Mayor pushes for Tax Override

By Denebola
Published: November 2007
By Samuel Ebb
Mayor David Cohen called for a tax override to fund expected increases in health insurance and pension costs in his October 22 State of the City speech.
If the override passes, it will lead to an increase in the allowed property tax rate for Newton residents.
Five years ago, a proposed tax override caused considerable political uproar around the city and a vicious campaign for votes from both supporters and opponents. Furthermore, Cohen promised that funding from an override would not be used to fund the hugely expensive Newton North renovation.
According to Cohen, pension, health insurance, and energy costs will increase by roughly $5.5 million, and an override is necessary to cover these increasing costs. Cohen has labeled these expenses as a “structural deficit,” a deficit that is beyond city control and cannot be paid for under the current budget.
“We are making great progress on the Newton North project, and win or lose this override we are going to complete it,” Cohen said. “However, it is clear that we are home to some aging schools and public buildings that demand our attention. We can and we will find a way to cope with the rising costs of health care, pensions and energy while making investments that will fortify our capital assets into the future.”
President of the fiscally conservative Newton Taxpayers Association Jeff Seidman strongly disagrees with Cohen’s assessment of the city’s financial situation.
Seidman has outlined a process by which he believes $18 million can be saved through changes in how the city pays for North, by changing the bond from $8 million a year for 20 years to $5.5 million a year over 30 years; by energy savings which Seidman believes could save $2.5 million annually by improving and repairing buildings; by changing water meters which could increase water fees by $3 million annually; and by changing union contracts for health insurance payments from 80/20 to 70/30 which could save $2.5 million on teacher contracts alone according to Seidman.
“Some of these suggestions can lead to immediate bottom line improvements, others will take a year or two,” Seidman said. “The point is, had these changes been done two or three years ago, we’d be arguing now about what to do with the surplus. If we implement these changes now, in a couple of years we’ll have made up the budget gap. That being the case, why pass an override that will last forever when what we really have is a relatively short term hurdle to get over for the next year or two?”
Despite the skeptical opinion of people such as Seidman, Cohen believes that the override has a good chance of passing in Newton due to “a tremendous amount of community pride in Newton,” which Cohen believes is due to “our solid record on public safety, our dynamic City programs and services, and our ability to offer a great quality of life for our residents.”
Seidman, though, believes that if the override passes, some of these residents will no longer be able to live in Newton due high costs. Seidman believes that the Cohen administration has not done everything it can to come up with alternative means of coming up with the money in lieu of an override.
“Ask yourself: How many elderly and lower income people will an override force out of their homes because they can’t afford to live here anymore? These people are being squeezed by an administration that has not done everything it can to get us through this difficult period,” Seidman said.
“If the Mayor wants an override, he’s got to prove the need,” Seidman said.. “And to do that I want to see the facts and figures. Only then will I support an override.”
According to Cohen, the “facts and figures” of the override will not be available until June.

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