Marblehead town administrator’s 2023 goal: Make government ‘boring’ again

If it is up to Marblehead Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer, 2023 will not be as politically charged or as busy as 2022.

“My goal is to make the municipal government look really boring,” he told the Marblehead Current recently. “That’s my goal, because when it’s boring it means we’re wholly focused on getting the work of the town done.”

Nonetheless, one proposal could draw lively debate before, during and after May’s Town Meeting: a general override of the property tax cap set by Proposition 2 1/2, sometimes referred to as a “permanent” override, which would be a break from town tradition.

“The debt-exclusion override is what Marblehead has been using to fund capital projects for years,” Kezer said. “You have the tax increase [only] while you’re paying off debt.”

The tax increase from a Proposition 2 1/2 debt-exclusion disappears when taxpayers fully repay the money that they borrowed to fund a capital project.

But with a general override, as the Massachusetts Division of Local Services explains, “Once approved, the override amount becomes a permanent part of the levy limit and increases by 2.5 percent each year after its acceptance.”

Still unknown is the cost of the general override that town leaders will propose, though Kezer said that should come into focus before the Town Meeting warrant closes at the end of the month.

“That is the analysis that I’m trying to get at,” said Kezer when asked for a specific number. “That will happen during the budget-building process.” 

A general override would cover a projected deficit in the operating budget, born from town expenditures exceeding revenue. 

“We will have to address the difference,” Kezer said. “We will have to make a choice to either cut things from the budget or ask for the difference through a [general] override,” adding that it may be a combination of both. 

At last year’s State of the Town presentation, it was estimated that the FY2024 budget could sport a $3.8 million deficit, which former Marblehead finance director Steve Poulos attributed in part to contractual obligations and fixed costs.

Then, in the 2022 municipal election, Marblehead voters rejected a $3 million general override proposing to fund unmet needs in Marblehead Public Schools.

However, voters did pass a $24 million debt-exclusion override to fund myriad capital projects.

“That was for five years of funding to fix roads, sidewalks and for other capital projects,” Kezer said. “So, prepare to see some of that money put to use this year.” 

Beyond the looming general override proposal, residents should see more projects seeking American Rescue Plan Act funds come before the Marblehead Select Board by month’s end, Kezer said.

About $5.1 million of $6.1 million that the federal government awarded Marblehead remains unspent, while a working ARPA group received nearly 75 project proposals cumulatively worth some $17 million.

There are also plans to finish building the Marblehead Finance Department’s leadership team in 2023, a process begun late last year with the appointment of Marblehead native Rachel Blaisdell as the town treasurer and tax collector. 

Plans for several other projects are coming together as well. The Old Burial Hill Oversight Committee has about $10,000 to put toward the conservation and restoration of headstones.

The Collins Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts Boston is helping the town assemble an accessibility transition plan, which will serve as a blueprint toward making Marblehead’s public buildings more accessible to people with disabilities.

Meanwhile, the Transfer Station Facility Committee debuted renderings of the transfer station before the town breaks ground on the $1.6 million construction project.

Residents will also soon get a peek at a Marblehead Harbor Plan draft, but its implementation is a long way off.

“Part of the harbor plan will have to go through a Massachusetts Environmental Protection Agency review. That process takes quite some time,” Kezer said. “So I think a lot of this next year is designing the plans for the work to be done.”

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