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Don't blindly accept the 'only' option

Why we are opposed to Mayor Warren's three extravagantly expensive property tax overrides.

The debate over the mayor's override proposal seems to have devolved into the mayor and his supporters saying that anyone who opposes the proposal is somehow against students, police, teachers, and better schools and roads. That is oversimplifing the issue and misses the point. Most people in Newton would agree that we all want things to be better, but there are differences of opinion over what we collective can afford and how to pay for them.

The issue boils down to whether there are better ways to address these needs other than significantly increasing our property taxes and piling more debt onto the Newton government ledger as Mayor Warren wants to do. Under his plan, our property taxes would double within ten years and increase the city's debt load by an estimated $90 million to build two new schools. This override proposal does nothing more than plug the city's structural deficit and allow him to "kick the can" down the road to future Newton generations.

Rather than a broad property tax increase and more debt, we believe there is a solution to addressing the city's staffing and infrastructure needs by fixing our current deficit issues and more targeted revenue measures. We think this solution and views others may have should be part of the debate rather than labeling everyone who opposes the current override as someone who either doesn't care about Newton's future or who is absolutely opposed to new taxes. Unfortunately, the mayor has not allowed that debate to take place as he is already pushing his pre-packaged solution in a rushed election. As informed citizens, we shouldn't just blindly accept the only option Mayor Warren has given us. That is why we at Moving Newton Forward urge you to vote "no."

