The Select Board on Tuesday, Oct. 17, voted 5-0 to affirm the effective date of the property-tax override measure on the ballot for next month’s election. That might sound routine -- except that that effective date is the result of a typographic error: The legal language adopted specifies the effective date as July 1, 2024, but the original intention was for it to be a year earlier -- July 1, 2023. 

When the error was discovered earlier this month, Board Chair Eric Helmuth said, he had to choose between either proceeding with July 1, 2024, as the effective date -- or else convening the board to correct the date but then to simultaneously postpone the election.

As things stand, the election is still set for next month.

Along with Town Manager Jim Feeney, Helmuth explained how “it became clear we could proceed with this language and still maintain our commitments,” including the Select Board’s pledge of no more tax overrides before 2027 should this ballot measure be approved by the general electorate on Nov. 7.

A resident might wonder about the feasibility of foregoing the projected $7 million that the override if approved would likely have generated in what was supposed to be its first year -- fiscal 2024 (from July 2023 through June 2024).

To explain this, Feeney cited a number of “favorable, perhaps temporary” conditions. New growth in tax revenue has been higher than forecast; higher interest rates have benefited the town’s interest-bearing accounts; public-school enrollment is rising more slowly than expected; the town’s free-cash position is unusually strong; last year’s relatively mild winter saved the town money; and the tight labor market has meant, “frankly, delays in filling [town] positions.”

Feeney concluded, “Given the ripple effects of what I’ve just described,” the deficit that the town projects by the end of 2027 has shrunk from nearly $17 million to more like $15 million. 

Board members' reactions

Board members Diane Mahon and Len Diggins both said they’d like to know more about the impact of this latest development on the town's current five-year plan.

Board member John Hurd commended the local “financial leadership” that will give taxpayers more time to prepare for the override, should it be adopted, to take effect: “Even with a typo, we’re able to salvage the situation,” he said.

Board member Steve DeCourcey observed: “There is now an even stronger argument for the override.” 

Helmuth was transparent about what had transpired. “The mistake was a mistake, and we all wish that it hadn’t happened.”

However, as Feeney went on to also tell Tuesday night's first session of Special Town Meeting immediately after the Select Board meeting in the same building, recovery from the error is possible because of “budgeting [that is] designed to withstand unexpected events.”

Helmuth emphasized that he and the entire Select Board were “very comfortable with this course of action. It is good news for taxpayer wallets.” 

Having unanimously approved the ballot language for the override, the Select Board, along with Acting Town Counsel Michael Cunningham, moved to executive session at 7:30 p.m. to take up another matter, this one out of public view: to discuss pending litigation against the town.

They wrapped that up in time for Special Town Meeting’s opening half an hour later, at 8 p.m., including an opening ceremony featuring a rousing “Star-Spangled Banner” with Helmuth at the piano. 

 Aug. 18, 2023: Board approves removing parking spaces, creating bike lanes on Medford Street 

This news summary by YourArlington freelance writer Catherine Brewster was published Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023.