By Bob Katzen

The Senate 27-10, approved a local option amendment allowing a city or town to authorize the creation of community benefit districts which would allow owners of contiguous property in a city or town to form a district and require property owners in that district to pay for additional services, improvements, events and other projects and activities within the district. The districts would be operated by a nonprofit board.

Supporters say the required payment is an assessment fee. Opponents say it is a tax.

Andre Leroux, Executive Director MA Smart Growth Alliance which supports the bill, said that assessment fees are not a tax. “They are established by local initiative through the development of a management plan, a petition signed by participants, after a public hearing, approval by the City Council or Board of Selectmen, and under the control of a nonprofit management entity that allows broad community input and control. The fees are paid by property owners for services (benefits) that they receive and manage. Is a condo fee a tax? It’s the same principle on a district scale.”

“Condo fees are a voluntary imposition, part of a contract entered into only if one chooses,” said Citizens for Limited Taxation Executive Director Chip Ford who opposes the measure. “They are avoidable. Community Benefit District taxes will be imposed ex-post facto on an unwilling entity by a hungry majority of beneficiaries.”

“Activist organizations from left, right, and middle have united in strong opposition to this power grab,” continued Ford. “It takes a political cataclysm to unite such diverse grassroots factions on anything, especially to today’s political climate. This is one of those rare moments in history. It’s clear this ‘Community Benefits District’ sham should be rejected by those who allege to represent their constituents.”

“Municipalities across the state do their best to create environments that spur economic growth, but they are often dealing with limited resources and capacities,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn). “Community Benefit Districts can help by offering a tool that brings all of the stakeholders together with the goal of making neighborhood improvements, creating jobs, and growing our local economies. These benefits could include improved walkability, lighting, cultural programs, branding, landscaping and support for local businesses.”

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