Specifically, for four types of community projects: historic preservation, affordable housing, outdoor recreation and open space, including, in some cases, acquiring land or purchasing property for those purposes.

Tracing the town’s CPA history, it was noted that Ayer was among the earliest communities in the state to sign on, in 2001. Over that time the fund has contributed $3 million to local projects, with $2.5 million currently in the CPA reserve account.

Under the law, at least 10% must be either spent or set aside for each CPA category annually.

The rest of the funds — minus an annual amount for CPC expenses — are “unreserved,” and can be applied to projects in any CPA-eligible category.

The town website lists “success stories” made possible with CPA funds, 35 in all, from community gardens and a dog park to several projects at the town beach and Sandy Pond School.

Historic Commission member Barry Schwarzel pointed to one CPA-funded work in progress: converting old “microfiche” files at the Ayer Library that were deteriorating, cumbersome and only accessible at the library to computer files accessible online, by anyone, from anywhere, anytime.

Specifically, copies of the former Turner’s Public Spirit newspaper, dating back to 1869.

The newspaper evolved into the former Nashoba Publishing, which produced six community weeklies, including the Ayer Public Spirit. About a decade ago, that weekly newspaper became the Nashoba Valley Voice, Schwarzel said, covering news and events in Ayer and other area communities.

Initially, Ayer voters agreed to a 3% CPA surcharge, the maximum, then cut it to the minimum, 1% in 2002, a year after adopting it. In 2020, voters re-upped the amount to 3%. The law allows hardship waivers, however, so households that can’t afford the surcharge can opt out.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *