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Franklin voters approve tax hike for $104.5m high school

Posted March 28, 2012 09:22 AM

Construction on a new $104.5 million Franklin High School is scheduled to begin in the fall after residents voted Tuesday to override Proposition 2 1/2 by a nearly four-to-one margin.

With nearly 50 percent of the town’s voters going to the polls, 7,988 were in favor of the override for the town’s $49 million share of the project, while 1,982 were opposed.

Owners of a home valued at $352,700, the average in town, will pay an additional $260 in taxes starting in 2017 and ending in 2040, according to Town Administrator Jeffrey D. Nutting.

The state will pick up the remaining cost of the new school, which should be completed within two years on land now used for baseball and softball fields next to the current facility.

Patrick signs law changing labor union role in health care plans for cities and towns

Posted July 12, 2011 05:46 PM

By Noah Bierman, Globe Staff

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said this morning that if someone had told him months ago that the state’s labor leaders would be celebrating a new state law with the business groups that had been trying to curb their rights, “I would have said you were out of your mind.”

But both groups were standing in the governor’s office this morning -- albeit on opposite sides of the room -- as Governor Deval Patrick signed into law a measure that will limit some rights of labor unions representing teachers, firefighters, and other local government workers to negotiate reductions in their health care benefits.

With political pressure to make the changes, organized labor had little choice but to try to squeeze out a few last-minute concessions from Beacon Hill. Those were apparently enough to lay aside their once vociferous opposition.

“It’s fashionable in politics today, I’ve noticed, to bully people,” Patrick, a Democrat, said during the signing, implicitly contrasting his approach with that of more confrontational Republican governors such as New Jersey’s Chris Christie. “You say more about how you’re going to stick it to somebody. And that attracts all the attention.”

In addition to DeLeo, the crowd at the bill signing included Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, Senate President Therese Murray, Mayor Scott Lang of New Bedford, Robert J. Haynes, president of the AFL-CIO of Massachusetts, and Geoff Beckwith, the executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

No tax alternative: non profit offers to build senior center in Cohasset

Posted July 11, 2011 09:27 PM

In an unusual effort to address a need during tight times, a private nonprofit organization has volunteered to build a new multimillion-dollar senior center for Cohasset’s burgeoning population of baby boomers, who already make up about 30 percent of the oceanside community.

And because a private group can bypass bidding processes and prevailing-wage limitations required of municipalities, the facility will probably go up more quickly and cost far less money than previously anticipated by the town.

The Social Service League of Cohasset, founded in 1912 to help the needy in the area, had pledged $1 million a year ago toward a town-planned senior center, a project chronically mired in financial difficulty. Officials had been hesitant to propose a tax increase to cash-strapped property owners, and no other money source was in sight.

Although the league’s donation was generous, the town remained millions short of the project’s cost, estimated at $5 million or more. Recently, the nonprofit approached town leaders with a plan to take over the building project. Funds would be raised through a vigorous capital campaign in partnership with the town’s Friends of Elder Affairs. Once the building is complete, it would be leased to the town.

Read the rest of Christine Legere's Globe South story here.

Marblehead voters okay $43 million in property tax increases

Posted June 14, 2011 10:58 PM

Marblehead residents voted to override Proposition 2 1/2 today, endorsing proposals to borrow more than $43 million for building and town projects – including the construction of a new Glover Elementary School.

The money will be paid back over a 20-year period. The tax impact for the first year will be $300 for owner of a median priced home in Marblehead. For years 2-20, the tax impact will be less than $250 a year.

In separate ballot questions, voters approved a proposal to borrow $18.2 million to reconstruct its Transfer Station, and also to spend $24.5 million to build a new elementary school. Voters also approved a proposal to spend $656,000 on studies to clean up the town’s landfill. Voters turned down just one of the four ballot questions – a proposal to borrow $666,793 to fund improvements to the Old Town House.

Last year, voters rejected a similar school building proposal by 71 votes. Today, voters endorsed the school proposal 3,394 – 2,752.

“I’m thrilled,” said Marblehead School Committee Chairwoman EuRim Chun shortly after hearing the news outside of the Town Clerk’s office at Abbot Hall. “Everyone came together and they were willing to make the investment in our future and it shows the confidence they have in the town.”

As word spread through the building that three out of the four proposals had passed, Jean Eldridge looked on glumly and wondered how some residents would pay for the tax increases.

“I’m so disappointed,” said Eldridge, who opposed the school and transfer station proposals.

“There are so many people out of work, losing their homes, and there are a lot of people in town on a fixed income – including myself. This makes me sick.”

