The following is a point-by-point examination and debunking of false claims made by Pittsfield resident Florian Ptak in an editorial letter afforded a full page this week in the Right-leaning Pittsfield Gazette. It’s unclear why Mr. Ptak, a frequent and opinionated letter-writer to local papers, has decided to undertake such a vitriolic smear campaign against Question 5, which has otherwise been widely endorsed and universally unchallenged by the full spectrum of community leaders and trusted organizations, elected officials of all affiliations, and the local business community. What is clear is that his editorial in this week’s Gazette is riddled throughout with misinformation, inaccuracies, false statements, outright whoppers, and an overall tone of outright resentment and animosity toward civic improvements and the local volunteer community.
#1. From the first sentence, Florian Ptak’s assertions are blatantly false and completely mistaken. “Question 5 asks Pittsfield voters to voluntarily increase their property tax by one percent to support [CPA]” – This is a complete lie, unless perhaps you live in a culture where they do not believe in decimal points. Question 5 would not, I repeat, would not, increase property tax by 1%. Adoption of the CPA would impose a 1% surcharge on the total property bill after it’s assessed (NOT a 1% increase to the bill), exempting the first $100,000 of assessed property. That means a resident whose house is valued at $100,000 pays nothing; at $200,000 payment is $18.76 a year, or LESS THAN 0.1%
#2. Ptak in the next sentence then lies some more in saying that CPA funds “ill defined, unnecessary community projects,” a statement for which there is simply no basis. Hundreds of very important projects across 161 communities have been accomplished, many of which related to crucial city needs (e.g. the restoration of Gloucester’s city hall), and 100% of which were rigorously vetted by local CPCs and their respective City Councils or Select Boards. All of these are well documented and can be viewed online in the statewide project database on CommunityPreservation.org
#3. In the second paragraph’s ramblings, Florian Ptak states that “Businesses like Sabic and Nuclea are fleeing the city” due to taxation. Once again there is no real factual substance to his words, as neither company’s changes had anything to do with Pittsfield- Sabic’s local closure comes as part of a national restructuring that has nothing to do with anything local. Nuclea’s reputation as a crooked endeavor based on smoke and mirrors has been the subject of plenty of media exposure, and their bankruptcy and default (not departure) comes despite being gaudily coddled by previous administrations.
He then goes on to claim that “our seniors are being forced to sell their homes because they are unable to continue to pay the exorbitant residential property taxes.” Sure, that does pull the heart strings, but is there any evidence that this is the case? Does anyone have a single concrete example to offer for this common political ploy? The fact that there has been, to date, very few applications for the tax abatement credit available to fixed income seniors, seems to debunk this claim. Seniors give up their homes for a variety of reasons, and it’s somewhat shameful of Florian Ptak to exploit this complicated part of aging as a propaganda point.
#3.5 in paragraph three he simply rounds up the tax rate estimate by .3%, no real biggie.
#4. In paragraph 4, Ptak pontificates about dire findings on city buildings revealed by Buildings & Maintenance Director Denis Guyer recently, and then goes on to say that CPA is precluded from funding the sort of renovations referred to but he is once again mistaken. While CPA funds cannot be used for the basic, humdrum day to day maintenance work that needs to be kept up in order to avoid major overhauls and restorations of historic and necessary civic buildings, which needs to be properly funded in the regular annual budget- it very certainly CAN be used for many of restoration and major capital projects that will be facing Pittsfield over the next few years – without the benefit of state matching funds, if we fail to approve Question 5.
#5. In paragraph 7, we come to the overall philosophical fallacy of Florian Ptak’s presentation– the lie of omission that underpins his entire smear campaign. Ptak is careful to leave out 2 HUGE facts that have led to the Pittsfield community’s widespread embrace of the Community Preservation Act:
FACT: Pittsfield residents already pay into this, hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in local real estate fees which leave the city and are dispersed only to the 161 (soon to be 177) smarter cities that have adopted the Preservation Act.
FACT: The revenue raised locally by this (27 cents a week avg) surcharge GUARANTEES state matching funds. This averages around 30% on the dollar. There is no bank, no investment a municipality can make with its revenue that will guarantee such a matching return. Therefore CPA is superior and more efficient for a struggling community like Pittsfield than any form of traditional property tax. Additionally, CPA projects have a proven track record for leveraging extensive additional state & federal funding and private investment. In total, the amount that Pittsfield residents have saved by not paying for CPA is a tiny fraction of the amount we have lost out over the years by not adopting it.
#6. In paragraph 8, Florian Ptak again demonstrates that he has not familiarized himself at all with the details of the Community Preservation Act, or is willfully misrepresenting them. Ptak falsely states: “The CPA actually requires some of the funds to be spent on more open spaces.”
This is not true at all. The Act does require that funds (at least 10%) be spent on parks and open spaces in general, it is false that they must* be spent acquiring new acreage. This was once true, but CPA was modified and this has not been the case in years. Florian Ptak’s information is wildly out of date. He is also misguided in his hostile dismissiveness toward the very idea of acquiring undeveloped land, when there are all sorts of ways that preserving additional agricultural or watershed area could save the city money and increase prosperity and public health, Large populations of residents have clamored for years for a dog park and additional playing fields. His particular tone of scorn for this sort of thing suggests a person with a rather negative overall outlook on nature and outdoor recreation, something most Pittsfield residents do not share.
