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HOLYOKE — After over a year of back and forth within the City Council, voters will decide if the town will reduce its Community Preservation Act surcharge from 1.5% to 1% on the ballot this fall.

The City Council narrowly voted 7-6 in favor of reducing the CPA surcharge before a 12-1 vote to bring the change to the ballots on Nov. 5 to let voters decide. A public hearing was opened where residents expressed their preference for if there should be a change of the surcharge before the council had final discussions and vote.

This is the first opportunity voters will have to vote on the rate since the CPA surtax went into effect. Holyoke adopted the CPA program in 2016 with a 1.5% surcharge.

In the past five years, the CPA has secured about $43.4 million through matched and leveraged state, federal and foundation grant funding. Funds are sourced from a surcharge on property tax bills and an annual allocation from the statewide Community Preservation Trust Fund, distributed to communities that have adopted the CPA.

Councilors heard from residents making their voices heard directly on the CPA discussion.

The first resident to speak during the hearing said she has been supportive of the question getting to the ballot since discussions began 16 months ago. She read from Garcia’s veto letter explaining the decision last year and said she thought the city and mayor had an obligation to the court to get this on the ballot as soon as possible.

“Anybody who had questions or concerns or wanted to flesh out details have had the opportunity to do so,” she said.

Another resident shared similar sentiments about being done with the wait and wanting the question on the ballot for this fall.

“Please put the CPA question on the ballot. It really does not have to be complicated,” said the resident.

Another resident expressed he was against the reduction as he felt his taxes since purchasing his home have fluctuated often and felt the savings from the change will basically go unnoticed for his yearly taxes.

“If this [the ballot question in November] passes I’ll save $11 a year. I’ll be honest, I won’t even notice that. I much rather the parks, I much rather the investment in the city. I think it’s a homerun for Holyoke,” he said.

Holyoke Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jordan Hart spoke in favor of keeping the CPA surtax rate as is. As a representative of the city’s business community, Hart said the current rate has created an environment that makes people want to come and support businesses regardless of wards. She added the benefits to parks are huge for quality of life for residents and children.

“There’s just so many benefits and the increase of $30-$50 approximately in addition to everyone’s tax bill, whatever the case may be, all of that will add up to create a better environment for the city and we all know that the city’s budget is tight,” Hart said. “This is a great way for us as a community to come and support recreational, cultural and creative opportunities for everyone in the city, so I encourage everyone to reconsider and keep the CPA [surcharge] as is.”

In 2023, the exact proposed ballot question was vetoed by Garcia as he sought to have the ballot question wait until the 2024 presidential/state election for more turnout as opposed to a smaller turnout that typically turns out for the city’s general election.

In early 2023 Ward 5 City Councilor Linda Vacon filed the initial order to reduce the surcharge from 1.5% to .5% which was met with a 1% compromise in a 7-6 vote a few months later.

Vacon and At-Large Councilor Kevin Jourdain have been consistently vocal of their disagreement with Garcia’s decision to veto the question last year arguing that most voters would still make it out to cast a ballot for a question important enough. Joining the two councilors in legally challenging the mayor were councilors David Bartley and then-Councilor Will Puello-Mota.

The legal opinion ruled in favor of Garcia’s veto saying plaintiffs were unable to show a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits as the CPA does not preempt or override the city’s charter.

The City Council ultimately voted to bring the surcharge change proposal on the ballot this November where voters will decide on the long discussed and awaited decision.

tlevakis@thereminder.com | + posts