Governor Patrick grants 3-percent raise to 4,000 state managers

Posted June 10, 2011 07:22 PM

Governor Deval Patrick granted a 3 percent raise yesterday to 4,000 state managers beginning July 1, despite a budget that cuts higher education, local aid, and social services.

Patrick’s budget chief, Jay Gonzalez, sent a memo to Cabinet secretaries yesterday authorizing the raise, which will cost the state about $9.9 million and coincides with a salary increase for unionized employees. Managers have not had a pay raise since July 2007, a result of the fiscal crisis, and union members have seen only a 1 percent pay raise since that time.

“While we acknowledge that our economy is not fully recovered, this wage adjustment is the right thing to do to help the Commonwealth retain and recruit a talented and competitive workforce that can continue to work hard for the people of Massachusetts,’’ Patrick said in a statement that chronicled sacrifices by state employees during the recession, such as furlough days and high health care payments.

The governor and his staff will not get the raises, said a spokeswoman for Gonzalez, nor will the eight Cabinet secretaries.

The coming year’s budget, which also begins July 1, will be among the toughest in state history, as Patrick and lawmakers have been forced to address a $1.9 billion gap. Federal stimulus money that has propped up state programs during the depths of the economic downturn expires this year, forcing extensive cuts.

State college tuition and fees, for example, are set to increase 7.5 percent next semester, following a vote Wednesday by the University of Massachusetts board.

Read the rest of Noah Bierman's story here.

Breaking point? Some towns resist property tax hikes

Posted June 10, 2011 07:32 AM

Facing economic hardship and uncertain job prospects, voters north of Boston this year are rejecting pleas to approve property tax increases that would spare cuts in local services and support school spending.

The issue has divided voters in 23 of 57 Massachusetts communities north of Boston as local leaders struggle to craft balanced budgets for the upcoming fiscal year in the face of falling state aid and dwindling local receipts. Voters in eight communities — Boxford, Essex, Georgetown, Groveland, Marblehead, Saugus, Topsfield, and Winchester — had more than one request to consider.

Read Brenda J. Buote's story from Globe North here and her deeper look at some towns' opposition here.

Mass. tax collections up 43 percent in April

Posted May 3, 2011 07:19 PM

BOSTON—Massachusetts revenue officials say a surprisingly large increase in tax collections from investment income helped fuel a 43 percent increase in April tax collections compared with a year ago.

The Department of Revenue said Tuesday the state collected $2.5 billion in taxes last month, $758 million more than in April 2010. Last month's total was also nearly $600 million above revised monthly benchmarks.

The state had expected increased April income tax payments due to the improving economy. Also, severe flooding delayed the April 2010 filing deadline until May in several counties.

Officials were not as quick to explain the hike in revenues from interest and dividends and capital gains. They say it appears many taxpayers chose to cash in some of their investments during 2010 and are now paying taxes on those gains.

House passes $30.5b budget that limits health care bargaining

Posted April 29, 2011 08:41 AM

After four days of deliberations that largely took place outside public view, the Massachusetts House yesterday threw bipartisan support behind a $30.5 billion budget that included no new taxes or fees and made deep cuts to programs across state government.

The budget passed 157 to 1 just before 6 p.m., with only Andover Republican James Lyons voting to reject it. It now heads to the Senate, which will consider its own budget proposal in May.

Representative Brian Dempsey, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the final budget checked in at $25 million to $30 million below Governor Deval Patrick’s $30.6 billion plan proposed in January.

“In challenging times, we need to have the discipline to find a balance,’’ Dempsey said, describing cuts to programs and a series of savings initiatives that helped close a budget gap as the state is exhausting billions of dollars in one-time federal economic stimulus law funds.

In his closing speech before passage of the budget, Dempsey heaped praise on Republican lawmakers for working closely with Democrats — and, in the end, he won the vote of nearly all of the House’s 31 minority party members.

Read more of Kyle Cheney's State House News Service story here.

Georgetown considers not one, but two, overrides

Posted April 29, 2011 08:37 AM

There’s nothing like a roof collapsing to underscore the problem of deferred maintenance.

In the aftermath of the Feb. 3 collapse at the Perley Elementary School, which caused no injuries but precipitated an evacuation of all of Georgetown’s school buildings, Superintendent Carol Jacobs noted that the incident might spark discussion about facilities and maintenance needs.

“I don’t know if people will say ‘I want to pony up the money,’ but I absolutely think these types of things heighten people’s awareness,’’ she said after the collapse.

