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UPDATED March 24: Meeting on successive Fridays this month, the Long Range Planning Committee is reviewing the Town of Arlington’s five-year financial projections -- and the town manager already believes that an override will be necessary this year to achieve the appropriate budget for the town’s financial goals.

“The meeting today really concluded that we are going to need another override soon,” Town Manager Sandy Pooler told YourArlington, referring to the March 10 meeting. “We were really focusing on the possibility of having one this spring, or probably in June.”

The committee met again March 17 and did not change its view about proceeding with an override this year, according to those present. The panel plans to meet again March 24

No official recommendation yet

No recommendation has officially been made to the Select Board, whose members would discuss the issue and decide whether to set a date for a public vote. The March 24 agenda of the Long Range Planning Committee remains nonspecific. No specific override amount has been targeted.

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'We are still discussing.'
-- Sandy Pooler

Overrides came into being after the state Legislature in 1981 adopted Proposition 2 1/2, a law aimed at limiting tax increases. 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.

The last ballot requests to raise taxes were in 2016 – a debt exclusion, to pay for renovating Thompson and Gibbs, 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

$2.8 million Chapter 70 increase

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.

Attending the Long Range Planning Committee meetings of March 10 and 17 were members of the Select Board, School Committee, Finance Committee and Capital Planning Committee, who joined Pooler in discussing the possibility for an override in the town’s long-term budget.

School Committee members Jane Morgan, Len Kardon and Kirsi Allison-Ampe requested an increase in the budget for Arlington Public Schools, above the standard increases included in the plan and related to needs in the proposed APS strategic plan. The last time the School Committee received a budget increase above the standard increases was in the plan created in 2019.

The School Committee said that the request for the increase in the school budget was in addition to the 3.5-percent increase in the sum of the previous year’s general-education costs

The School Committee said that the request for the increase in the school budget was the result of a 3.5-percent increase in the sum of the previous year’s general-education costs. The costs for providing special education are also assumed to increase by 7 percent this year. Additionally, an agreement that dates to 2015 calls for an increase in operating costs because of enrollment growth. It is assumed that each new student will cost 50 percent of the state’s per-pupil cost figure.

“I think there was a consensus around the idea that we wouldn't have an override that would last more than three years,” Pooler said. “In other words, three years from now, we would have to reevaluate our position, and we might need to ask for an override again.”

Employees' pay discussed

The salaries and wages of town employees were also discussed, as these are expected to increase by 3.25 percent this year, while town expenses such as utilities, supplies, services and repairs were also expected to increase 3.25 percent this year. These boosts are the amounts of the plan in place since 2015.

Additionally, Massachusetts state law allows the Town of Arlington to decrease water and sewer rates and to increase taxes by an amount representing all or part of the debt service assessed to the Town by the MWRA, or Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.

The total cost of capital projects including nonexempt debt service and cash is also expected equal 5 percent of the Town of Arlington’s annual revenue.

“The fundamental thing that has been true in Arlington for many years, you know, long before I got here, was that we have a structural deficit, and that we needed to ask the voters for more money,” Pooler said. “From time to time, we need to come together to see how we are on that trajectory.”

The March 10 meeting included an annual assessment from the Arlington Retirement Board, which projected an annual increase of 6 percent. Health, property and liability insurance were also updated with new enrollment figures and insurance rates.

“I will have to make a recommendation to the Select Board, probably some time right around the beginning of April after the town election, about the size and timing of the override,” Pooler told YourArlington. “Then the Select Board gets to vote whether to put that questions towards the voters.”

From March 13 Select Board

Pooler told the Select Board on March 13 that Arlington had a 17½-percent increase in state aid over the original budget, which wiped out the fiscal 2025 deficit.

“Now we’re dealing with the need to increase the school budget," he said, "and I’m also thinking about things on the town side that need to be added. If we go forward with these additions, we would need an override this spring. We need to review our revenue more to see if there’s any capacity for our local receipts, and then make some decisions about how big an override the voters would legitimally support.” 

Board member Steve DeCourcey concurred. “The Long Range Planning Committee is coming to a consensus for a recommendation that this spring may be the time for an override. There are some uncertainties over the next few years involving state aid and other items that may limit the scope of a potential recommendation, which will be worked out over the next couple of weeks. In April, the committee or town manager will come back to the board with a recommendation.”

“If we need to go above the rate of inflation for more things, we need to make a case for our fellow residents,” said board Chair Len Diggins.

The discussion was tabled until the March 20 board meeting.


March 8, 2023: Town expects to get $2.8m in state funding; override discussed

  


This news summary by freelance writer Alex Svenson was published Wednesday, March 22, 2023. Editor Bob Sprague assisted. It was updated March 24, adding information reported by Susan Gilbert.

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