Newton to vote on $12 mil override

By Denebola
Published: March 2008

By Nathan Yeo

Newton residents will go to the polls on Tuesday May 20 to pass judgment on a $12 million override aimed at providing funding for public schools.
The Board of Aldermen approved the override by a vote of 20-3 taken just before midnight on Monday. The override would raise property taxes in Newton to make up for shortfalls in revenue.
At the meeting, the debate revolved around whether to lower the cost of the override from 12 million dollars down to 9.1 million.
Alderman Amy Sangiolo said the motion to move down to 9.1 million came after an announcement from the Mayor’s office that in had found 2.4 million dollars in savings through healthcare saving and state aid.
She said the goal should be to keep spending at maintenance of effort for the schools, without the increase in spending that she believed the 12 million override would entail.
Alderman Bill Brandel stressed that the override must be politically feasible, and the 9.1 million dollar override would have been more defensible than 12.
Alderman Susan Albright opposed lowering the number because she did not believe it would adequately provide for the schools. She citied building maintenance and the technology initiative, which she thought might not be covered by the 9.1 million figure.
“These are not wants, these are needs, she said.
The Board eventually rejected the motion to put a 9.1 million dollar override on the ballot by a vote of 10-12.
Mayor David Cohen originally proposed a 24.9 million dollar override before withdrawing it after it became clear it was politically unfeasible. A joint meeting of the Programs and Services and Finance committees recommended a 12 million override.
At the meeting, the Board also considered a proposal known as the Brangiolo plan, named after sponsors Bill Brandel and Amy Sangiolo. The proposal would have put a question on the May 20 ballot asking voters to exclude the debt service paid on North’s costs from the override.
The Aldermen rejected the Brangiolo plan by a vote of 12-9.
The plan faced difficult odds from the start. Because it included a debt exclusion override, it needed a two-thirds majority, or 16 votes to pass.
Many Aldermen raised concerns that if a question regarding North was put on the same ballot as the override, popular frustration with North costsb would sink the override.
“It’s a nail in the stake of the override to even put [North] in the same context as the override, Finance Committee chair Paul Colletti said. “The high school should be off the table.
If the North debt had been excluded for the budget, it would still need to be paid by the city. The Brangiolo plan employed the use of 30-year bonds and a special fund known as the Capital Stabilization Fund to help pay down the debt. Proponents of the debt service said it would give voters choice, and would reduce costs for North form the budget.
Alderman Ken Parker said that, without the debt exclusion, costs for North’s debt service in the future, teachers and programs would be laid off to pay for North.
Alderman Lenny Gentile accused proponents of the debt exclusion of trying to kill Newton North by putting forth a proposal relating to North that they believed would fail. He thought they would then try to claim the school didn’t have the support of the voters.
All of the Aldermen expressed concerns that the override would only be a short-term solution, and another override might be necessary next year. Newton is facing a structural deficit were revenue is not keeping pace with spending, creating a budget deficit.
According to figures released by the Board, school spending typically rises by about six per cent each year. Due to a 1980 law known as Proposition 2 ½, tax revenues can only rise by 2.5 percent plus property growth. The Board of Aldermen and the School committee typically make small cuts every year to make up for the lack of revenue.
Several Aldermen spoke in support of employing the model of other towns, passing small overrides every year.
“We wait until we are in dire straights and then come in with this humongous number, Alderman Sidra Schnipper said.
Just days before the vote, Mayor David Cohen announced the final price of $197.5 million for the construction of Newton North. Describing it as a “line in the sand, he pledged that this figure would be the highest the city would pay.
“With this announcement we bring closure to the period of uncertainty regarding the cost of Newton North, enabling us to collectively look forward to building on the significant on-site progress happening each day, the mayor’s office said in a press release on Friday, March 14.
Cohen has been widely criticized for failure to reign in costs. Before Cohen’s announcement, a group of citizens sent a petition to the Board of Aldermen, asking them to set a price ceiling for North. Many petitioners voiced their discontent at a March 13 hearing before a joint meeting of the Aldermen’s Programs and Services and Finance committees.
“The Board of Aldermen has failed to control the mayor, Jeff Sideman, president of the fiscally conservative Newton Taxpayer’s Association said.
He described the mayor as “out of control and accused the Board of letting the mayor “dance circles around [them]. He called on the Board to put an immediate wage freeze for administrators and fix a set amount that teacher wages can rise by each year.
“It’s an extravagance in public spending, Newton resident Janet Sterman said. “Is this a reasonable amount of money to be spending on a spending on a public building?

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