Nearly three months later, residents will consider just that Monday as one of two Proposition 2 1/2 overrides on the annual Town Meeting warrant. Town officials are requesting $729,583 to fund a consolidated school/town maintenance department, while the School Department is seeking a $1.2 million override for its operating budget.

“We’re not happy with two overrides,’’ Jacobs admitted recently. “Why would we be happy with two overrides? Frankly, the town probably needs both. But the record in Georgetown has not been that people vote any override, never mind two to the tune of a $2 million increase in their taxes.’’

Read more of David Rattigan's Globe North story here.

Arlington override vote likely to take place June 7

Posted April 5, 2011 11:14 AM

Arlington selectmen Monday approved a tentative date of June 7 to hold a special election on one or more property tax override proposals that increases taxes by several hundred dollars per year on the average Arlington home.

But the board decided to wait another week before voting which override proposals will appear on the ballot.

Clarissa Rowe, the new chairwoman of the board, said two proposals suggested by the town’s Long Term Planning Committee could be too expensive for voters.

“I think the price was a bit too high,” Rowe said.

Around the region, Millis residents will vote May 2 on whether to hike taxes by $1.1 million, and Belmont is considering an override as well, Globe West reported Sunday.

The Committee had suggested two options for an override, including one that would raise about $7.9 million in revenue by increasing property taxes by 9.1 percent. The tax hike would be about $560 per year on the average Arlington home valued at $479,000.

The second option would add about $5.9 million to town coffers with a property tax increase that would tack on about $425 more per year to the tax bill on the average home. It would also generate another $2 million in savings and revenue by switching the town’s trash removal service to a pay-as-you-throw program, in which residents pay $1 or $2 for each bag of trash they throw out.

But Monday, Town Manager Brian Sullivan suggested the total tax increases under both override options could be reduced by subtracting funding for several programs, including $400,000 per year in road repair and an additional boost of $600,000 to the school department’s budget.

After the reductions, Sullivan said the first override option would raise about $6.2 million, which would hike taxes by about $425 a year on the average home.
The reduced second option, would raise about $4.3 million in revenue, which would hike taxes by about $300 per year on the average home. It would also include the pay-as-you-throw trash program, Sullivan said.

But Selectman Kevin Greeley said having two override options on the ballot could be too confusing for voters.

“I really think we want one question,” he said.

Dan Dunn, who was elected to the board Saturday, said he also thinks posing two override options could be too confusing and he requested another week to work on what would appear on the ballot for the special election.

The board will meet again next Monday.

City, town health plans most costly, report says

Posted April 5, 2011 11:09 AM

Health insurance plans to cover city and town employees cost 37 percent more than similar plans for workers at private companies, mostly because municipal employees pay minimal copayments or deductibles when they get care, according to a new statewide survey.

The 20-page report from the Boston Foundation and Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation concludes that cities and towns must substantially increase the amounts their employees are required to pay in out-of-pocket expenses for medical office visits and other services and to significantly increase their deductibles. Otherwise, municipalities will see insurance eat up an ever-increasing share of their budget.

“The issue is cost-sharing, and right now the cost-sharing of municipal employees is minuscule,’’ said Bob Carey, author of the report. “Cost sharing must go up. It’s way out of synch with the rest of the employer market.’’

Taking the report’s advice would force tens of thousands of municipal employees statewide to pay hundreds or even thousands more annually for health care. The rising costs, in turn would probably influence those employees to choose less costly insurance plans and medical services and, in some cases, to forgo some services, the report says.

Read the rest of the story by the Globe's Sean P. Murphy.

Brace yourself: property tax bills rise, even as some home values fall

Posted March 28, 2011 11:44 AM

Although home prices have yet to recover from what has come to be known as the Great Recession, property tax bills in Boston’s northern suburbs are on the rise as cities and towns struggle to maintain services residents have come to expect.

Across the state, property values tumbled an average of 8.1 percent per year between the onset of the recession in 2007 and July 2009, according to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue. Since property taxes are based on value, homeowners might assume that lower assessments would result in lower bills.

Opening their tax bills will end that hope in a heartbeat.

Click here to read the rest of Brenda J. Buote's Globe North story on tax bills.

Winchester voters consider property tax hike

Posted March 28, 2011 11:43 AM

Voters Tuesday will consider a proposed tax increase that Winchester officials say is needed to ease cuts to town services next year and avoid deeper cuts in fiscal 2013 and 2014.

The $1.44 million Proposition 2 1/2 override on the town election ballot would permanently raise the town’s annual property tax cap to help fund general operating expenses in various town departments.

The override, backed by selectmen and the school and finance committees, would add $204 next fiscal year to the tax bill of an average single-family home valued at $757,000.

