After some tense moments and a count of written ballots Tuesday, May 2, Town Meeting approved a nearly $2.5 million general tax override of Proposition 2 1/2, which will now go on the ballot for the June 20 election. Town Meeting also approved a change in bylaws to allow ADUs (accessory dwelling units), penalties for leaf blower violations and three-year terms for the Select Board.
Moderator Jack Attridge adjourned the second night of Town Meeting at about 11 p.m. It will reconvene Wednesday at 7 p.m. for the final six articles.
The override passed with 70% of vote, 534 to 230. If voters approve it in June, it will add $252 to the tax bill for a median single-family home valued at $807,400.
The override is “necessary to maintain the same town services that residents currently receive and represents a step in the right direction to address our structural deficit,” said Alec Goolsby, chair of the Finance Committee at Town Meeting.
The previous night, Town Meeting approved a reduced-services budget with deep cuts to the schools and other town departments. With the override, Goolsby added, “we get back to level services, in other words, no cuts.”
The override includes $1.1 million for the schools to fund more than 30 staff members, as well as sports, library positions and language programs.
“I am grateful to the voters of Marblehead for their support at tonight’s Town Meeting,” Schools Superintendent John Buckey told the Current moments after the vote. “After last year’s defeat of the school override, we worked hard during the budget development process to attend to the questions and concerns that were raised. I am proud of the work our team did in collaboration with the town to put this request forward at the ballot in June. We are fortunate to live and work in a community that understands the importance of investing in a first-rate public education for our students.”
Before the vote, several residents spoke against the override.
“I’m trying to understand why I’m being asked for a permanent override, but the town has not been managed fiscally responsibly over the last number of years,” asked one woman.
Another resident complained that the town is asking for a general override, which will add the $2.5 million to the tax levy every year moving forward.
“The tax increase is going to double my mortgage over time,” he said.
Former School Committee member Jonathan Lederman asked Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer, “After this year’s permanent override, do you anticipate having to come back for another override?”
Kezer replied, “I don’t know yet. The desire is not to have to, but I can’t answer that. This override would give us a little bit of a runway to manage the challenge,” referring to the town’s long-standing over-reliance on so-called “free cash” to balance the budget.
Kezer added that the town has a new finance team in place, along with new budget software. He’s hopeful that the override will give the town time to develop a sound financial approach moving forward.
In a surprise move, resident Mark Pelletier, who had advocated against the override on social media, called to end debate after a short time and move to a vote. Lederman was part of a group of the required nine voters who then made a motion for a written ballot count.
In addition to the $1.1 million for the schools, the override would support several town departments, including:
- General fund, which pays for employee benefits and other items: $694,774.
- Fire Department: $216,480.
- Police: $196,773, including $177,222 in salary.
- Public Works: $74,241 for salary and projects, including fixing potholes.
- Building Inspection: $71,241.
- Health and Waste: $19,450.
- Select Board: $12,600.
After the vote, Kezer said, “We worked hard to provide as much information as possible so participants at Town Meeting could make a good choice. Hopefully, they’ll do the same when it’s on the ballot.”
This is a developing story. Stay with the Current for the latest, including articles on other Town Meeting votes.
Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.