Facing a long list of infrastructure needs and a rapidly-growing student population, Newton Mayor Setti Warren proposed an $11.4 million override package tonight that would increase residents' property taxes to help pay for aging buildings, roads and public safety.
During his annual Capital Improvement Plan presentation tonight at City Hall, Warren announced a request for the Board of Aldermen to set a special election for March 12, 2013 for residents to consider three separate tax overrides for various projects around the city.
"This is what we believe is the right path forward," Warren said in a meeting earlier today with Newton Patch.
The first question asks for an $8.4 million operational override that would cover a number of different capital needs including funding for projects in the schools, public works, police and fire departments.
The second question would ask for approval of a debt exclusion override to cover the cost of rebuilding the 90-year-old Angier Elementary. The third question would ask for a similar debt exclusion override to cover the cost of renovating or rebuilding the 80-year-old Cabot Elementary.
The Proposition 2 1/2 law permits municipalities to increase property taxes each year by 2 1/2 percent. With voter-approved overrides, though, the municipality can levy more taxes -- passing the 2 1/2 increase limit -- in order to pay for projects or other municipal needs.
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.
Following tonight's announcement, the city launched an override calculator that helps residents find out how much their taxes will increase if the proposed override passes.
The mayor also announced tonight that he has docketed tax relief measures for both seniors and veterans. For more details on these docket items, check the .pdf section above.
Overall, Warren said he is "optimistic" that the override ballot questions will pass, saying that they help "maintain a quality of life that we have all come to expect" in Newton.
"If we are not able to pass this, we won't be able to meet the expectations of this community," Warren said.
Warren also announced tonight his plans for a series of town hall meetings that he will hold throughout the city to speak with residents an "answer questions in detail." The first meeting will be held at Cabot Elementary this Sunday, Oct. 21 at 12:30 p.m.
Mayor Warren's full remarks from tonight's presentation are available in the .pdf section above.
The first override question proposed would allow for an $8.4 million tax levy limit override to fund a list of projects, most of which will help with overcrowding and enrollment in the Newton Public Schools.
Similar to the fiscal 2013 Newton Public Schools' budget, the funding in the override helps with a student population that continues to grow beyond the district's initial enrollment projections.
"This plan is about enrollment and facilities," Superintendent David Fleishman said in a meeting earlier today with Newton Patch.
In addition to the school needs, the operational override will cover costs for additional sidewalk and road repair as well as the reconstruction/renovation of Fire Station #3 and Fire Headquarters in Newton Centre.
According to Fire Chief Bruce Proia, Station #3 is located in the city's busiest district, which also includes the biggest commercial district. With the funding from the override, the department will be able to renovate and rebuild the station so it meets code and incorporates more space for equipment, creating a safer environment for the firefighters.
A better station design will also allow for quicker response time -- something that is important at a time when fires are burning "faster than ever" due to synthetic materials in homes, Proia said.
As for the Police Department, Interim Chief Howard Mintz said earlier today the $500,000 will help cover salaries for four new police officers as well as several cruisers, one of which may be unmarked.
This additional staff and equipment, Mintz said, will help the city combat the increase in bicycle and pedestrian accidents as well as a recent uptick in burglaries.
The full breakdown of the $8.4 million operational override is as follows:
- $4.5 million to cover growth and enrollment in the Newton Public Schools. This includes costs for additional teachers, professional development and technology. According to Superintendent David Fleishman, approximately $1 million of that allocation would go toward short-term facilities needs.
- Funding for expansion and renovation of Zervas Elementary School.
- $1 million to cover repairs to streets and sidewalks. According to Chief Operating Officer Robert Rooney, the money will have a "dynamic impact" on the city's roads and sidewalks. This is a 60 percent increase over the current funding, which will help bring the city's main roads in "good" condition and in 15 years, all roads will be out of "deficient" status.
- $500,000 for four additional police officers as well as new cruisers and technology to combat house breaks and help reduce the number of bike- and pedestrian-related accidents.
- Funding for the relocation of the Newton Fire Department's Wires Division, which is currently in Newton Centre and will be moved to Station #10 on Dedham Street.
- Funding for rebuilding and renovation of Fire Headquarters and Station #3 in Newton Centre.
Question 2 and 3
Each debt exclusion question does not have a specific amount attached to it, Lemieux said, but each one looks to raise approximately $3 million in taxes per year for 30 years, which will go toward funding the Angier and Cabot projects.
However, Lemieux pointed out that 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.
"We will only tax with what [the Angier and Cabot projects] costs us," Lemieux said. "If we are able to bring those costs in lower, than it will cost less for everyone."
Over the last year, Warren said he has worked with his administration on a number of different options to tackle the city's infrastructure needs. Bundling all of the costs together into one override was an option, but the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) asked that each school building project have a separate override if the MSBA is involved with the construction, Warren said.
In a meeting earlier today, School Committee Chair Claire Sokoloff told Newton Patch that the School Committee and School Department will continue to work together with the city to move along work for facilities that are in "desperate" need of renovation and rebuilding.
The MSBA is currently partnering with the city in the construction of the new Angier Elementary and the district is considering another partnership with the MSBA for the renovation/rebuilding of Cabot.
"We have really tried to strike a balance between what the true needs are of the city and what we believe people could potentially afford," Lemieux said during tonight's presentation. "We know that it will be a sacrifice for some people and it will be difficult for people to make this decision...We will make every effort to spend every single one of our tax payers' dollars wisely."