Town officials say the override is critical to Winchester’s ability to keep its level of services largely intact at a time when the town, despite years of economizing, is seeing its costs rising faster than revenues.

Click here to read the rest of John Laidler's story in Globe North.

176 Massachusetts state retirees collect $100K pensions

Posted March 21, 2011 12:25 PM

The number of state retirees collecting pensions of at least $100,000 has climbed more than 20 percent in the past year, jumping from 145 to 176, with the top pensioner receiving more than $240,000.

State Police retirees represent the largest group of six-figure earners, with 50, followed by faculty and administrators from the University of Massachusetts Amherst at 42, and employees of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, at 19.

Eight years ago, only 33 state employees made more than $100,000, but as state salaries have increased through the decades, so have pensions, which are calculated in part based on employees’ income in their three highest-paid years of work.

“There is an urgent need for comprehensive pension reform,’’ said Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. “Soaring pension and health care benefits are cannibalizing municipal services.’’

Read the rest of Matt Caroll's article here.

Duxbury voters to consider Proposition 2 1/2 votes March 26

Posted March 21, 2011 12:19 PM

Duxbury’s Annual Town Meeting has approved spending on three major building projects, including a new police station, an expanded fire station, and new high and middle schools estimated to run well over $100 million.

All three projects, however, require voters to pass Proposition 2 1/2 overrides at the March 26 town election that would allow the town’s debt for the work to be excluded from the annual tax cap.

Total construction costs for the projects are expected to increase the annual tax bill for the median-value tax property — $6,000 on a $481,100 property — by almost $900, according to the town’s fiscal advisory committee.

The $6.25 million plan to build a new police station is expected to add $85 to the median tax bill. The $3.7 million approved for an expanded fire station would add $58. Full construction costs for the school project will add an estimated $733.

Read more of Robert Knox's Globe South story here.

Belmont override backers form committee to push campaign

Posted March 3, 2011 03:08 PM

A group of parents and residents concerned about cuts to the Belmont school budget has formed a ballot question committee dedicated to putting a Proposition 2 1/2 override before the town's voters.

The group, which calls itself Building Belmont's Future, replaces earlier parent's groups which coalesced earlier this year.

"As a ballot question committee, we can do some things a political action committee can't," said Greg Stone, one of the group's founders. "There's no limit on the amount supporters can contribute, and once we have achieved our aim, we can disband and donate the remaining money to charity."

Stone said Building Belmont's Future has approximately 250 members, and is planning an aggressive fund-raising and door-knocking campaign that could begin in as little as a few weeks.

"I've lived here for many years and never seen so much energy in such a concentrated form," Stone said. "We're just trying to marshal it."

Stone and other concerned parents began mobilizing in January, after the school department submitted what it calls a "mission critical" budget to the town's Warrant Committee. That budget forecast a gap of $2.9 million and warned of deep cuts to the school's acclaimed music and art programs.

A second, level-services budget with a $2 million gap has since been submitted and is being analyzed by the Warrant Committee, but residents were already responding. An ad hoc group called "Save Our Schools, Save Our Town" started a message board for concerned residents, and a Facebook group popped up for students. Stone said he has been receiving hundreds of emails and hosting large gatherings of supporters in his living room.

"Right now we're collecting and analyzing data," Stone said. "We hope we can talk to each and every citizen of Belmont and hear their views, and maybe change some minds."

A similar override attempt last year failed by approximately 400 votes. The town's selectmen said there was a lot of work needed to be done to restore public trust in the budgeting processes of both the town and the schools before any decision is made whether to put an override question on the ballot.

"The Warrant Committee is still analyzing the data, but right now there's a lot of emotion in the system," said selectman Mark Paolillo, who supported last year's override. "Overrides are divisive by nature, and right now people are still affected adversely by the economy. We need to show we can do structural reforms before we can convince the community an override is needed."

Ralph Jones, chair of the selectmen, said that more meetings between the selectmen, warrant committee, schools, and Building Belmont's Future would take place. Jones also supported last year's override.

"The process is ongoing," Jones said.

Sarah Thomas can be reached at

Scituate selectmen propose $2.2-million override

Posted March 2, 2011 03:06 PM

Scituate selectmen on Tuesday proposed a $2.2 million property tax override, an amount that would raise the average tax bill on a single-family home by $278 a year, or $23 a month.

Although this was the first official move toward an override, the subject has been discussed for months, a hopeful lifeboat in a sea of otherwise troubling finances.

