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Newton Aldermen Approve $11.4M Override Ballot Questions

Newton voters will head to the polls for a special election on March 12, 2013.

Although many aldermen agreed the mayor's proposed $11.4 million override is not enough to cover all the city's needs, the Board of Aldermen approved last night three override questions that will go before Newton voters on a March 12, 2013 special election ballot.

The special election will ask voters whether they approve of two debt exclusion overrides for the rebuilding of Angier Elementary and Cabot Elementary as well as an $8.4 million operational override that covers needs in the schools, Police Department, Fire Department and city roads/sidewalks.

"It's not the perfect solution, it doesn't have everything we need, but it's a good beginning," Ward 2 Alderman-at-Large Susan Albright said.

The board voted 23-0 in favor of the ballot question and special election. Ward 1 Alderman-at-Large Carleton Merrill was absent from the meeting.

The vote comes after multiple discussions about the override and debates on whether the proposed amount is enough for the city's needs.

During a meeting last week, Alderman Lisle Baker argued that the $8.4 million operational override was not enough and the board should consider an amendment to increase the amount and cover more projects.

Last night, Baker said he drafted a proposed amendment that looked to increase the operational override from $8.4 million to $9.9 million, with the extra funds focused on technology in the schools.

But after speaking with the mayor and considering the amendment, Baker decided not to put the increase request forward and instead, vote for the override measure as is.

"My hope is that if this turns out to be successful, we will look at this as a building block and go back to the voters again...for the resources we need," Baker said.

Ward 3 Alderman-at-Large Greer Tan Swiston also said she considered putting forward an amendment, one that would break out different capital projects (new schools and new fire stations) into separate debt exclusion overrides. 

For more information on tax levy limit overrides and debt exclusion overrides, check out this primer from the state.

But Swiston said she was not interested in "prolonging the process" and agreed to vote in favor of the ballot question and special election to put the decision in the hands of the voters.

Ward 3 Alderman-at-Large Ted Hess-Mahan said last night he also supported pulling out the larger capital projects into separate debt exclusions. 

In the end, Hess-Mahan approved the ballot questions as the mayor presented.

"I'm not satisfied 100 percent, I don't think there's a person in the room who is...[But] I don't there's a person that disagrees that we have to do these things, we have to fix these schools," Hess-Mahan said.

During both override discussions held last month, some aldermen, including Hess-Mahan, questioned why funding for Zervas Elementary was not placed on a separate debt exclusion override, and instead was lumped into the $8.4 million operational override. 

School Department officials argued that expansion and/or rebuilding of Zervas needs to move quickly in order to build capacity in the crowded school system. If the funding is passed on the operational override, the School Department can jump on expansion at Zervas quicker than if it was on a debt exclusion, officials said. 

Overall, the $8.4 million operational override includes:

  • $4.5 million to help with student enrollment (teachers and short-term space)
  • $500,000 for police personnel and equipment
  • $1 million for street and sidewalk repair
  • $800,000 for renovation and rebuilding of Fire Station #3 and Fire Headquarters
  • $1.6 million to renovate/expand Zervas Elementary.

Most aldermen agreed last night that regardless of the amount of the proposed override, the board should encourage voters to support the measure so work can get started on buildings and roads that are in need of renovation and rebuilding. 

"In my mind, we really have no choice," Ward 7 Alderman-at-Large Marc Laredo said. "We need to get the work done."

If all three overrides pass, the average Newton tax bill will increase by approximately 50 cents for every $1,000 valuation of a home, according to Chief Financial Officer Maureen Lemieux. This amounts to an average of $343 per year, based on Newton's median home price of $686,000.

If the debt exclusions pass (questions two and three), residents will not see a tax increase for those overrides until the Board of Aldermen approve funding for the Angier and Cabot projects. 

An override calculator is available on the city's website to help residents find out how much their taxes will increase if the proposed override passes.

Traute Marshall December 04, 2012 at 05:38 PM
Two aldermen let the cat out of the bag: "it doesn't have everything we need, but it's a good beginning" (Susan Albright) and "We will look at this as a building block and go back to the voters again" (Lisle Baker). Never occurs to them to live within the city's means, as we all have to. Just milk the taxpayers again and again, and always frame it as "schools, police and firemen." Are Newton voters going to fall for this ruse?

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