Amid a sagging economy, voters considering property tax increases in four towns delivered a mixed verdict yesterday, as the state confronts what may be the most difficult budget year since 2003.
In Randolph, voters approved a multi-million dollar property tax increase to help the town's troubled school system. But voters in neighboring Holbrook and in Chelmsford rejected proposed property tax increases. The town of Harvard also weighed tax hikes yesterday.
In Holbrook, voters soundly defeated a $2.8 million override that would have provided $1.8 million to the schools, covered $800,000 in increases to the Blue Hills Regional Technical School and Norfolk County assessments to the town, and provided small infusions for the police, fire and library budgets. With 41 percent of the registered total casting ballots, the result was 1,046 in favor and 1,593 opposed.
School Committee Chairman James Hathaway said the Holbrook defeat is catastrophic for the schools. "This means we'll have to cut $400,000 in staff," he said. "We needed about $550,000 just to get to level services. Last year, we cut supplies and staff just to keep some varsity athletics. Next year, there will be no varsity sports. I don't know how we will even operate next year."
In Randolph, for a $5.5 million school override, there were 3,099 in favor and 2,469 opposed. For the $411,322 Police Department override, there were 3,880 in favor and 1,701 opposed. And for the $200,000 Fire Department override, there were 3,790 in favor and 1,779 opposed. Town Clerk Brian Howard said those were preliminary counts, but he didnít anticipate any significant shifts.
"Randolph took its town back tonight," said override supporter Jack Smolokoff. "That's exactly what happened here. There are a lot of very, very happy people tonight."
The property tax override votes were among the first key tests as Massachusetts enters a season of overrides, town budget cuts and battles on Beacon Hill over spending and taxes.The state is facing a $1.3 billion budget deficit, and the grim news is rippling down to cities and downs not only in a lower-than-expected increase in local aid, but falling property values and diminishing excise taxes.
"I think there's a lot of angst out there," said Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. "The choices for communities are between bad and worse. Do we raise taxes or cut services? While there's not much enthusiasm for putting tax increases on the ballot, officials realize local services are essential for communities to be successful in the future."
In Chelsmford, the town's first attempt to override Proposition 2 1/2 in 16 years for an operating budget lost by 1,150 votes, and Selectman Samuel Chase, who supported the $2.8 million tax hike, lost his bid for a second three-year term. His opponent, Eric Richard Dahlberg, had opposed the tax increase.
"I knew when I came out for the override, it was a long shot, but it was all I could do, because I believed it was the right thing to do for the town," said Chase as he
arrived at a private reception in his honor.
-- James Vaznis, Globe staff, and Christine Legere, Globe correspondent
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