From a proposed Capital Improvement Plan that will cost the town over $2.6 million, to a school budget in the red by approximately $834,000 for fiscal 2012, which begins July 1, selectmen felt they had to do something to mitigate budgeting concerns.

“When you look at the very measured and thoughtful plans by the town and by the school, I think it’s a reasonable contribution to consider,” Selectman Rick Murray said. “I think this is the direction we should seriously go.”

An override would increase the school budget by nearly $1.5 million per year, leaving the other portion of the town budget with approximately $700,000 after the two-thirds/one-third split is imposed.

At least $500,000 of the town money would be used to pay for a litany of capital improvement expenses.

Currently, the town is planning on $500,000 of seawall repair, a half-mile of roadway improvements, a $430,000 rescue pumper, a $175,000 ambulance, and even a new $90,000 bobcat for the Grounds Maintenance.

Override money would help any one of these ventures as well as enable the town to pay for two additional police officers and restore town services, said the chairman of the selectmen, John Danehey.

In subsequent years, override money would be used to pay for infrastructure repairs.

“This [override] is being driven by two things: the school’s inability to maintain services, and the capital needs of the town,” said Selectman Anthony Vegnani. “We need to enforce that a large chunk of that money needs to go towards infrastructure improvements year in and year out.”

As for the schools, the town is not only attempting to make up for the fiscal 2012 deficit, but for the two years after that.

Of the $1.5 million the schools would receive, about half would go toward filling the fiscal 2012 budget gap. Override money would also satisfy a projected budget deficit of $1.5 million for fiscal 2013, and all but satisfy a projected budget of $1.8 million in fiscal 2014.

“While we would love to ask for more, the reality is we put together a plan to restore things we’ve lost, make up for the curriculum,” said School Committee member Jamie Strobino, who attended last night’s meeting. “In our mind, we’re being conservative.”

The school deficit for fiscal 2012 had stood at $1 million, however a $166,000 contribution from the Legacy Fund at last night’s meeting helped partially lower that number.

The schools had requested that the override be bigger to completely cover a budget deficit in fiscal 2014, yet according to Danehey, even preparing to solve the long-term school problems at this amount is a risky scenario.

“I think everyone is being very hopeful,” Danehey said. “I think the number is too high, but I think it’s important that we go along. My feeling is that I tend to think we have a lower number because we need to make sure this number succeeds. Having said that, I’m fully supportive of a $2.2 million override. The town as a whole needs to meet it.”

“I think it’s a good compromise,” Murray said with a smile. “It ticks everybody off.”

Scituate last voted an override of the Proposition 2 ½, which enables towns to increase the tax levy above 2 ½ percent, in 2010, increasing the tax levy by $2.33 million.

The selectmen's action on Tuesday puts the override question on the Town Meeting warrant. For the override to take effect, it will have to pass Town Meeting, as well as a subsequent townwide vote.

According to Norm Paley, a member of Scituate Citizens for Limited Taxation, an override with the addition of the Community Preservation Act charge would increase the total single-family tax bill by $293.29 annually.

East Bridgewater surprises some by voting for two property tax hikes

Posted February 15, 2011 06:47 PM

Many are hailing last Saturday's East Bridgewater votes for tax increases to pay for two building projects, with proponents saying the tally clearly shows young and old supported each other in the effort to replace an aging school and build the community’s first senior center.

A $77 million project to build a new school for grades 7 through 12 sailed through with 2,547 in favor and 416 opposed. The state will reimburse about 65 percent of the cost, leaving the town responsible for $34 million.

A proposal for a $3.75 million senior center — the town’s first — also passed by a 2-1 ratio, with 1,973 in favor and 977 opposed. Supporters have been working to secure funding for a senior center for the last eight years.

‘‘I’m proud to be a citizen,’’ said Beth Hayes, who had backed both tax increases. ‘‘These votes show how much we care for each other in East Bridgewater.’’

Saturday’s vote marked the first time since 1997 that property owners agreed to a tax increase beyond the state’s Proposition 2 1/2 yearly cap. The increases, called debt exclusions since they are temporary, will boost the average real estate tax bill by about $400 annually for the next 20 years.

‘‘East Bridgewater is a traditionally conservative town, and that was a hurdle in our eyes,’’ said Michael Shea, a member of A Better Community, a citizens group promoting the school project.

Cities and towns face $20-billion bil for retiree health care benefits

Posted February 15, 2011 06:44 PM

The 50 largest cities and towns in Massachusetts face a crushing $20 billion liability for retiree health care benefits that threatens to wreak havoc with local government services, according to a new report released today by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

Read the report here.