#7. Becoming more emotional in paragraph 9, Florian Ptak rails against what he calls “rabid preservationists” with the absurd assertion that preservation of historic buildings equates to “taking them off the tax rolls [spelling corrected]”. In fact, anyone who has paid any attention can attest that the overwhelming majority of obvious examples of historic building restoration projects supported by local “preservationists” have been private development projects (sometimes supported by historic tax credits). The Clocktower apartments, the Howard Building, the Onota Building, Hotel on North, Rice Silk Mill, Notre Dame Apartments, the Central Annex, Shire City Sanctuary are just a few examples of large private spending to preserve historic buildings by entities contributing enormous revenues to the city. The planned redevelopment of Holy Family Church or of White Terrace are additional current examples; St Mary’s campus is eyed for private preservationist redevelopment, as was the Plunkett Building. The Med Express on Dalton Ave that was single-handedly saved from the wrecking ball by Pittsfield Historical Commission is another. The list goes on and on; it’s truly unfortunate that Mr. Ptak knows so very little about the subject he is attempting to demonize.
#8. In paragraph 10, Ptak is once again just making things up. No CPA projects have been “proposed” for Pittsfield, this would take place well in the future, assuming the Act is adopted. What is true Preserve Pittsfield has provided a few purely hypothetical examples of projects- some already planned, some simply desired by residents. Many of these examples, such as redevelopment of Springside House or the Tyler St Fire Station, a dog park, Rail Trail extensions, etc etc- have been the subject of extensive research, planning and public input processes, vetted by local committees, state agencies and tens of thousands of dollars in private consultants over the years. So to classify these examples as “nothing but ill defined wish lists for special interests” … well, let’s just call this out for what it is: Florian Ptak is lying.
#9. The second to last paragraph just gets really bizarre and hard to understand, not specifically false because it’s not at all clear what he’s driving at here, other than to make vague assertions that the language of the Act is “disturbing” without really explaining how, other than to cherry-pick phrases like “eminent domain” out of context, and to label the CPA process of volunteer participation, public input, and required transparency as “another level of bureaucracy.” -It’s not so much that referring to public accountability and governmental checks and balances as “bureaucracy” is technically untrue, it’s just that it’s such an obvious propagandist ploy that it’s barely worth discussing.
#10… In his closing paragraph, Florian Ptak lies twice more, in ways that are absurdly easy to debunk. First, the CPA is not as Ptak states “a permanent surcharge” – it can eventually be repealed if a city chooses, through as simple a ballot vote as the one that adopted it. In Northampton Mass, CPA was initially adopted in 2005 by a narrow 1% margin of 175 votes A few years later, a question was put forth by a small faction of residents to repeal it. Having seen it in action, Northampton’s decision was overwhelming, and the repeal was defeated by over 4,000 votes, a 2/3 majority of Northampton voters enthusiastically voting to keep it!
In his last line, Florian Ptak refers to the CPA as both “unnecessary and unproductive.” Well, any reasonably intelligent person can see that “unnecessary” is a subjective judgment in this context, an opinion that can (and clearly does) differ from person to person. But since productivity is something that can very much can be measured in municipal terms, let’s look at what CPA has produced, in ways that have been concretely measured and proven:
–CPA has enabled over 8,100 locally supported projects to go forward
–10,000 high paying jobs have been generated in the rehabilitation of historic properties by CPA funding, preserving the beloved structures that help give a community its identity while retrofitting it to a landscape that’s competitively ready for commercial activity of all kinds.
-Quality housing initiatives supported by CPA have created over 5,000 construction related jobs directly, and through indirect impact added another 6,000 estimated jobs with over $150 Million dollars in new revenue for local governments.
-Over 23,000 acres of park land, farm land, forest land have been acquired or preserved. It’s enabled towns to build needed dog parks, skate parks, playgrounds, athletic fields. It’s lead to the creation of hundreds of new assets and programs for youth recreation. Thriving parks in turn supports another 8,000 jobs and 447 million dollars in wages in Massachusetts, generates TEN BILLION in consumer spending and another $739 million in public revenue annually.
Fortunately, Pittsfield voters are smart enough not to be misled by a poorly conceived propaganda effort by 3 Pittsfield residents (Ptak, Terry Kinnas, and Kermit Goodman) who are all best known for their desire to hear themselves talk, and who seem perpetually to have a bee in their bonnets about something- when the overwhelming support for Question 5 spans from the city’s largest business alliance (Downtown Pittsfield Inc) to the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, from major cultural institutions to grassroots volunteer groups, and from local Democrats such as Ben Downing and Tricia Farley Bouvier to Republican Governor Baker- in this instance, all united in the cause of common sense and clear community benefit.
YES on Question 5 is an obvious no brainer for Pittsfield, and it takes a pretty convoluted series of distortions and untruths to make it sound otherwise.