News Analysis: Will it pass?

By Denebola
Published: April 2008

By Jesse Zhang and Nathan Yeo

A trend of successes and failures for override votes in other Massachusetts cities this year indicate serious challenges for Newton lawmakers seeking a $12 million override.
Newton is not the only cash-strapped city in Massachusetts to seek an override in the last few months. Many other cities have sought approval to raise taxes in order to continue spending increases. A declining housing market and a probable recession, however, have resulted in taxpayers voting against overrides in many of these communities.
In Chelmsford and Holbrook, voters rejected two $2.8 million overrides on April 1, resulting in the elimination of varsity sports and staff cuts next year in both cities’ schools.
The city of Harvard also rejected a $786,000 override meant to support town and school budget. According to Harvard Superintendent Thomas Jefferson, the override was rejected because voters felt only $500,000 of the proposed $786,000 was needed. They feared that they would not be able to afford higher taxes during tough economic times.
“The confidence in the economy works against passage of overrides. People have seen 15 to 20 percent of their assets decline and vote ‘Ëœno’ because it’s the only thing they have control over at this point in time, Jefferson said.
Newton has similar economic problems as many of these cities. Their failures to pass overrides several times smaller than Newton’s $12 million override make for a tough battle looming in the next month.
In addition, there is a growing backlash in Newton against the mayor’s leadership due to problems with building a new Newton North High School. Construction costs have reached $197 million because of rising commodity prices and problems with asbestos in the ground.
Even overrides substantially smaller than Newton’s had trouble being approved. West Newbury rejected a $100,000 override on March 24, while Rockport voters defeated a $790,000 override last year.
Mayor David Cohen’s spokesman, Jeremy Solomon feels that Newton’s override has a good chance of passing despite these issues.
“Newton residents truly value quality education. Services provided by the city are of the highest quality. [The municipal government] can sympathize with tough times. Although the recession is tough to endure for families, it’s equally difficult for a municipal government, said Solomon.
Not all cities and towns, however, have rejected property tax overrides.  Randolph successfully passed a nearly $5.5 million override to support its schools. Wayland approved a $1.86 million override on April 8.
Natick approved a $3.9 million override in March, with 55 percent of votes in favor or the tax raise. The money went towards alleviating cuts in public safety services, libraries, and teaching jobs.
Natick Superintendent Joseph Keefe said that unfunded mandates from state and national legislatures, especially in special education, played a large role in the budget problems that caused the override.
“It was a favorable vote because it allowed all of the departments including the schools to maintain their present level of service without ‘Ëœcuts,’ Keefe said.
Duxbury voted on four overrides during March. Two $600,000 overrides were approved, and the money went towards getting new equipment for town schools and departments. A $163,000 override going towards renovating the town-owned swimming pool was also approved. A $1 million override for improving the town’s police and fire stations, however, was rejected.
Override votes are needed due to a 1980 law known as Proposition 2 ½, which forbids cities from raising taxes by more than 2 ½ percent plus economic growth every year without a vote. More override votes in Massachusetts cities are planned to occur soon.
Shrewsbury is currently considering a $1.5 million override, which will be voted for on May 6. The override will eliminate school fees and save jobs. Voters narrowly rejected a $5 million override last year in Shrewsbury.
Newburyport may have another override soon. A $1.6 million override was rejected last year, resulting in the elimination of foreign language classes at the middle school and about a dozen teaching positions.
The School Superintendent of Ipswich plans to place a $1.5 million override. If the override fails, several board and teaching jobs will be cut.

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