It's time for an override, some in Belmont say

Posted February 6, 2011 09:25 AM

Undeterred by the town's failure to pass a tax increase last year, a group of Belmont citizens - young and old - have begun pressing again for a Proposition 2 1/2 override to help fund the public schools.

"We feel strongly that an override is an issue that should be put before the voters," said Greg Stone, co-chair of an organization called Save Our Schools, Save Our Town. "To me, the issue of preserving the quality of our schools is an issue that trumps many others."

The citizen's group came together after budget documents were presented to the town's warrant committee that said the district could be facing a $2.9 million budget gap for fiscal 2012, which officials said would be offset by cutting programs in music, foreign language, and other areas.

School committee chairwoman Anne Rittenburg said that the projections were still in their early stages.

"The budget that the district presented was what they called a 'mission critical' budget, which was designed to maintain the integrity of the district's structures, programs, and goals," Rittenburg explained. "We were asked by the warrant committee to also prepare a budget that provided strict level services, which will probably have a gap that is closer to $2 million."

Nonetheless, Rittenburg said that she believes the "mission critical" budget is the one the town needs to fund, and that part of that funding strategy would mean an override.

"There are a lot of other things that need to happen as well, such as finding efficiencies and looking for savings in employee negotiations," Rittenburg said. "But the district has not had an infusion of revenue from a Proposition 2 1/2 override since 2002, and it's time for Belmont to recognize that key component."

Many of the residents involved in Save Our Schools, Save Our Town aren't newcomers to advocating for Proposition 2 1/2 overrides. A similar attempt to pass a $2 million override last year was defeated at a special election by just under 400 votes. It was supported by a political action committee called One Belmont.

"The need we were responding to then hasn't gone away; it's become more urgent," said Uli Klingbeil, who was One Belmont's treasurer. "I don't know how different the climate is in town because I'm not a polling person, but I do think it's become a lot clearer to people, especially parents, what the results of having less school funding are."

Klingbeil said he believes one of the main reasons last year's override failed was a series of 'robocalls' in the days immediately preceding the election, which he said spread misinformation on what the tax increase would be used for. The source of the calls was never revealed.

"The calls said that the money would be used to give more money for teachers. Of course, teachers' salaries are the result of contract negotiations, and no vote can change a contract," Klingbeil said.

Klingbeil said he plans to be involved with Save Our Schools, Save Our Town, which is the largest of the groups that have already coalesced around the budget issue. The other is Students and Belmontians Working for a Brighter Future, a group of concerned students who have organized on Facebook and sent a representative, Paul Green, to speak at the most recent Board of Selectmen meeting. About 100 concerned citizens in total attended, including Stone.

"I heard Paul speak, and I thought he was quite articulate and forthright," Stone said. "I was involved behind the scenes last year, and I can tell you the climate is different now. I've never seen such concern."

Stone is a parent of two Belmont students, a daughter in high school and a son in the eighth grade. He said that underfunding the schools can have an effect on property values, something that touches residents even if they don't have school age children.

"If we read the documents at face value, the impact these cuts would have on our curriculum is severe and dire, and threatens a school system that has achieved national prominence," Stone said.

Not everyone agrees. Alfred Garozzo, a former substitute teacher, has had two daughters go through the Belmont school system. Last year, he circulated leaflets urging residents to vote against the override and says he plans to make the same argument this year.

"I agree with the priority of education, but I think the town wastes money by funding things, like the football program, that don't benefit all the students," Garozzo said. "The school and the town seem to find ways to spend money they don't need to spend."

Stone said Save Our Schools, Save Our Town plans to attend the next Board of Selectmen meeting on Monday and would be crafting a strategy over the weekend. Ralph Jones, chair of the Board of Selectmen, said it could be weeks before the board can make a decision on whether to support an override.

"Everyone was very helpful and respectful when they spoke at the last meeting, but it's too early to say what our decision will be," Jones said. "We will be taking a leadership position and getting all the stakeholders together to talk. We're not just going to sit here waiting."

Sarah Thomas can be reached at

More than 6,400 state workers earn more than $100K

Posted February 3, 2011 05:07 PM

More than 6,400 state employees -- a group dominated at the top by University of Massachusetts doctors, professors, and at least one coach -- earned more than $100,000 in 2010, according to state payroll records released today by the state comptroller's office.

The state's highest-paid employee last year was Donna Ambrosino, executive director of MassBiologics at the UMass Medical School, who earned $792,885. However, those who work for UMass Medical School get the vast majority of their compensation from work as doctors, not the state, said Mark Shelton, a spokesman for UMass Medical School.

