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City Council dismisses CPA ballot question

By Katelyn Gendron
Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM -- The debate over the repeal of the town's Community Preservation Fund has ceased, for now.
The City Council voted nine to two last week, defeating a resolution proposed by Council Vice President Cecilia Calabrese that would have placed the question of repeal on the Nov. 3 ballot. The town's Community Preservation Fund was established in 2001, and places a one percent surcharge on real estate to finance historic preservation, acquisition of open space, affordable housing and recreation.
"Water rates have gone up, over my 'no vote'; sales taxes have gone up to 6.75 percent; property values continue to be depressed; unemployment is approaching double digits; the mayor and the City Council have started to tap into stabilization funds for operating expenses of the town (over my 'no' vote) and our senior citizens are living on fixed incomes relying solely on Social Security and finding it more and more difficult to make ends meet, especially since their Social Security income will not be increased this year," Calabrese, also a candidate for mayor, said in a statement released last week. "These are major factors that were the catalyst for [the proposal of] my resolution at this time."
City Councilor George Bitzas, who voted in favor of the resolution alongside Calabrese, said he voted yes to allow the people the opportunity to vote, not to dissolve the Community Preservation Fund.
"Don't deny the people the right to vote," he told Reminder Publications. "Let them speak -- that's democracy ... It was not for us [the councilors] to decide [whether or not to repeal the fund] but to put it on the ballot [for voters to decide]."
Bitzas praised the town's three-member Community Preservation Act (CPA) Committee for their diligent efforts to fund numerous projects throughout the community such as School Street Park, the restoration of the Thomas Smith House and a new playscape at Benjamin J. Phelps Elementary School.
"I'm relieved that we still have CPA," Henry Kozloski, chair of the CPA Committee, said. "We can hopefully do some more projects that will benefit the people of Agawam."
CPA Vice Chair Louis Russo noted that the committee is looking into future projects such as the final phase of School Street Park and the purchase of open space.
Russo explained that of the over $2.9 million in projects funded by the CPA only $300,000 has been taxpayer money; the remainder has been from accrued interest and matching funds from the state.
"CPA just does unbelievable things that we wouldn't otherwise have [been able to fund]," City Councilor Jill Simpson said. "It's one of those things that hits everybody in the community. They spread [funding] around so much that it hits every age group and demographic."
She added that she did not vote in favor of the resolution because she "didn't think there was a public outcry" for the repeal of the CPA.
"I just think it was sending the wrong message [by placing the question on the ballot] -- if it ain't broke, don't fix it," Simpson said.

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