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Why I support a yes vote on Nov. 7 override

I plan to vote yes for the $7 million operating override on Nov. 7. As a 34-year town taxpayer, I am acting on principle. What I write here is not an editorial endorsement. Voters are free to act on their own views of the facts.Invest in Arlington, 2023

First, what principles support a yes vote? There are a number. Consider this one -- the greatest good for the greatest number. My yes vote helps make sure the town and school services continue without cuts. Do I want teachers or police officers to lose their jobs? I do not.

Consider another principle -- providing accurate information about how well town and school officials do their jobs. Indeed, over the more than three decades that I have observed our leaders, I see them providing consistent value, on the whole.

What do you value?

Indeed, the Nov. 7 vote is about values. The monetary implication of that word is only part of the story. The word has a larger meaning, which asks every voter directly: What do you value?

For one, I value accurate information. As to the override, that means considering the views of those who support a yes vote, led the by ballot-question committee Invest in Arlington. It also means considering views of those who urge you to vote no. They have no organized committee.

The Nov. 7 outcome is by no means assured. After all, the town Finance Committee, the volunteer residents who vet the details of the annual budget process, voted to support the override last June, but the tally was 10-7. Not a clear endorsement.

In that light, let's take a look at some of the arguments from those seeking no:

  • If approved, our tax bills will rise 30 percent.

Untrue. Approving the override is expected to result in slightly less than a 5-percent increase. If it had taken effect in fiscal 2024, the last two tax bills would have included all of it for the entire year, so they would have been about 10-percent, but next year's increase would be back to 5 percent.

  • Last summer, without warning, Arlington leaders claimed the town needed a $7 million override, for the schools.

No. Members of the town Long Range Planning Committeee have been talking about an override for years, seeking ways to put it off. Officials foresaw override four years ago, after voters approved the last one, in 2019. The Select Board then committed not to ask for another for at least four years. Because of our structural deficit, the town is expected to ask voters periodically for operational overrides.

  • The town has lots of money. Consider its $18 million in free cash.

The number is correct, but it's just part of the picture. Every year the town anticipates a certain amount of free cash -- basically, budgeted money that was not spent, plus revenue that came in higher than expected. This year free cash came in $8 million higher than anticipated. The town's traditional, fiscally prudent practice is to put half of free cash into the stability fund. The other is considered available for spending in the current year, as one of the sources of funding for budgeted expenses.

  • The Finance Committee held an emergency, unadvertised meeting Oct. 17 and voted to reverse itself on Article 2, withdrawing a $400,000 appropriation for the schools for the current fiscal year.

Untrue. The meeting was listed as per the Open Meeting Law. The committee voted "no action," because the wording of the article was incorrect. A typo in the article was discovered, leading to a change as to when the override would take effect, fiscal 2025, not '24.

  • Article 2 ($400,000 for the schools) was submitted by the town manager, not the school department, and was never discussed during School Committee meetings.

The manager traditionally submits such articles. The appropriation was discussed many times during school budget subcommittee meeting, and it is part of the strategic plan, which had been discussed and approved by the entire School Committee.

  • On Oct. 17, before the Special Town Meeting opened, the Select Board voted to appropriate $1 million for the public schools for the current fiscal year.

Mistaken. The Select Board revoted support for the same $1 million to the schools in fiscal 2024 as part of its override commitments, as it had previously. The $1 million includes $600,000 already in the Arlington Public Schools' budget for fiscal '24. That is the reason that the amount is a $400,000 increase if the override passes. The Select Board has no authority to appropriate general-fund money to the school department; only Town Meeting can do that.

  • The schools have a $1 million deficit.

Untrue. The figure refers to the cost of putting into effect the schools' five-year strategic plan. The additional $400,000 is to go toward increasing paraprofessional salaries, which run about 40-percent below the average for the "Town Manager 12," the Massachusetts communities used for a decade to compare Arlington pay.

  • This override is set for November, unprecedented in Arlington, and critical public financial information is in not yet certain. The $18 million in free cash was reported Oct. 11.

The implications are not true. The timing has more to do with the state Department of Revenue certifying free-cash months after the fiscal year is closed.

  • Why not wait? The Select Board said November was chosen for the override so that property taxes would increase this current fiscal year.

Partly true. The November date was chosen so that the property-tax increase would take effect in fiscal 2024.

Others who plan to vote no may have excellent reasons; for example, they say they cannot afford increased taxes. As you weigh that reason, consider what you value.


This viewpoint by YourArlington founder Bob Sprague, based on various sources in town who favor and oppose the override, was published Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023.

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Comments

Guest - Trish Orlovsky on Thursday, 02 November 2023 14:28
No on overtide

Like all government funded endeavors, the costs just keeps rising. This election enables voters can make a stand to live within a budget that does not require continuous overrides, raising of taxes that harm so many Arlington voters who are limited or fixed income. We have the tools and sparkling new buildings to educate children and need to prioritize within our means.

It is an empty threat to say the cuts would come from essential emergency services if this override doesn't pass, when there are certainly school budget items that are of less importance for the basic education of our children. I'm voting no.

Like all government funded endeavors, the costs just keeps rising. This election enables voters can make a stand to live within a budget that does not require continuous overrides, raising of taxes that harm so many Arlington voters who are limited or fixed income. We have the tools and sparkling new buildings to educate children and need to prioritize within our means. It is an empty threat to say the cuts would come from essential emergency services if this override doesn't pass, when there are certainly school budget items that are of less importance for the basic education of our children. I'm voting no.
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