Voters in Hamilton went along with two of four Proposition 2½ proposals at Thursday's town election.
Overrides of $121,582 for the town's operating budget (973-850 vote) and $340,121 for the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District (1,060-782) passed, while capital exclusions to purchase a pickup truck (985-839) and police cruiser (960-867) failed.
A proposal to fund the school district budget also needed to pass at a special election in Wenham. Voters there, who have traditionally supported overrides, voted 468-165 to allow a tax hike of $154,817 to fund the school district.
"We're very pleased that it passed, and with a significant margin," said Hamilton-Wenham Regional School Committee Chairman Donald Gallant, a Wenham resident. He credited a citizens group for helping to rally their fellow residents to support the budget, but noted that even with the override approval, the district would still be laying off the full-time equivalent of 22 people, mostly in the classroom.
By a 425-206 margin, voters in Wenham also supported a capital exclusion for $113,000 for an electrical retrofit for the Buker School as an emergency shelter and the purchase of a highway department truck.
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
Wenham's property tax bills could increase by nearly 11 percent in fiscal 2008. That's partly because bills are coming due on previous debt exclusion votes - including funding for a $6.8 million Town Hall/Police Station project and a $1.8 million September 2006 emergency culvert replacement - and partly because of new Proposition 2½ overrides, capital exclusions, and debt exclusions to be put before voters at Town Meeting on Saturday.
"I'm very disappointed to have to tell the taxpayers that this is the consequence of the [budget] proposal, and much of the increase is the consequence of actions taken at prior meetings," said Jack Wilhelm, chairman of the town's Finance and Advisory Committee.
At the Saturday Town Meeting and election, residents also will vote on proposals for a $154,817 Proposition 2½ override to support the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District, and a $113,000 capital exclusion to purchase a highway department truck and for an electrical retrofit for an emergency shelter.
There may also be another project in front of voters, a debt exclusion for a $540,000 road-and-culvert repair on Essex Street. But even if that article is withdrawn at Town Meeting, the potential tax increase for Wenham voters is 10.97 percent.
Over five years, Wilhelm said, voters will have supported tax increases of 35 percent.
The average property tax bill, which is $6,380, could rise by about $700 if voters approve this year's increases.
-- David Rattigan
Read more of Wenham faces inevitability of a tax hike
Wenham residents will vote on one Proposition 2 ½ override and two one-year debut exclusions at its May 5 Town Meeting.
There is a proposed $154,817 override for the Hamilton-Wenham School District.
The Board of Selectmen also plans to ask for a debt exclusion for emergency road repairs that include installation of a culvert. The other debt exclusion covers purchase of a dump truck and Buker School retrofitting for emergency management purposes ($113,000).
-- David Rattigan