Monday, September 10, 2007

Norton Debt Exclusion - The Facts

“Shall the Town of Norton be allowed to exempt from the provisions of Proposition 2 1/2, so-called, the amounts required to pay for the bonds issued in 1998 in order to construct, equip and furnish the Middle School?”

The above question will be on the ballot when voters go to the polls on September 18th. Those voters will either approve it or defeat it.

But just what does that rather vague and confusing question really mean? In plain English, what does the approval or defeat of this question mean for the voters and taxpayers of Norton?

Well, let’s try and cut through the political mumbo-jumbo here and talk in simple terms about what this question means to the average taxpayer. Voters need to understand just what will result from their actions a few weeks from now.

If approved, this will take the amount of money remaining to be paid on the Middle School built ten years ago and exempt it from the Proposition 2-1/2 limit. These payments total $1.9 million, the amount of extra taxation this question will generate over the course of the eight years remaining on the debt.

Think of it as a mortgage on the Middle School. If approved, the question will place the amounts of the town’s mortgage payments outside the Prop 2-1/2 limits until the mortgage is paid off. This is very common among towns, and is how most communities fund their major building projects.

The money this generates over and above the Prop 2-1/2 limit will be used for repairing school and municipal buildings, as well as other capital improvement projects. These projects are absolutely necessary, and will for the most part be done whether the question passes or not.

If the question fails, the projects will be done in part by using money taken from other parts of the existing town budget. Money will be drawn away from schools, public safety, and other major parts.

If the question passes, voters will pay extra taxes beyond the limit of Prop 2-1/2 for the next eight years. After eight years, the tax increase will disappear and the town will again be within the limits of Prop 2-1/2.

The average home in Norton is valued at $352,000. If the question passes, the average homeowner will pay $36 extra per year, or slightly less than $300 over the eight-year period. This comes to just over $3 per month.

If the question fails, voters will not pay any more in taxes – at least, not in the short term. However, the town will be forced to finance some of the needed repairs by borrowing money and issuing bonds. This means the town will pay interest on top of the repairs, thus raising the price of fixing the buildings.

Voters need to weigh the cost of the temporary tax increase - $3 per month for eight years for the average taxpayer – against the impact of severe budget cuts on town services. If they are not prepared to live with the small tax increase, they must be prepared to deal with major service reductions.

Some of the problems that now need to be fixed – though certainly not all – could have been prevented with better maintenance. If the budget is further reduced in order to pay for the repairs, it will be even more difficult than in the past to provide proper maintenance.

So to summarize:

Vote Yes, and you will pay a small amount of extra taxes for the next eight years in order to fix the town’s schools and infrastructure.

Vote No, and you will pay no extra taxes this year but will most likely see major service reductions in schools and public safety, increasing the need and the likelihood of a permanent general override in the near future.

Voters of Norton – the choice is yours. Choose wisely.

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