UMass basketball head coach Derek Kellogg earned $498,216, the seventh-highest salary in the state.

Only one of the state's top 100 highest paid employees was not from UMass -- Henry M. Nields, the chief medical examiner, who earned $242,337. The next highest paid, non-UMass employee was William Lewis Jr., a State Police lieutenant who earned $228,540.

The list of non-UMass employees was dominated by college presidents, State Police officers, and workers at the Department of Mental Health.

Gov. Patrick wants to step up tax collections

Posted January 28, 2011 09:26 AM

To help balance the state budget, Governor Deval Patrick is turning to a trusted tool: stepping up tax collections.

In his budget proposal for the next fiscal year, the governor is requesting funds to hire 15 additional employees to boost tax collections and examinations of tax returns, particularly those filed by major corporations operating in multiple states. He also proposed several other changes that would produce larger tax payments from corporations.

“You hunt where the ducks are,’’ said Robert Bliss, Department of Revenue spokesman. In addition to targeting large corporations, Bliss said the new employees would tackle other types of cases, including income tax returns filed by individual taxpayers.

The administration predicted the $1.2 million spent on the new hires would yield $61.5 million in additional tax collections, through increased assessments and settlements with filers. The Department of Revenue is already on track to collect an additional $24 million in tax revenue during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, through more tax compliance work.

Patrick also proposed tweaking the formula that corporations must use to calculate their state excise tax, resulting in an additional $20 million in collections. The change, which would primarily affect large out-of-state companies would base sales calculations on where services are delivered, rather than where they are originated. Eleven states, including California, have adopted similar measures.

And Patrick suggested delaying the introduction of an arcane deduction for publicly traded corporations — called “FAS 109’’ — for one year to postpone losing $46 million in tax revenue.

In addition, Patrick proposed raising an additional $8.7 million a year by requiring travel companies that resell hotel rooms on the Internet to register with the Department of Revenue and pay taxes on the amount they mark up room prices. (Hotels already collect taxes on the rooms from customers.)

The governor also wants companies that received tax incentives from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center to forgo pocketing $5 million of the credits until later years. And he wants to keep the next round of incentives from the Life Sciences Center to $10 million, down from the $25 million called for in the 2008 law that created the program.

Patrick estimated the state could reap at least $20 million more a year by expanding the bottle deposit law to apply to noncarbonated drinks, including bottled water, fruit beverages, iced tea, and sports drinks.

The Associated Industries of Massachusetts, which represents many local businesses, said it was still studying the potential impact of all the tax changes, but was particularly concerned about additional enforcement.

“That could be troublesome,’’ said Brian R. Gilmore, executive vice president for AIM, noting that Massachusetts already has more onerous tax policies than other states.

However, business leaders were relieved the governor resisted touching the corporate tax rate, which is scheduled to decline to 8 percent in fiscal 2012, after dropping to 8.25 percent in the current year, based on a tax cut the Legislature adopted in 2008.

“That’s very significant,’’ said Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce chief executive Paul Guzzi.

Todd Wallack can be reached at

Steep cuts in Patrick's budget plan

Posted January 27, 2011 10:21 AM

Two state prisons would close. Nine hundred jobs would be eliminated across state government. Space to treat 160 mentally ill patients would disappear.

Everybody would be hit, at least a little. A bottle of Gatorade would cost a nickel more, and drivers would pay an additional $2.50 on their annual car insurance bills.

Governor Deval Patrick proposed dozens of deep cuts, a few new fees, and some one-time fixes yesterday, as part of what he called a painful but ambitious plan to close a projected $1.2 billion budget gap and help to reinvent Massachusetts government.

The governor said his $30.5 billion blueprint for the budget year that begins in July would cut overall spending by 1.8 percent, or $570 million, the largest year-to-year cut in the state budget in 20 years.

“It reflects many difficult and, in some cases, painful choices,’’ he said. “But we are making those choices to support our priorities — job creation, health care cost control, better schools, and reduced youth violence — priorities I know will make a stronger Commonwealth for all of us.’’

In laying out the first spending plan of his second term, the governor argued that he was doing more than just making cuts to balance the books. His proposal calls for a series of tradeoffs, reinventions, and redistributions, to steer money toward programs that reflect his priorities and find new ways to handle criminals and finance health care.

In perhaps his most ambitious goal, the governor said he could save $1 billion by changing how the state pays for health care for the poor, proposing that contracts with providers be changed to encourage them to work together to drive down costs. Independent analysts said the initiative was laudable but would at most save half that amount.

Read the rest of Michael Levenson's story here.

See winners and losers in Gov. Patric's Budget proposal.

