Candidate Q & A: Erin Noonan, Select Board

The following represents the candidate’s responses to the Current’s Select Board-specific questions. Jump back to Election Guide

Years in Marblehead: Marblehead born and raised; returned with my husband and children, 2014.

Occupation/education: Attorney representing parents and children in child welfare cases. Bachelor of arts from Boston College, J.D. from George Mason University School of Law

Appointed positions and/or elected offices: Select Board member 

What are the three reasons/issues motivating your decision to run for election?

  • Desire to give back to the town that has given me so much
  • The need for proactive and strategic planning to address Marblehead’s fiscal challenges
  • Ensuring Marblehead’s prosperity and vibrancy for generations to come

Do you believe the $2.5 million override will pass? How are you actively persuading the town to support it? In the event that it does not pass, what alternatives do you propose?

I hope that it passes because it is the fiscally responsible choice at this juncture. Although it is a short-term stopgap to maintain level services and protect our AAA bond rating, the problem will only compound if it is not approved. The cuts to public safety and education will be significant.  Our first responders, students and educators will feel them. The current long-serving majority members have chosen a reactive approach, balancing the budget for years with diminishing free cash and offering no plans to remedy the problem. I advocated for addressing our structural deficit in my earliest days in office. Alexa Singer and I were the only two Board members expressing an urgency to work toward confronting this during both budget cycles, state of the town presentations and budget hearings we have sat through. When I chaired the successful “Vote Yes for MHD Kids” campaign, we presented clear and concise factual information to residents. The Select Board now needs to step up and do the same to present the clear picture of the state of the town’s finances.

What measures would you propose to increase our town’s revenues without excessively burdening taxpayers?

We must turn to other sources of revenue to reduce the resident tax burden. We have a rapidly aging population that is relying on fixed incomes. Although there are many affluent households, nearly 30% of households are low-income. We need to foster new growth and responsible development to increase the overall tax base while easing the impact on existing residents.  Smart growth also diversifies housing options for seniors to downsize and attract new or returning residents to town.  
Strategic capital and infrastructure planning is essential in order to capitalize on federal and state grant funds for “shovel-ready” projects. We also need to look at peer communities to evaluate whether our user and permitting fees are optimally in line.  
We cannot afford to continue to miss out on the Community Preservation Act funds, which pay for countless recreational/open space, affordable housing, historic preservation and other projects. More than half of the Commonwealth’s cities and towns avail themselves of this.

How would you ensure the long-term financial health of our town, extending beyond the immediate deficit?

Securing the long-term financial health of Marblehead is going to take proactive leadership. It will require us to find the perfect balance between leveraging strategic new growth while keeping the character of our town and the level of services residents deserve. It will mean healthy oversight and routine reviews to ensure maximum operational efficiency across our departments. We need to evaluate if there are areas to outsource or cost-share with neighboring towns. We need to make smart investments that create great returns.   

Could you share your philosophy on maintaining reserves and their significance in situations like the present budget deficit?

Maintaining appropriate reserves is good financial management. Bond rating agencies rate towns based on healthy reserve balances. Marblehead has a way to go to build up adequate reserves.The town established a stabilization fund two years ago. The balance is $500,000.  The proposed override will infuse another $250,000 if it passes. Investing in our stabilization fund allows us to save money for future capital projects and equipment without having to incur debt. It also provides an emergency fund for unforeseen circumstances. I believe Marblehead should adopt a policy that aims to slowly build and then maintain stabilization reserves of 5-10% of annual operating expenditures.  

What areas of municipal government do you think the town could give more attention to? 

Modernizing our information technology and financial management software. We are now migrating (from paper in some cases) to a cloud-based budget management system called ClearGov. It will help control costs associated with hiring, salaries and benefits, and allow us to negotiate fair yet affordable union contracts. It will also provide for superior capital improvement planning going forward, as well as much greater transparency for the public into the town’s budget planning process.

As real estate prices continue to soar, Marblehead homes appear increasingly unaffordable for many police officers, teachers and other public servants. This also affects those who grew up in town but cannot afford to return “home.” To what extent do you consider this a problem, and what potential solutions can you propose? 

Almost 30% of Marblehead households earn 80% of the Area Median Income or less and are considered eligible for affordable housing. This demographic is largely renters and seniors living alone. We do not meet the present needs for affordable housing. 
I chair the Housing Production Plan Implementation Committee. We’re meeting the challenges you’ve outlined by leveraging existing unused properties and collaborating with Marblehead Housing Authority to explore redevelopment options. We are also planning to expand and create new 40R Smart Growth Overlay Districts to promote multi-use redevelopment of commercial areas. This will create more affordable housing options and also bring in state funds and additional tax revenue.

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