Override Perspectives: “Vote Yes for Marblehead” Vs. “Six Percent is Too Much”
Six contested races and one ballot question will appear on the June 20, 2023 ballot, the latter of which – called Question 1 – reads as follows:
Shall the Town of Marblehead be allowed to assess an additional $2,472,056.00 in real estate personal property taxes for the purpose of the Town’s General Government operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2023?
Tax implications of Question 1
Though not delineated in the body of the question, should the ballot initiative succeed, it will constitute a permanent tax hike for this year and every year going forward. It is not a debt-exclusion override, which is designed to raise money for a short-term need and then expire after a set period of time. (Marblehead Beacon published an explanation of the differences between a permanent and debt-exclusion override last year.)
The tax increase included in Question 1 comes on top of other standard annual tax increases. Effectively this means that homeowners’ tax burden would increase by a total of just north of six percent this year should the question pass. Broken down, this reflects 2.5 percent as per so-called Prop 2 ½, the approximately 0.5 percent allotted for new growth by the town’s Financial Committee earlier this year (“new growth” is defined as “the calculation of the net increase in municipal property values because of new construction/subdivision or a return of exempt property to the tax role”), plus the approximately $2.5 million – or 3.1 percent – for the permanent override.
“Yes” vs “No” ballot committees
Earlier this month, two ballot committees were formed, each with the goal of getting out the vote and spreading their respective positions via yard signs and public messaging. As the name suggests, the Vote Yes for Marblehead committee is in favor of a “yes” vote on Question 1, and the Six Percent is Too Much committee favors a “no” vote.
Marblehead Beacon sent each committee a set of detailed questions, all of which may be seen in full HERE.
“Critical education and public safety services” at stake, says Vote Yes for Marblehead
Rather than answer each of our questions (shown HERE) individually, the Vote Yes for Marblehead group provided a single statement in response, published in full below because it is fairly brief.
Vote Yes for Marblehead’s response:
The Vote Yes for Marblehead Committee was recently established by a small group of residents to advocate for the passage of Question 1 on the June 20th ballot. Question 1 will restore the “Reduced Services” cuts imposed on many town departments’ budgets to “Level Funding.” The “Level Funded” budget will provide funding for the same services and employees as the current fiscal year and does not fund new or expanded programs for any town departments.
We are a small committee made up of people from the community and we’re all pitching in, wearing whatever hats fit best. Maggie O’Reilly and Vinny O’Reilly are named on the forms as chair and treasurer, respectively, because we had to designate people for those roles. Other members of the committee include David Wedel, Sarah Magazine Yount, and Jaime Siegrist.
While we came together as parents and taxpayers because of our concerns about the impact a “Reduced Services” budget will have on our schools, we fully support the override which will provide Level Funding for education, public safety, and other critical Town departments and services. We have been heartened to see the support for our advocacy efforts by members of the community from all walks of life.
At the end of the day, while our town has many complicated issues to confront, we believe our children and citizens are best served by a budget that maintains critical education and public safety services. It is our expectation that if the override is successful, the school department will reinstate the positions and programs identified on the projected cut list, that the public safety positions identified will be maintained, and other town positions and services restored.
According to the proponents of the ballot initiative – which includes four of the five Select Board members – without the extra $2.5 million, the coming year’s budget will have to make impactful cuts to town services. “The override to plug the structural deficit is kind of low-hanging fruit,” Select Board member Moses Grader said in a March meeting discussing his desire to send the override to voters.
Superintendent “targeting popular programs” as scare tactic, says Six Percent is Too Much
Six Percent is Too Much provided lengthy responses to Marblehead Beacon, which we excerpt in this article – but that may be seen in full along with the corresponding questions – HERE.
The committee says that its members “span…almost 4 generations - from thirty-somethings with young children not even in school, to long-retired citizens,” and has “people with children in every school in Marblehead” as well as “long-time Marbleheaders” and “newcomers.” The committee, the group says, has “come together to try to stop the mismanagement that has plagued our town.”
Six Percent is Too Much believes that the Superintendent is “targeting popular programs to scare citizens into supporting the override,” and that “the phrasing of the ballot question is itself misleading, making it appear that this is a one year override when it is in fact a FOREVER tax increase.”
The group answered a question concerning the combining of town and school initiatives into one tax levy proposal by noting that it was a “deliberate strategy since the school override for basically the same amount overwhelmingly failed last year.”
“Nay” says longtime Select Board member to override, and “yay” with a caveat says another
Of the five Select Board members, the lone “nay” vote for the override was Jim Nye, who believes that the positions identified by department heads for cuts “can remain unfilled” and that these cuts “will minimally impact the delivery of services to the citizens of Marblehead.”
Member Erin Noonan voted to support the override, but her “yay” came with a caveat. “The Select Board needs to consider ways other than increased property taxes or impactful cuts to town services to improve our fiscal situation,” she says, “including available local option revenues and the promotion of economic development within the town.”
Noonan offers as an example that the majority of the Board (Jackie Belf-Becker, Moses Grader, and Jim Nye) voted against offering a liquor license to a proposed brewery and restaurant. “That establishment would have attracted visitors, hired local residents, and provided an economic boost to our downtown area. The majority’s decision on this and similar recent issues highlight the choice presented to voters in this election.”
School Committee Chair Sarah Fox believes not passing the initiative would be a serious mistake. “All of these cuts will have a profound negative impact on the appropriate educational services to our Marblehead students,” she says of the 33 positions that Superintendent John Buckey has said would be at stake were the override to fail.
The list of critical cuts Buckey warned he would have to make should voters say “no” to the override include a middle school librarian, paraprofessional positions, and freshman sports.
Two initiatives became one ballot question
Question 1 initially had been two separate proposals, but Marblehead leadership decided to wrap town budgetary matters in with school-related ones for May’s Town Meeting. Six Percent is Too Much believes that regardless of whether the ballot initiative had been broken into two questions – one for tax increases for the town and one for the schools – the “override would have defied any notion of fiscal responsibility.”
The group also points out that while “most of the town’s budget” goes to the schools, they “have seen enrollment drop by 500 students in recent years, from 3100 to 2600, and have made little to no staffing changes,” further contending that “according to the Massachusetts Department of Education, Marblehead is one of the most overstaffed school districts in the state.”
Town’s fiscal management as backdrop to asking taxpayers for money now and in 2024
The Six Percent is Too Much committee’s responses include several references to what it perceives as fiscal management by the town with regard to interest rates on cash and waste relative to the failure to complete the transfer station project after spending most of the millions of dollars allocated to it. “Prudent fiscal management would have required little effort and could have significantly reduced the cost of this proposed override.”
In light of town-wide collective bargaining agreements slated for discussion in 2024, we asked whether Marbleheaders should anticipate another override proposal next year. Six Percent is Too Much answered in part that “[f]or most of the last year, the Town Administrator, Superintendent, Select Board, and School Committee have been talking about the need for an override in 2024 to pay for raises.”
With respect to the cuts proposed for the town should the override fail, Six Percent is Too Much echoes what Select Board member Jim Nye said. “Most of the ‘at risk’ positions are currently vacant,” says the committee, which goes on to note that town employees have suggested that there will be “zero impact on public safety.”
In terms of whether the town is likely to face additional overrides next year and beyond, Six Percent is Too Much believes it is crucial to vote for “a large number of ‘reform’ candidates, all of whom have pledged to stop the opaque and ‘business as usual’ approach that has put Marblehead in this mess,” and to “ensure…that the millions of unspent dollars in ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] money (Covid relief)...could be used, and would be appropriate to use, to fix the transfer station.”