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. That override was a debt exclusion, which increased property taxes for 20 years to repay the borrowing of $2.33 million to renovate the Wampatuck Elementary School.
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.