April 2016 Church & State - April 2016

Mass. Church Seeks Taxpayer Support To Rebuild Its Stairs

  AU admin

Americans United has expressed concern over a Massachusetts town’s decision to spend thousands of taxpayer dollars to repair a historic church.

The Concord Select Board said it would like to appropriate $12,000 to repair the front steps of the New Church of Concord, which is the oldest remaining church in that town. That expenditure is part of $1.4 million in public money to be taken out of the Community Preservation Fund (CPF), which allows for spending on special projects such as refurbishing historic buildings. The CPF exists thanks to a state law that lets localities raise money through a maximum 3 percent surcharge on property tax assessments.

But before any money can be spent on the church, the plan must be approved by voters at an April town meeting. Ahead of that meeting, Am­ericans United questioned the appropriateness of the planned $12,000 expenditure.

Concord Select Board Member Car­min Reiss denied that repairing the church would violate any laws during a February board meeting. Town Manager Chris Whelan told the news website Wicked Local Concord that the town’s legal counsel said: “You are not supporting a religion by doing this. You are repairing an historical building that the public has an interest in.”

Wicked Local, a news site, reported that the church must allow public access to the building in order to receive the taxpayer money.

“My understanding is that the public would have access to the church building,” Whelan said. “What we’re buying for our $12,000 is both the improved appearance of the stairs and a limited amount of public access to the building.”

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