By Diane Lederman
February 06, 2010
AMHERST – On Monday night, the Select Board wants to hear from residents about a proposed Proposition 2½ override question the board will place on the March 23 annual town election ballot.
The board will be discussing the language for the question, but will likely not set the dollar amount until Friday morning. The amount being discussed is $1.9 million.
Proposition 2½ overrides allow communities to raise property taxes above the annual 2.5 percent limit set by state law. The current budget is about $62 million.
Town officials say they need the override to restore deep budget cuts.
Last year, officials made drastic cuts with the idea they would ask for an override this year. “Fiscal year ’10 was all about paring back,” Finance Director and Assistant Town Manager John P. Musante said last fall. The plan was to cut as much as possible before bringing the Proposition 2½ override request to voters.
But others have concerns. The Jones Library Board of Trustees, which would like an additional $69,000 in revenue should an override pass, is not likely to take an official position, said trustee Patricia G. Holland. Some trustees feel that an override would “be an economic hardship for many of our patrons,” she said.
Some School Committee members have asked that the date of the override vote be postponed until April, when more budget information is available.
The committee is talking to school unions about possible cost-of-living concessions.
The police union has agreed to forgo cost-of-living raises, which has helped save two positions in the department. The schools, town and libraries have prepared lists of budget restorations should the override pass.
A successful override would allow the town to restore about $489,000 to its budget. The Select Board this week voted to cut $48,000 for streetlights from the restoration list, reducing the town’s need by the same amount.
The regional schools would receive $1.1 million for the town’s regional assessment and the elementary schools would receive $176,000.
The proposed budget was prepared based on a 5 percent reduction in state aid. The cuts come from a level-funded budget. Should the town not need to raise the full $1.9 million, officials would recommend not raising the levy limit as much.
Town Meeting member Nancy M. Gordon conducted a survey, polling voters on whether they would support an override. Based on the data, she told the Select Board on Monday that she believes voters would support a $2 million override.
She previously conducted override polls in 2007 and 2009. In her 2007 survey, 41 percent of respondents opposed the $2.5 million override request, which was about 10 percent below the number that ultimately defeated the measure.
Gordon said the most recent poll shows 35 percent oppose an override while 17 percent said they would support a $1 million override request. She did not specifically ask about a $2 million override, but 26 percent said they would support a $3 million override and 10 percent would approve a $6 million override.
In 2004, voters approved a $2 million override request, but rejected a $2.5 million override on the same ballot.
In June 2009, voters in Northampton approved a $2 million Proposition 2½ override.
David R. Coulombe is one resident who will not be supporting an override. He said he was appalled that his taxes rose by nearly 12 percent this year, $3,009 more than the last year – and that was before an override was considered.
“The economy is a bust,” he said. “One in 10 are out of work. I think there are hard choices. There are programs that have to be cut. How long before the pockets of people in town are empty?”
Musante has said a property owner with an average home price of $332,600 would see a tax increase of $298 should a $1.9 million override pass. The impact could be less, depending on whether people itemize their taxes.
The impact would be much greater for Coulombe, whose house is valued at $678,000.
The Select Board meeting Monday is at 7 p.m. in Town Hall. It will begin with an overview and status report, followed by public comment.
Use of money
If voters were to approve a $1.9 million override, this is how the money would be distributed:
Elementary schools: $176,000
Regional schools: $1.1 million
The cost to a homeowner with a house valued at $334,600 would be $298; the current tax bill for that home is $5,671.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.