Voters in the north of Boston town of Saugus Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a $5.2 million override of Proposition 2 1/2, a move that could force the layoff of dozens of town workers, as well as close the town senior center and end youth programs, officials said.
The final tally was 2,180 in favor to 4,572 opposed. The special election -- the largest override request in the state this spring -- drew 40 percent of the town's 17,000 registered voters to the polls.
"I am more disappointed than surprised," Town Manager Andrew R. Bisignani said. "The voters have spoken. They have given us a mandate. We will do what we have to do to comply."
Bisignani said major cuts, such as eliminating 18 teaching jobs, will be required to balance next year's $60 million operating budget. A ballooning deficit in the town's health insurance account, which is approaching $3 million, is mostly to blame for the town's financial problems.
-- Kathy McCabe
An overlooked provision of a state grant could save the Saugus Public Library from closing if a $5.2 million Proposition 2 1/2 override vote is rejected by voters on Tuesday.
Saugus received a $1.2 million construction grant from the state Board of Library Commissioners in 1997 to build a new library. The terms require Saugus to keep the library open for at least 20 years, and make "full and good faith efforts" to fund it, according to grant regulations published on the board's website, www.mass.gov/mblc.
If Saugus fails to meet the requirements, the town must pay back the state the balance of the grant, with interest. A final decision to close the library would have to be approved by the Board of Library Commissioners, a state spokesman said.
"No one has ever come to us and said, 'Gee, we have to close our library,'" said David Gray, the state board's communications director. "Other towns have closed their libraries, but they didn't have a grant from us."
Gray said the grant requirement is not unique to Saugus. It applies to any community that receives a construction grant, which are paid for through state bonds.
"The idea is to make sure that the town doesn’t get a construction grant for a library, then turn around and use it for something else," Gray said.
Saugus officials have said the library, along with the senior center and Town Hall on Fridays only, would have to close if the override fails. Dozens of employees, including 18 teachers, could be laid off to balance the town's $60 million budget for fiscal 2008.
News of the grant provisions caught town officials off-guard. Most weren't on the job in 1997.
"It was a surprise," said Town Manager Andrew R. Bisignani, who took office four years ago. "The contract for the grant was signed 10 years ago ... I don't think anyone is to blame for not being aware of it. Whoever thought we'd be thinking about closing the library?"
Bisignani has asked the town's legal counsel to review the grant contract. "We're not looking to violate any agreement," he said. "But there is also plenty of case law that says a municipality can't be forced to appropriate money."
The library costs about $570,000 annually to operate. If the town is forced to fund it, Bisignani said that money will have to be cut from other town departments.
"It's a big chunk of money," he said. "What are we to do? Lay off more teachers or firefighters? The alternative is not pretty."
-- Kathy McCabe
A Saugus landmark, the Hilltop Steakhouse on Route 1, is one the nation's biggest restaurants. And that's where Saugus residents are invited on April 10 to learn about a proposed $5.2 million override, the largest being considered so far by any Bay State community this spring.
The Saugus Chamber of Commerce will host the information forum, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Organizers hope to lure a Boston television journalist to moderate, though no one is yet confirmed. Saugus officials, including Town Manager Andrew Bisignani and School Superintendent Keith Manville, will answer questions from the audience.
Saugus, a town of about 26,000 people, must raise revenue in fiscal 2008, or face major layoffs and service cuts, such as closing the town's library and senior center. Saugus voters will decide April 24 in a special election.
If approved, the average property tax bill is expected to increase $400 next year.
-- Kathy McCabe
Saugus officials will get a read on how residents feel about a $5.2 million Proposition 2 1/2 override -- and an average $400 property tax hike -- at a public forum scheduled Thursday.
Residents for Higher Standards, a group started last year by public school parents, is sponsoring the forum at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
At another meeting at 2 p.m. Friday, also at Town Hall, residents can learn more about a $130 trash fee also being considered. The new fee, which must be approved at the annual Town Meeting in May, is estimated to generate anywhere from $800,000 to $2 million in annual revenue, according to town officials.
The town vote on the override is scheduled for April 24.
-- Kathy McCabe
Forget the Iron Works - if Saugus passes an override on April 24, it will be something new in the town's history.
Historically, Saugus voters have given the OK to some debt exclusions, but taken a pass on the majority of them. Some examples: In 1999, voters narrowly approved a $13 million debt exclusion to build a new school to replace Veterans Memorial Elementary School, which had been condemned. In 2003, voters rejected an $88.1 million override to build five new schools and increase the school budget by $1 million.
If the yeas have it on this year's override, the average homeowner's property tax bill will rise $400, to $3,626.72.