ABINGTON - Despite the town's blue-collar status, residents rarely hesitate to reach into their pockets to help their community. Since 1991, voters in the town of 15,000 have said yes to four straight override or debt-exclusion proposals, including three in the past four years.
"People here don't hesitate if they believe it's the right choice and it helps the town," Selectman Thomas Corbett said.
But this time around, it was close.
When a machine count of the override vote held on April 26 showed a one-vote differential, Walnut Street resident Daniel McDonnell petitioned for a recount, quickly gathering the required 10 signatures from each of the town's four electoral precincts.
Abington uses optical-scan machines to count ballot votes. Voters are required to mark their choices by using pencils to darken small circles. "These optical-vote machines carry a 3 percent margin of error," said McDonnell, who opposed the override. "That alone calls for a recount."
At 10 a.m. Wednesday, seven Abington residents gathered at Town Hall under the watch of Town Clerk Linda Adams and began a hand count of the votes.
Two hours later, the override stood as approved - this time by five votes.
McDonnell said he was impressed with the way the recount was handled. "It was a transparent process," he said. "The results couldn't have been reached any more fairly."
The tally of 680 to 675 allows the town to obtain by debt exclusion $650,000 to continue its municipal trash collection until July 1 of next year. The decision results in an annual tax increase of about $116 for the average homeowner - in a town where the median family income of $63,000 falls well below the US Census Bureau's state average of $85,000.
If the override had failed, the Board of Health would have been forced to devise an alternate trash-collection program to cover the $650,000 that had been transferred to the general operating budget from the solid waste budget. Likely scenarios included a pay-as-you-throw program and a fee-based program.
Instead, the cost of curbside trash pickup will continue to be part of residents' real estate taxes.
"We'll continue to be one of the few towns that I know of still offering curbside pickup," Assistant Town Manager Dori Jamieson said.
Voters in 1991 similarly approved an override of $575,000 to continue curbside pickup service. In 2005, residents by a mere two votes appeared to turn down a proposed $6.3 million Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion to build a police station. A recount found voters favored the idea by five votes. The station is nearing completion.
Last November, residents agreed to put $2 million toward renovations at the high school. For the next 20 years, residents on average will pay between $37 and $18 per year toward the project.
As for the problem with the voting machines, the town clerk is on the case.
"The machines jammed a few times when counting the votes," Adams said. "One of the first things I'm going to do now is get someone in here to service those machines."
Robert Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.