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Select Board Override Question Image

Select Board Perspectives: Override This Year And/Or Next?

It is hard to miss the dueling “Yes” and “No” signs that have cropped up all over Marblehead in the past few weeks, signaling support for or opposition to the Proposition 2 ½ override vote that will appear on the June 20, 2023 ballot as Question One. If approved, it will add approximately $2.5 million to Marblehead’s annual taxes, on top of the increases already allowed by the provisions of Massachusetts state law under Proposition 2 ½. Two committees, called “Vote Yes for Marblehead” and “Six Percent is Too Much,” recently answered questions from Marblehead Beacon about the override vote, which has also been a frequent topic of discussion among the candidates for contested races, including the Select Board.


Of the five current members of the Select Board, only one – Jim Nye – has expressed opposition to the proposed tax increase. The remaining four members – Chair Moses Grader along with members Jackie Belf-Becker, Erin Noonan, and Alexa Singer – have all communicated their support, as has Bret Murray, who previously served on the Select Board from 2011 to 2017 and is running again this year.


In two previous articles related to the Select Board campaign, Marblehead Beacon reviewed answers provided by the candidates to questions we asked about policies that would impact transparency and governance as well as about the Select Board process for appointing members to committees under their jurisdiction.


The third question sent to the Select Board candidates reads as follows:


The Select Board collaborated with the School Committee to request a $2.5 million permanent tax increase this year, which will be on the ballot June 20. If this override passes, do you anticipate another override next year? What would or should you have done differently regarding this year’s budget process?


The replies we received are provided below, in alphabetical order, similar to our first and second Select Board articles, but this time starting with the third candidate in the rotation.


Bret Murray

“If the override passes this year, I certainly hope not. This year’s override can be summed up, at best, as a temporary gap override designed to prevent a disruption in current services and staffing. This should allow the town time to develop and present a long-term solution. Although I support the override, I do not agree with how the Select Board approached it. Per its “Statement of Intent” regarding the FY24 Operating Override, the Select Board acknowledges that it has been “aware for the last four years that its over-reliance on Free Cash to balance its annual operating budget would be unsustainable”. Additionally, at its FY23 State of the Town meeting, our town’s then Finance Director, Steve Poulos, warned that FY24 would likely be the year of the deficit. Our long-term Select Board members knew our over-reliance on free cash was something that needed to be addressed for years, knew that FY24 was going to be the fiscal year it was going to occur and yet did nothing until weeks before Town Meeting. As soon as the Select Board was made aware of our structural budget deficit problem, they should have started to develop a long-term solution. Had they been proactive four years ago, the override presented this year would not have been a temporary gap override, but the long-term solution we need.”


Erin Noonan

“The senior leadership of the Board has had years to course correct our reliance on free cash and prepare for this day. Their reactive rather than proactive posture should concern the voters of this Town. The lack of action on our fiscal situation was a motivating factor in my decision to seek election. Alexa Singer and I have been the only two voices at the table urging a serious discussion around the structural deficit since our early days on the Board not yet two years ago. I have been asking questions of our finance department and town administrators at every budget presentation and both State of the Town meetings.


The discussions around our budget preparations should have begun much earlier. Many communities facing this issue have conducted in-depth studies and operational reviews such that the override presented conforms with long-term planning and strategy. As this was not done, I can’t predict whether another override will be necessary next year or soon after. If re-elected, I will continue to urge a proactive approach to our budget situation but without a change to the makeup of the Board, unfortunately there is little more I can do than speak up and point out the problem. I want to add that the Select Board needs to consider ways other than increased property taxes or impactful cuts to town services to improve our fiscal situation, including available local option revenues and the promotion of economic development within the town. For instance, the majority of the Select Board recently sided against providing a license to what would have been a new craft brewery and restaurant on Atlantic Avenue. 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.”


Jim Nye

Did not respond to Marblehead Beacon's request to participate in our questionnaire.


Alexa Singer

“I believe Marblehead voters are educated voters and know the importance of addressing the structural deficit. It will increase, and a delay will impact the taxpayer. The cuts to public safety and education are significant. The cuts impact the specific position, as well as the other remaining employees in those departments. Utilizing free cash to balance the budget outside of one-time expenditures is not a best practice, and it is not sustainable, as the amount of free cash available no longer can support the budget shortfall.


The sooner this is addressed, the more effective the solution will result and the less likely additional requests. I advocated for proactive action to address the deficit after I joined the Select Board in 2021, but it was not the will of the Select Board majority. I also requested a Select Board retreat to set goals and priorities in hopes of beginning this process in the summer of 2022 but it was denied. Planning is essential in any situation relating to large financial implications and override requests. I will advocate for creative solutions to decrease the burden on the taxpayer. I continue to request controlling energy costs, economic development, and access to grants. I have promoted a grant writer to identify opportunities and drive the process of obtaining them.”


Jackie Belf-Becker

“I personally hope that the $2,472,056 override passes in order to stabilize and alleviate the structural deficit.”


Moses Grader

Did not respond to Marblehead Beacon's request to participate in our questionnaire.