By Molly A.K. Connors and Christine Legere, Globe Correspondents | June 20, 2010
Residents in two communities south of Boston voted yesterday to increase their taxes by overriding the state’s Proposition 2 property tax-limiting law.
In Bridgewater, voters approved a $2.8 million tax increase to avoid cutting their police and fire departments in half. The vote, 3,749 to 2,870, was the town’s first override in 30 years after the failure of four overrides over the past six years.
Selectmen were warning a “no’’ vote would also shut down the public library, senior center, and Recreation Department.
In Scituate, residents voted, 439 to 187, to approve a $2.33 million debt exclusion override that would raise taxes to pay for the renovation of the Wampatuck Elementary School on Tilden Road. The measure will cost each household an average of $435 over 20 years.
Forty-three percent of registered voters in Bridgewater cast ballots yesterday. The override will increase the annual property tax bill on a $300,000 home by about $342.
The proposed tax increase had come out of a move at Town Meeting. Members took $2 million from Bridgewater’s employee health insurance account for the coming year and used it to boost the town’s contribution to the Bridgewater-Raynham Regional School District, which has been clamoring for increased funding.
But that left the town’s public safety, library, senior center, and recreation budgets scrambling to make up for the loss. As a result, town leaders said, the police and fire departments faced cuts of half their staffs.
Fire Chief George Rogers already sent pink slips out to 20 firefighters — more than half the staff — informing them their jobs could be eliminated on July 1. Rogers said the department, with a staff of 16, no longer could offer ambulance service with the reduced staff and the department’s satellite fire station would have to close its doors.
Police Chief Michael Bois also sent out pink slips to half his staff. An override defeat would have left the Police Department with 13 officers. That meant a single cruiser sometimes would be the only police presence in the town, home to both a college and a prison.
Four similar overrides have failed in the past six years in the town of 26,000. Some said yesterday’s result demonstrates voter confidence in the new Town Council form of government that will replace the current Board of Selectmen next January.
Several override supporters and officials waited for the votes to be tallied last night, cheering the results.
“The citizens came together for the future of the community,’’ Town Manager Troy Clarkson said. “It’s wonderful to see. It’s going to be a long process to get the town where it needs to be, but the building starts tonight.’’
Of the approximately 13,300 registered voters in Scituate, 626 cast votes yesterday. The turnout was hundreds more than the annual Town Meeting in April, which attracted roughly 350 of the town’s voters.
Renovations to the elementary school, which, officials said, was built in 1957, will include a new boiler, updated fire and electrical systems, a new heating system, and roof repairs. School officials said they applied for state funding for the project from the Massachusetts School Building Authority in 2008. The overall cost of the project is expected to be about $3.4 million over 20 years, including $1.1 million in interest payments.
Officials say they expect the project to cost each homeowner an average of $22 each year, based on Scituate’s average single-home value of about $505,800. Roughly 40 percent of the project would be reimbursed by the state.
Under Proposition 2 1/2 towns can not increase overall property tax revenue by more than 2.5 percent a year unless voters approve the measure by votes at both a town meeting and an election. Scituate took the first step to approve the debt exclusion at a May 17 special town meeting.
Molly Connors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Christine Legere can be reached at email@example.com.