A look at how Community Preservation funds are being used

Jul 6, 2023

A recent report from analysts at Tufts University found that over a third of cities and towns in the state have not adequately used Community Preservation funding on housing, as state law requires.

But Dartmouth is in the clear. According to the report, Dartmouth spends 18.9% percent of its funds on housing-related projects, meeting the state requirement. The town spends 53.7% percent of its funds on open space and recreation, and 21.2% on historical preservation. 

“Our Dartmouth track record is better than other suburban communities ... but the [Community Preservation Committee] has been concerned that our CPA expenditures are very unbalanced with open space and recreation,” said committee chair Howard “Buddy” Baker-Smith in an email. “The problem we face is that we receive very few applications for affordable housing.”

Baker-Smith said the committee would be looking further into why they receive so few housing applications.

The Community Preservation Act, passed in 2000, lets towns and cities place a 1 to 3 percent property tax surcharge on residents, with matching funds from the state, to spend on affordable housing, historic preservation, and open space and recreation.

Dartmouth currently charges a 1.5% surcharge on property taxes, which it adopted in 2002. The town’s Community Preservation Committee studies the needs of the town and evaluates proposals for the funding, but funding ultimately needs to be approved at Town Meeting. To date, the committee has given out 88 project awards, totaling $14.9 million.

“It’s been really important for the committee and the town to see that there are tangible benefits to the Community Preservation Act and the surcharge on property tax,” Baker-Smith said.

At the committee’s July 11 meeting, it will review new proposals for this year, and then host a public hearing about the proposals in August, and then Town Meeting will vote on any funding decisions in October. 

Community Preservation funding is currently being used on a number of active projects in town, from building a 10-room housing complex to providing a permanent off-leash dog park. 

Housing for seniors with mental illnesses

At the June 6 Town Meeting, representatives approved $500,000 from Community Preservation funds to construct a 10-unit residential facility for people 55 years and older who suffer from mental disabilities, such as depression, anxiety, isolation and hoarding. That funding was additive, after a previous $500,000 was already approved in the fall of 2018. The project has now received a total of $1 million in community preservation act funding. 

The Mendes-Monteiro House, which will be built on Anderson Way, will have a 24-hour staff seven days a week to assist its residents. The house will consist of six one-bedroom units and one four-bedroom group home. Preference will be given to Dartmouth residents for the spaces, and spaces will be filled via referral. 

Baker-Smith said the house is projected to be finished in about one year. 

Dias Town Landing work

The town is adding dockside space to the Arthur F. Dias Town Landing near Apponagansett Park, creating additional boating facilities and secure in-water and landside storage options for watercraft and kayaks. 

“What we’re looking at, in terms of the marina, is not Newport, Rhode Island,” said Harbormaster Steve Melo at a February Select Board meeting. “We’re trying to get small boats to access the water.”

The overall project will cost upwards of $1.2 million, but the Community Preservation Committee’s investment is $200,000. 

The town received Planning Board approval, Conservation Commission approval, MassEPA approval, and now awaits a license from the state and permits from the Army Corps of Engineers.  According to Melo, the project may need to go under Planning Board review again. 

“Construction was hoped to begin in the Fall of 2023, but given delays in obtaining all licenses and permits under the schedule of other agencies, seemingly redundant processes within the Town, together with time of year restrictions for work on the water, the actual construction could be delayed up to one year [until fall of 2024],” Melo said in a statement. 

Separately, the town recommended in November 2022 that the “crumbling seawall” near Dias Landing be repaired, as Apponagansett Park is susceptible to future flooding without them. The recommendation was made a year after the town received a grant to study the seawall’s deterioration. The seawall project received $35,940 in Community Preservation funds for a design and engineering assessment. No construction is currently underway on the seawall.

Dartmouth Regional Park improvements 

CPA funding contributed to two active projects in the Dartmouth Regional Park. 

In 2017, the committee approved funding for the development of an off-leash dog park in a section of the regional park. Funding was previously approved in 2014 as well, but the project was canceled. A temporary park was opened in 2017 and exists there now, but the permanent park will be larger and have outdoor lighting. The final dog park plan garnered a grant of $291,671. The Dartmouth Dog Advisory Work Group, a local non-profit advocacy group, raised and donated $15,000 to the project. A project update is slated to be given at the July 11 Community Preservation Committee meeting. 

Funding was also given to replace recreational equipment at the regional park’s playground, as it’s outdated and doesn’t comply with current playground standards. At an October 2022 town Meeting, representatives approved $512,086 in Community Preservation Act funds for the project. The other half of the project’s funding comes from the town’s capital improvement plan.

Other projects

The Dartmouth Heritage Trail project is a bike route consisting of stops at informational kiosks around town highlighting Dartmouth’s history. There are currently eight Heritage Trail kiosks installed in town, and Community Preservation funding will be used on two new kiosks: one at Lincoln Park and one at Paskamansett Park. The latter has been installed, while the former still needs its exact location finalized. Both are awaiting their historical storyboards, and “wayfinding road signage” will need to be added nearby.

The Pathways Committee expects a September or October opening for the new kiosks. The trail received $22,700 from the committee for the expansion. 

Other projects using community preservation funds include the preservation of town records, which received $25,000, and the housing rehabilitation loan program, which receives funding as needed. The loan program helps low to moderate income residents make improvements on their homes that are code violations, or helps landlords make those improvements for the benefit of a low to moderate income resident.

The town is not currently taking applications for new loans, as it’s in the process of reevaluating the program and deciding on changes to the process.