‘Sexy projects’

Brookline’s old-school tax tussle
By JOHN CARROLL  |  October 18, 2006

SAVING SPACE: Yes for Brookline’s Future’s Web site.

While gubernatorial candidates Kerry Healey and Deval Patrick go at one another hammer and tongue on the television airwaves, there are hundreds of below-the-radar campaigns being waged town by town across Massachusetts.

In Brookline, the biggest battle centers on the ballot initiative to pass the Community Preservation Act (CPA), which would levy a three percent surcharge on property taxes to fund investments in open space, historic preservation, and affordable housing. All worthy objectives to pursue, right?

Not so fast, reply opponents like Jim Conley, who writes the blog onbrookline.com. “Now is the wrong time to do it because middle- and lower-middle-class people are struggling,” Conley says. “You can’t just keep piling it on them.”

According to Roger Blood, head of the Brookline Coalition Against Unfair Taxation, the opposition includes “an interesting alliance of people typically on opposite sides.” Call them the Coalition of the Unwilling. It features, in no particular order:

1) Those who feel taxes are already extremely high and who question the affordability of the CPA, since it’s not really about essential projects;

2) School activists who feel the town’s priorities should be in the educational area and who worry that the CPA will interfere with a possible Proposition 2 ½ override in the future;

3) Other town activists who feel the CPA end-runs “Brookline’s way of doing things,” in that the town has an elaborate budget process where various priorities compete for resources.

One of the things the third group is unwilling to do, Blood said, is underwrite what the town’s CPA Study Committee called “sexy projects” — pet projects that could never make it through the budget process.

Among them, onbrookline.com’s Conley said, is purchasing the reservoir in the tony Fisher Hill neighborhood. “It’s a way to preserve that parcel, a preemptive move to keep development out. They need three and a half million to put the park in Fisher Hill out of reach for eternity.”

So far the media campaign of the CPA opposition has been confined to distributing entirely unimpressive handouts on primary day last month, and running a thoroughly boilerplate ad in the Brookline TAB’s Russian Supplement.

But, according to Bob Sperber, former Brookline superintendent of schools and leader of the Rorschachian-named Partnership to Preserve the Future of Brookline, “We’re doing everything one does in a regular political campaign.” That means “yard signs going up this week, and an ad toward the end of the campaign in the TAB. We’ll also have op-ed pieces and letters to the editor.”

Actually, they already do. Elbowing each other on the op-ed page of the October 12 edition of the TAB — which is the Antietam of any Brookline civil war — are commentaries headlined CPA COLUMN MISUNDERSTOOD PROPOSITION 2 ½, THINK TWICE BEFORE YOU VOTE FOR THE CPA, and WHY THE CPA IS RIGHT FOR BROOKLINE.

Among the CPA-seeking missives in the letters-to-the-editor section are two pro-CPA mash notes (CPA WILL HELP SECURE OPEN SPACE and CPA ‘A GOOD DEAL’), along with an epistolary donnybrook over the lack of civility in local public discourse. In one letter Conley defended his bloggerization of Brookline as “Chumpville”: “I use Chumpville as a device to indicate that many in town government view us as a bunch of chumps. And only people in town government are lost on this point. Why? Because they view us as a bunch of chumps.”

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