As expected, Wenham residents Saturday supported two proposals that would raise their property taxes.
Town Meeting voters supported a $154,817 Proposition 2½ operating override for the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District, as well as a capital exclusion for $113,000 to purchase a highway department truck and for an electrical retrofit for the Buker School as an emergency shelter.
If the measures are supported at the May 17 special election, Wenham's property tax bill could potentially increase 10.97 percent over the current year - in part because of previous debt exclusions that will make an impact in fiscal year 2008.
The school district override also must be supported by Hamilton voters, who are scheduled to vote on it during Town Meeting tonight and also at its election May 17. This year, the district is seeking a total of $494,938 from the two towns.
"We hope things pass on the 17th as they were passed and approved at Town Meeting," Selectman Peter Hersee said. "I think the schools have gone backwards in the past five years. They've chopped a lot of things, as evidenced by athletic fees being paid 100 percent by the parents."
Hamilton-Wenham School District Superintendent Marinel McGrath anticipates personnel layoffs even if the override does pass. During the budget process, approximately $950,000 was cut.
She anticipated layoffs of 31.6 "full-time equivalent" positions, most of them classroom teachers. McGrath said that since 2002, the district will have eliminated 69.4 positions, approximately 15 percent of its personnel.
A third Proposition 2½ measure, a debt exclusion for a $540,000 road-and-culvert repair on Essex Street, was passed over without action. The project hadn't gained support from the Finance and Advisory Committee, which among other issues was waiting to be sure that the town would receive the promised reimbursement.
Hersee is optimistic that this year's measures will be supported by voters, but is not as sure about future overrides.
"People's tolerance seems to be a little more flexible, but there is an end to that and we're running down the track, to that end," he said.
For more on Wenham, see Property tax hike depends on vote
-- David Rattigan
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