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Walter Jones February 22, 2013 at 11:50 PM
"Under his plan, our property taxes would double within ten years and increase the city's debt load by an estimated $90 million to build two new schools. " This excerpt is the only actual information provided in this blog post. There is no sourcing of any kind for these assertions. Please demonstrate, using data sources: 1. Property taxes are going to double within ten years. 2. Two schools increase debt load by $90 million No other information is provided in this piece, just mere opinion.
Steve Siegel February 23, 2013 at 08:35 PM
I think the writer of this post captures an essential truth of the override question when they say that “there are differences of opinion over what we collectively can afford”. On average Newton can certainly afford this override but while some taxpayers will not feel the increase others will experience at least some level of financial hardship. From what I have seen the Mayor has worked to respond to this, first by limiting the size of the override request (there are many items on each of our wish lists that won’t be covered by this override, and the Mayor resisted a call by some Aldermen and others to increase the request so it would cover additional items) and then by offering programs to seniors and veterans that can reduce the financial impact. These responses may not be enough for everybody but thus is the nature of a democracy – we work hard to do the most for the most in service of the collective good. Personally I consider this a measured, thoughtful request.
Steve Siegel February 23, 2013 at 08:35 PM
I question some of the writer’s statements. This plan will not double our property taxes in ten years. Rather, with a one-time increase of the taxable base of 5% and then a 2.5% annual increase, our taxes will grow by roughly 1/3 over the next decade. Also, the Angier and Cabot projects are expected to cost, all in, $82 million, and 30% is expected to be picked up by the state leaving Newton’s share at $57 million. Certainly this is debt, but in contrast with NNHS it is responsible debt with a real financing plan. Finally the “structural deficit” was addressed when our contracts with our 17 city employee unions were negotiated a year and a half ago. No longer does the rate of employee compensation grow faster than the overall growth rate of city revenues (the cause of the structural deficit). The 2008 override, proposed before the structural deficit was tackled, would have “kicked the can down the road”; this one does not. The Mayor proposed this override in October and the vote comes in March. I don’t characterize that as “rushed”. I have observed plenty of thoughtful debate which I am sure will continue right up to the March 12th vote.
Barbara John February 23, 2013 at 10:05 PM
The writer of this letter offerred no facts and figures on where savings can be found outside the override process. That is because the mayor already reviewed the budget item by item and found the savings that he could. If the critics have other specific proposals on saving money, the should offer them. Just saying that the budget is bloated does not make it so, and makes for a poor debating point.
Joshua Norman February 23, 2013 at 10:12 PM
Barbara, we have devoted another report in which we highlight savings that could fund these spending programs if these three extravagantly expensive overrides failed. "Just saying that the budget is bloated does not make it so, and makes for a poor debating point." 80% of the budget is wages, salaries and benefits. If we reduced it to 76.5% by 2017, that would free up enough funds to pay for the new spending projects without pay cuts, job losses or property tax overrides. "That is because the mayor already reviewed the budget item by item and found the savings that he could." Would this statement include the $2.1M in annual revenues the city decided to forego when they turned their nose up to the naming rights proposal?
Really? February 23, 2013 at 11:10 PM
Forego? You make it sound like it was money just sitting on the table. The naming rights campaign was a proposal for a time-limited, dedicated fundraising effort specifically for technology - I believe the plan/hope was to raise $6M over three years. It would not be an ongoing source of revenue, and there was absolutely no guarantee that it would actually work. And trying to paint this as a "rushed" process is ridiculous - this has been talked about for the last four years, and was officially proposed 4 months ago. Maybe if you'd "joined the debate" back then you wouldn't feel so "rushed."
Moving Newton Forward February 23, 2013 at 11:22 PM
"time-limited, dedicated fundraising effort specifically for technology" Outside of government, naming rights deals are not one-time deals. I would have pursued the naming rights proposal and structured it so that the city would have been able to use it for new buildings as well as options for renewal (at a steadily higher rate. Even if we couldn't use it for buildings, it would be better to use naming rights money for technological upgrades instead of another override spearheaded by Professor Lisle Baker. http://newton.patch.com/articles/newton-aldermen-approve-override-ballot-question-special-election Last we checked, he spearheaded the opposition to naming rights. http://www.wickedlocal.com/newton/news/x69089639/Baker-Lipsitt-Vance-The-argument-against-selling-naming-rights-in-Newton-schools#ixzz1yjEhRHuR "And trying to paint this as a "rushed" process is ridiculous" We were under the impression that this was officially proposed in April 2012 by the School Committee. "Maybe if you'd "joined the debate" back then you wouldn't feel so "rushed." We don't feel rushed.
Really? February 24, 2013 at 12:05 AM
A lot of things happen "outside of government" - that doesn't make all of them applicable. Selling naming rights for public schools comes with a host of issues that don't apply to naming rights for a sports stadium or other private venue. FYI - the School Committee doesn't propose overrides - the mayor proposes, the BOA approves or not, the people vote. The Mayor proposed the override package on October 15: http://www.newtonma.gov/gov/executive/override.asp And if you don't feel rushed, why are you calling this a "rushed election"? (And way to keep it classy with the use of "Professor" - gotta love that passive-aggressive use of the honorific from the R playbook.)
Moving Newton Forward February 24, 2013 at 12:31 AM
"A lot of things happen "outside of government" - that doesn't make all of them applicable." People who make their living from the Dreaded Private Sector have to live within their means. Why can't the city do the same? Why should Newton taxpayers reward Newton's city government with $11.4M in higher taxes when its stooges from BNF proudly admit that Newton's government neglected funding the city's infrastructure for many years? http://buildingnewtonsfuture.org/frequently-asked-questions/#why "the School Committee doesn't propose overrides" The School Committee proposed the naming rights proposal in April. We only regret that we did not specifically include the link that showed it, that way you would not have been referring to the extravagantly expensive overrides while we were referring to the naming rights proposal. http://www.newtonma.gov/civicax/filebank/documents/44723