East Bridgewater to consider tax hikes for schools, senior center

Posted January 27, 2011 10:19 AM

East Bridgewater voters have not allowed their local taxes to be increased beyond the limits of the state’s Proposition 2 1/2 statute since 1997, but early next month they will be asked to do so twice, through debt exclusions to build a new middle-high school and a senior center.

While conceding this is a tough time to ask for tax hikes that would add $400 to the average tax bill for the next 20 years, proponents of the two projects say the price of construction will never be more competitive than it is now.

The $77 million school building complex would replace a 50-year-old high school and relieve crowding elsewhere, since it will house grades 7 through 12. The Massachusetts School Building Authority is covering about 65 percent of the total cost, making the town’s share just under $34 million. The impact would be a $365 increase to the annual property tax on an average home assessed at $320,000.

No similar state reimbursement is available for the $3.75 million senior center project.

That proposal would add $48 annually to the average local tax bill.

Both projects must secure a two-thirds majority to win Town Meeting approval on Feb. 7. The second step in the approval process for the debt exclusions — which are temporary tax overrides — is a ballot vote set for Feb. 12, where a simple majority is enough for victory.

John Robertson, deputy legislative director for the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said there has been a “stream’’ of debt-exclusion initiatives for school projects because of the School Building Authority’s reimbursement. “And because the SBA really goes through these projects, there’s a pretty good success rate for them,’’ he said. “There’s a high degree of public confidence that the projects are as efficient as they can be.’’

The drive in East Bridgewater to pass the school project has been vigorous, with pro-tax-hike lawn signs sprouting across town and an informational website that has had more than 26,000 hits.

“From my perspective, the support is huge,’’ said School Building Committee cochairman Ryon Pratt, who is the town’s fire chief. “Despite the bad economy, there’s not a better time to do the project. That’s been shown by the construction bids coming in to other towns.’’

The senior center has been under discussion for several years, and as many as four locations have been considered. In 2008, a plan to construct a center on the town-owned Sachem Rock Farm failed to secure a two-thirds Town Meeting majority. Senior Center Building Committee chairman Dominic DeAngelo said the defeat was due to the lack of construction plans.

Now the senior center building committee will return to voters asking for the $3.75 million tax increase, with plans for a Sachem Rock Center in hand. The building will serve seniors as well as the community.

While the school and senior center projects weren’t initially planned to be presented to voters at the same time, DeAngelo said his committee couldn’t wait several more months until the Annual Town Meeting in May.

“Unless the project is approved by the end of February, it will have to comply with a new edition of the state building code,’’ DeAngelo said. “We would have to have the architect rework the structural and mechanical systems to the new code. To do that, we’d have to go back to the town for more money.’’

Selectman Joseph Miksch, a former member of the Council on Aging who is familiar with the starts and stops of the project, said he could not gauge voters’ support for the proposed center. “I served on the center’s building committee for about six years,’’ he said. “I haven’t had a lot of feedback from the townspeople.’’

DeAngelo said seniors support the project, but if it’s one or the other, they may back the school. “That generation has always sacrificed,’’ he said. “A portion of them would rather do the school for their grandchildren.’’

The Board of Selectmen approved placing the two proposed tax increases before voters, but did not take a position on them.

The Finance Committee also supported placing both initiatives on the Town Meeting warrant. Chairman Martin Crowley said the Finance Committee looks at the financial issues surrounding a proposal, such as funding sources, interest rates, and the impact on the yearly operating budget.

“Approval of either will not adversely impact the finances of the town,’’ Crowley said. “They both come with an identified funding source.’’

According to Robertson, having more than one capital debt exclusion up for a vote isn’t that unusual in the current economic climate, which has created a very competitive market in the construction industry.

“If you’re going to do some capital construction, this is the time to do it.’’

Governor Patrick calls for 7-percent cut in non-school aid

Posted January 21, 2011 11:22 AM

Governor Deval Patrick says his state budget proposal will call for a 7 percent reduction in non-school aid to cities and towns, but the municipalities can save more money than that, if they implement changes he's proposing that will affect city and town employees' health care.

Patrick revealed his plans during an address this morning before the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

He announced that he would propose increases in state aid for schools, special education, and road repairs, as well as a grant program to encourage regionalization. But he said he was cutting unrestricted local aid by $65 million, to $833.9 million.

Administration officials said the reduction would be offset by health plan changes to rein in the exorbitant cost of providing health care to municipal employees, retirees, and elected officials. Health care spending has become a major drag on city and town budgets.

Some school systems, including Belmont and Wellesley, are already warning of budget cuts.