On Tuesday, March 14, Newton residents will finally go to the polls to vote on three ballot questions known as “overrides” that would raise an additional $15 million in taxes for school construction and city services. Here is a summary of how to cast your vote, what the ballot questions would do, and arguments for and against their passage.
How do I vote?
Voting on the override ballot questions will take place at your normal polling place from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. For a list of polling places, click here. (People who usually vote at the Senior Center will vote at Cabot Elementary School this year.)
What are the questions?
The first question on the ballot asks voters to approve an additional $9.175 million in property tax increases. Voting yes supports the increase, voting no opposes the increase.
The second question asks voters to approve a tax increase – which officials say will be about $2.3 million – to renovate or replace the Countryside School. Voting yes supports the increase, voting no opposes the increase.
The third question asks voters to approve a tax increase – which officials say will be about $3.5 million – to renovate or replace the Franklin School. Voting yes supports the increase, voting no opposes the increase.
Voters can approve all, none, or a mix of the questions.
What is an override? How does it work?
An override increases the amount of money city officials can collect through property taxes. Under state law, local officials can only raise that amount of money 2.5 percent every year, but an override lets them increase that amount – which is then raised through a tax increase. For more information on how overrides work, click here.
How much will this cost me?
The median single-family property owner in Newton has an assessed home value of $1.2 million. If the first question passes, that property owner would see an increase of $290 in next year’s tax bill, according to city officials. If the second and third questions pass, that property owner would see an additional increase of $183 in their yearly bill by 2030. You can use the city’s website to calculate how much the overrides would increase your taxes here.
Why are the increases different?
The first increase would come as officials immediately add $9.175 million into the city’s operating budget, which funds all city departments and services. The additional increase would come as officials sell bonds to fund the Franklin and Countryside projects – that process takes longer, taking until 2030 to fully affect residents’ tax bills.
Once the school projects are completely paid off, which will take 20 to 30 years, that increase will disappear from residents’ tax bills. However, the override for the operating budget – the first increase — is a permanent addition to tax bills.
What will the operating override pay for?
Here is how officials would spend the $9.175 million in the operating override:
Spending $500,000 on climate resilience work and $500,000 on tree planting and maintenance. Officials say this will make city buildings greener and meet goals for tree planting.
Spending $500,000 on senior services. Officials say this will let the new Senior Center be used at full capacity.
Spending $775,000 on improvements to the Horace Mann School. This would be used to pay down debt payments to fund an addition to the school.
Spending $1 million for parks, fields and playground improvements.
Spending $1.4 million on road paving and street safety. This will be used to maintain existing paving plans, officials say.
Giving $4.5 million to the school budget. School officials say they’re facing a $6 million shortfall in the budget this year.
What will the school overrides pay for?
The Countryside override will likely pay for construction of a new school. The Massachusetts School Building Authority is expected to pay for about 30 percent of that construction if the override is approved, officials said, but the MSBA will likely not chip in if the override is not approved.
The Franklin override would pay for major renovations or a new school. There is no state money for the Franklin project, which is why the tax increase of $3.5 million is higher than the Countryside’s increase of $2.3 million.
Who is supporting and opposing the overrides?
Mayor Ruthanne Fuller proposed the overrides and has been advocating for their passage, and the School Committee voted 8-0-1 to endorse passage of the overrides. Several city councilors are also supporting the overrides but at least one is not, and the Charles River Chamber of Commerce is supporting the overrides for the Countryside and Franklin schools but not the operating override.
Two ballot question groups have run campaigns supporting and opposing the override as well. Vote Yes For Newton has raised more than $40,000 as it has organized to back the overrides, while No Override Newton has not disclosed how much money it has raised or spent during its campaign, likely in violation of state law.