Really? February 24, 2013 at 12:50 AM
YOU called the ELECTION rushed. Of course that's what I was talking about. And when I called you on it, you say you were talking about something else? You're all over the place. Stooges? Still classy, too.
Steve Siegel February 24, 2013 at 02:25 AM
Really’s statement of 6:10 is correct. The $6 million was the proposed selling price for the naming of the various identified assets of NPS, it was not money in hand. Could the campaign have hit $6 million? That would have been terrific but to count it up front as money left on the table is simply speculation. “Why can’t the city live within its means?” Again, one must differentiate between now and 5 years ago. In 2008 we started building a high school without a plan to finance it, and are now paying for it out of operating money taken from other government activities. In 2013 the Mayor has laid out a plan and the plan costs more than we have. Does he spend on it regardless? Absolutely not – he asks for the community to financially support the plan with this override, before he commits. Our voters can agree or disagree to support it. This is exactly how the system is supposed to work, and our voters have been selective in the past: Since I’ve lived in Newton two overrides have passed and one has failed.
Moving Newton Forward February 24, 2013 at 02:41 AM
Steve, we can't count the naming rights money as anything right now because Professor Lisle Baker and his cronies helped gin up opposition to it. The Board of Alderman cravenly caved in to him and voted to not take any action at this time. "In 2008 we started building a high school without a plan to finance it" So why did we tear down a 35 year old high school at the expense of renovating and rebuilding three older elementary schools? "In 2013 the Mayor has laid out a plan and the plan costs more than we have. Does he spend on it regardless? Absolutely not – he asks for the community to financially support the plan with this override," Newton spent $204M in 2002 when that override passed. In 2013, Newton is spending $313M. Is it the taxpayers fault that Newton spent that extra money elsewhere (on generous salaries for government worker unions)? NO! Let's take the money that would normally be spent elsewhere (on lavish benefits for government worker unions) and use that to help offset the increased spending on these infrastructure projects. 80% of the city's budget and 84% of the school's budget goes to generous compensation packages. Would the city's workers really be angry if their share was cut to 76.5% by 2017?
Walter Jones February 26, 2013 at 03:46 AM
Time out Moving Newton Forward. I highlighted that you made two statements without any support. Both of these statement are untrue. PROVE OTHERWISE OR STOP MAKING STATEMENTS THAT ARE NOT TRUE. YOU SAID: 1. Property taxes are going to double within ten years. 2. Two schools increase debt load by $90 million PROVE IT.
Janet Sterman February 28, 2013 at 01:48 AM
There are no Walter Jones' in the Newton voter database. Why argue with a sock puppet? Waste of time..
Moving Newton Forward February 28, 2013 at 03:07 AM
Janet, thanks for the sleuthing.
Really? February 28, 2013 at 03:22 AM
You do know the difference between a sock puppet and a pseudonym, right?
Moving Newton Forward February 28, 2013 at 03:33 AM
Janet, it looks like Walter has a little buddy.
Really? February 28, 2013 at 05:42 PM
"A little buddy"? The way you address those who question or disagree with you speaks volumes.
Steve Siegel March 01, 2013 at 04:43 AM
Dear MNF, I’m not sure whether you missed this text from my blog post of 3:35 p.m. on February 23rd. You have provided considerable numerical information online and in your TAB op-ed yesterday, but your numbers on tax rate growth and school building cost are different than mine. Would you please share how you came up with your figures? "This plan will not double our property taxes in ten years. Rather, with a one-time increase of the taxable base of 5% and then a 2.5% annual increase, our taxes will grow by roughly 1/3 over the next decade. Also, the Angier and Cabot projects are expected to cost, all in, $82 million, and 30% is expected to be picked up by the state leaving Newton’s share at $57 million." I can appreciate that we may have a different perspective regarding whether the override questions and amounts are reasonable, but at least I hope that we are working with the same numbers. Thank you, Steve Siegel
Moving Newton Forward March 01, 2013 at 01:00 PM
Steve, we are concerned that this is just the first of many overrides in the pipeline. Our leadership has had the opportunity to meet with the leadership of the pro-override campaign and our concerns have been confirmed. As for the costs associated with the schools, it appears that the two overrides concerning the schools will result in a $90M commitment for principal and interest over this 30 year period.
Moving Newton Forward March 01, 2013 at 01:09 PM
We are concerned that this override will be the first of many and that our taxes will be doubled in the next 10 years to pay for infrastructure programs that even the pro-override side admits were neglected by a Democrat-dominated Board of Alderman, a Democrat-dominated School Committee and a Democrat Mayor. Please don't word-smith and say "municipal elections are officially non-partisan". Last we checked, the current mayor and the previous two mayors were registered Democrats and ran for higher office as members of the Democrat Party. Last we checked, the 2011 Ward 4 School Committee race was a choice between two Democrats who basically agreed on almost everything and who have both come together in favor of the three overrides.
Really? March 01, 2013 at 06:42 PM
What? In your post, you claimed that if these overrides pass "our property taxes would double within ten years." When Steve asked you to justify that assertion with actual figures, you change course and say that our taxes will double because you *believe* there will be "many" overrides in the next 10 years. That's an opinion, not a fact. And please stop trying to derail the discussion with appeals to partisanship. The neglect of infrastructure (and the selling off of infrastructure that we now could desperately use) began under our longest-serving mayor, who happened to be a Republican - and who also proposed an override. Party affiliation has nothing to do with it.
Janet Sterman March 01, 2013 at 09:08 PM
Not following the BNF blog posts - but I do see that you do use the same answers in several different listserv responses throughout Newton. Is this working for you? Boo-YA!

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