Breaking news: Town Meeting warrant features 3 override requests

Marblehead officials will present Town Meeting this May with three requests to override Proposition 2 ½ and raise taxes, according to the 2023 Town Warrant that Abbot Hall released Friday afternoon. 

While no dollar amounts have been attached yet, the warrant’s publication officially confirms that there will be not one but two general override requests, in addition to a debt-exclusion override. 

Towns pass general overrides to permanently increase the tax base to cover deficits, while debt-exclusion overrides are one-off expenditure requests to fund specific capital improvement projects.

The overrides must pass by a two-thirds vote at Town Meeting on May 1 and then a majority vote in a town election in June.

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

Marblehead officials have argued that a general override is needed to plug a looming budget deficit, caused by the cost of town services outpacing revenues. 

To this point, the town has managed to avoid requesting an override by identifying other sources of funding, most notably what is known as “free cash.” However, that revenue source has dried up in recent fiscal years. 

One will find the general overrides — absent dollar amounts — under the warrant’s Article 31 and Article 32, with the Marblehead Finance Director sponsoring one and the Marblehead School Committee sponsoring the other. 

Schools override, capital request

School Committee Chair Sarah Fox told the Current that the “leadership team and School Committee continue to work through the iterations of the budget. We are committed to finding a balance that meets the needs of our students and is fiscally responsible.” The School Committee has scheduled a budget hearing on March 21 at 7 p.m. at Marblehead High School auditorium. 

It is unclear whether the town’s override request will include funding for the schools. 

Without an override, the school district will need to cap any budget increase at 1.8%, or $800,000, over the $44 million FY 2023 spending plan. Supt. John Buckey predicts that will lead to drastic cuts, including more than 30 staff members.

“As superintendent, I see it as my number one priority to advocate the needs of our district’s students and staff,” Buckey told the Current Friday afternoon. “We have listened to the feedback from last year and this year and have worked hard to incorporate that into our planning and development of the FY24 budget.”

The School Committee is also sponsoring a capital needs request to make “renovations and extraordinary repairs, including all professional feasibility studies, design, architectural and engineering fees to the Brown, Glover, Village, Veterans Middle and High School and their respective school grounds, and to purchase technology software and equipment…” according to the warrant.

“Our facilities subcommittee approved a prioritized list of approximately $1.3 million worth of capital improvements,” Buckey said. “We submitted this to the town and are awaiting word on what projects will be approved.”

The Franklin Street firehouse

Article 40 requests to override Prop. 2 1/2  through a debt exclusion to finance the restoration of the Franklin Street firehouse. The Select Board-sponsored article comes after an assessment of the condition of the historic building revealed it needed $2.3 million in repairs.

In a Marblehead Current interview, Fire Chief Jason Gilliland acknowledged the timing of the debt-exclusion request comes as the town faces a possible general override. 

“I think the main thing we have got to stress is that we’re not losing sight of the financial condition and challenges of the town,” Gilliland said.

Citizen petitions

The 2023 warrant includes a whopping 54 articles. Among the citizen petitions is resident James Zisson’s proposal under Article 44 to change the length of Select Board terms from one-year terms to staggered, three-year terms. Only two other elected bodies have one-year terms — the Recreation and Parks Commission and town moderator.

Resident Ronald Grenier is the main sponsor of Article 45, a proposal to bring what the article deems to be best practices and oversight to the town’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Review. 

Article 46, sponsored by Mark Adams, would lift certain limitations on solar panels and heat pumps in the Old and Historic District.

Articles 47 and 48 target the leaf blower bylaw. Article 47 proposes altogether lifting the leaf blower ban passed in 2022 and Article 48 aims to add an enforcement clause to it. The latter article would empower the Marblehead Police Department and the Public Health Department to issue warnings and assess fines between $100 and $200 depending on the number of violations.

Resident Daniel Albert sponsored Article 49 and Article 50, which, in part, propose the creation of a traffic advisory committee and certain zoning changes. 

Resident Rosalind Nadeau sponsored Article 51 and Article 52, and their passage would mandate Marblehead’s regulatory bodies hold hybrid public meetings and how they post their minutes. 

Resident Jonathan Lederman sponsored Article 53, proposing a local adoption statute that would change the final date that a resident could obtain nomination papers for local office to 48 hours before they are due to the registrar of voters for certification. 

Megan Sweeney sponsored Article 54. Its passage would create “standard operating procedures manual that will define for the public the process regularly executed, and the fundamentals employed for decision-making by the Select Board, Board of Health, Harbors and Waters Board and Recreation and Parks Commission.”

This is a developing news story. Check back for updates. 

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Editor Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter.

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