By Bob Katzen

The House 149-2, approved and sent to the Senate a local option bill allowing a city or town to authorize the creation of community benefit districts which would permit owners of contiguous property in a city or town to form a district and impose taxes to pay for additional services, improvements, events and other projects and activities within the district. The districts would be operated by a nonprofit board.

“Community benefit districts are another tool that municipalities can use to help grow their local economies and build good neighborhoods where people can live, work and play,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn). “This nationally proven model will create opportunities in downtowns, main streets and town centers across the commonwealth.”

“The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance believes that community benefit districts can be a game changer,” said Andre Leroux, Executive Director MA Smart Growth Alliance. “Cities and towns in Massachusetts are struggling to maintain basic services for residents and businesses, much less provide the amenities that world-class, walkable places need to thrive. The bill establishes a way for communities to organize a public-private-nonprofit partnership to support their downtown, Main Street, cultural district, historic area or other important place. It’s really about empowering local people to tackle their own challenges.”

Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville), one of only two representatives to vote against the bill, said this new option allows certain property owners to create their own fiefdoms and the ability to assess other property owners for purposes determined by themselves. “These are the kind of activities for which local government exists,” said Provost. “Why would we want to have a class of … private, parallel quasi-governments to perform these functions? Is the democracy, transparency and accountability of local elected government a problem?”

“Homeowners, family-owned businesses and their employees could be negatively impacted by groups who manipulate or misuse the powers created under this bill that privatizes some of local government’s management and expense of tax dollars, community development and community services functions,” said Rep. Michelle DuBois (D-Brockton).

“Block by block they’re coming for taxpayers,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “Will the Legislature next propose also taxing us at the street level, then backyard by backyard? Today such speculation is not so far-fetched.”

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