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UPDATED Oct. 28: The Select Board at its June 5 meeting unanimously proposed a $7 million override in fiscal 2024, for Arlington residents to decide at a Nov. 7 special town election. This override seeks to fund town operations and the school department. 

The vote was 4-0, with Steve DeCourcey absent.

Town Manager Sandy Pooler, reporting on conversations with the town’s Long-Range Planning Committee, said both the town and the School Committee need extra revenue. 

“A $7 million override would allow us to go three years without having to go back to the voters for another override,” he said.

Override aims

The fiscal '24 override aims to:

  • Exercise fiscal discipline and provide quality municipal services, including improving roads and sidewalks;
  • Respond to ongoing school enrollment fluctuations;
  • Invest for Arlington’s future;
  • Minimize the impact on taxpayers, especially seniors and others with income challenges; and
  • Protect against future fiscal shocks and maintain the town’s strong bond rating.
Watch the June 5 meeting on ACMi:

For more specifics, click here >>  

Structural deficit cited

“An override is necessary because of the structural deficit," said Select Board Chair Eric Helmuth. "The town can raise taxes only by 2.5 percent and a marginal amount for new growth, but costs are significantly higher. This means, every few years we need to ask the voters for additional revenue to maintain services.”

The tax-limiting law, called Proposition 2 1/2, was voted statewide in 1980 and put into effect the next year.

“The School Committee has made a good case for a pressing need to make an investment to ensure the greatest possible quality education for our students," Helmuth added. "The compensation rates for teachers need to be more competitive. Although there are risks to asking taxpayers to pay more taxes, there are also risks to the quality of education for our students. I’m comfortable that the board’s political responsibility is saying this investment is worth making. The board’s obligation is to give the community the best recommendation we can, and let the voters decide.”

Select Board member Diane Mahon said the town needs money to retain teachers and professional and paraprofessional staff, including for special education. “This is something that’s definitely needed, and I have the same concern for police officers and firefighters,” she said.

Select Board member Len Diggins said the override can even be a positive thing, “because it allows us to invest in the town. We should have conversations with residents, asking them what they want, such as more housing.”

Select Board member John Hurd recommended adding a statement to the proposal that requires town departments and staff to review budgets on an annual basis, and determine where cuts can be made. “This will let voters know that we’re making the town staff try to trim down their budgets wherever possible, without affecting the services they provide,” he said.

ACMI News addresses overrride:

“We need to pay all of our employees more to prevent transfers. I hear story after story of teachers transferring out of town, as well as police officers. It’s important to incentivize teachers to stay in Arlington. Even with the override, we’re still getting a lot of bang for our buck. This is the appropriate course of action,” added Hurd.

Pooler also suggested transitioning to more organic fields so the town doesn’t use chemicals and poisons, but the board omitted this commitment in the interest of saving money.

“Overrides have traditionally been aimed at essential, core services, so we suggest we constrain that since it’s a small amount of money,” said Helmuth.

2 speak

During the meeting’s open forum, two Arlington residents addressed the override:

Charles Foskett, a longtime member of the town Finance Committee, said, “We need to address what lies ahead, the nature of our town spending and transparency.” [See editor's note below]

School Committee Chair Kirsi Allison-Ampe also encouraged an affirmative vote: “It allows the school budget to increase annually, and for our strategic plan. Arlington public schools will be able to bargain with other school districts more competitively over compensation, which will improve the learning experience for all students. This override will allow us to increase salaries, and hire the best.”





Background

A public override vote, on a date set by a given municipality's Select Board, allows local government to ask taxpayers for funds beyond this threshold. A successful tax override raises taxes of town property owners 

Arlington's last override, for $5.5 million, was in 2019. Residents also voted that year to fund the rebuilding of Arlington High School.

Previous requests to raise taxes were in 2016 – a debt exclusion, to pay for renovating Thompson and Gibbs elementary schools, and for an AHS rebuild feasibility study and Minuteman support. 

In June 2011, voters approved a $6.5 million tax override to support town and school operations by 860 votes

Currently, the town's five-year financial projection includes the $2.8 million increase in Chapter 70 aid allocated to the Town of Arlington from Gov. Maura Healey’s proposed $55.5 billion state budget, as well as the funds collected from fees, fines, permits, interest, property taxes and motor vehicle excise taxes.


April 12, 2023: Town tax override put off to fall 

  


This news summary by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert was published Tuesday, June 6, 2023, and updated June 9, to add two ACMi video windows. It was updated Oct. 28, to include a statement from Foskett, who was reported in June as supporting an override. Here are his comment, which were lost in the editing system and recently came to the attention of Bob Sprague, YourArlington founder:

"At the Select Board meeting on June 5th, I was not an override supporter. I did say that the deficit must be addressed, and that the position of the Select Board does not solve the deficit problem, it increases it. I described that the town manager's spreadsheet calls for $22.5 million in increased taxes within Proposition 2.5 and I noted that this does not address the deficit which requires an additional $46.9 million in tax levy over the five years of the plan.

"Excluding the board's proposed additional spending, even with a $7 million override, Arlington will have a deficit of $10.4 million in FY 2028. If the town spends what the board has proposed, the deficit in FY 2027 will be $16.9 million and in FY 2028 it will be $21.2 million.

"My principal position at the meeting was to ask the board to decouple the deficit from additional spending and give the voters a real, not Hobbesian, choice. The board wants to increase taxes by about 10% above what is allowed by proposition 2.5.

"The answer is that Arlington, both the town and the schools, has to constrain spending."

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