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Tax questions

Increases rejected in 5 communities

By Lisa Kocian and Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / November 5, 2008
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It was the worst time in years to ask people to increase their property taxes, and the idea did not go over well at all in five communities yesterday.

Voters defeated proposed property tax overrides in Walpole, Brockton, Mattapoisett, Newburyport, and East Bridgewater yesterday. But Needham, seeking money to run a new elementary school, approved a tax increase.

Town officials across the region blamed the tough economy for the defeats, even as they worried how they will pay for police officers, firefighters, and even the cost of curbside trash and recycling programs without the revenue sought by the property tax hikes.

"Everybody is pretty bummed right now," Mattapoisett Fire Chief Ronald Scott said last night. "It's the economic times. Everyone is just scared."

Mattapoisett voters rejected a $4,580,000 debt exclusion for a fire station 1,973 to 1,809, according to unofficial returns. The current station was built in 1952 and doesn't meet accessibility or safety codes.

Walpole voters defeated the $7 million debt exclusion for a new library with 6,108 in favor and 6,976 opposed. Audree Dyson, a library supporter who had worked to promote the override, was disappointed. "I guess we'll have to keep doing what we've been doing," she said last night. "Things like putting out tarps when it rains."

Brockton voters defeated all three overrides on the ballot. The trio totaled $3.59 million.

"I'm disappointed, but I understand," said Brockton Library director Harry Williams. "I think people are just focused on the dollars in their wallets."

Statewide, voters have rejected nearly two-thirds of property tax overrides this year. Some of the tax increases are permanent, and some will expire after several years, but all had to be approved directly by voters under the state's Proposition 2 1/2 law.

Needham voters approved $1.9 million to operate the High Rock School, scheduled to open this fall for sixth grade students. With 99 percent of the vote tabulated, the Town Clerk's office said the vote was 8,885 in favor and 7,731 opposed.

"I am so proud of this community," said Michael Greis, School Committee chairman. "Even in an extraordinarily painful financial environment we have reaffirmed our commitment to opening the High Rock 6th Grade Center."

Needham voter Barbara Forte, 60, said she approved of the funding "because I think education is really important."

"If you don't have that, you don't have anything," she said.

Retired firefighter Bob Johnston, 75, disagreed: "We're taxed to death," he said just after voting against the funding. "Somebody's got to run the town right."

In Newburyport, the request for $7.8 million to pay off debt and free up cash for restoring school programs and other priorities lost 5,049 to 4,988.

"I'm very stunned by how close it was," said James Shanley, City Council president, who supported the funding. "I'm really happy at the same time . . . because it means enough people took the time to look closely at the issue and think about it."

He said he expected it to fail because of the tough economic climate, and he noted that there was no organized campaign in support of the override.

In East Bridgewater, about 82 percent of registered voters cast ballots, and they resoundingly defeated a $1.25 million permanent increase to their taxes to fund capital improvements.

Selectwoman Theresa McNulty said she was not surprised by the results. "I think the results are reflective of the bad economic situation we're in, and people's fear over how long it may last," she said.

In Brockton, Police Chief William Conlon carried his campaign to multiple community gatherings over the last several weeks, saying Brockton desperately needs more police on the street. Fire Chief Ken Galligan warned that one of the city's stations is in jeopardy of closing without the extra funding.

Some Brockton voters, however, questioned whether the extra money was needed. "I think the city has spent enough, and it's costing people too much money," said Florence Sirois.

In Shirley, voters were being asked to approve $327,809 for several departments and services including police, fire, public works, Council on Aging, the library, and trash collection.

Lisa Kocian can be reached at 508-820-4231 or at lkocian@globe.com.

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