Thursday, September 13, 2007

Straight Talk on the Debt Exclusion

Ok, now I want to take a few minutes and talk to the people of Norton. I want to ask you to stop for a minute, put aside all the emotion and anger associated with any override effort, and take a good hard look at the truth and the facts surrounding this Tuesday’s important vote.

To those who always vote against any override no matter what – you can stop reading now now. Your minds are closed, and the facts don’t matter to you. The same to those who will vote in favor of any override that benefits schools or other interests. There is no sense in anyone explaining anything to you.

But to the majority of the good people of my hometown – the ones that judge both people and issues on the merits rather than the spin others put on them – I ask your attention. I ask you to focus on what needs to be done in our town, figure out the best way to do it, and take care of it in a business-like manner. As voters, that is our job here.

We have real problems with our buildings in town. One of them, a ten year-old school, needs expensive repairs because someone didn’t make sure it was built properly. We have a right to be angry about that, but the fact remains – the building must be fixed, and that cost money that was not expected.

Another school in town has walls that are simply not safe. The supports are corroded and must be replaced. This school is more than 50 years old. It’s walls are not crumbling because of neglect, they are crumbling because of age. It needs to be fixed, and that is not the fault of anyone.

We have a town hall that is an old gymnasium. It was in crappy shape when we renovated it in the mid 1970’s, and it gets worse every year. We have major equipment needs to fund in our public safety departments. We have to spend money on maintenance to make sure our infrastructure does not continue to collapse around us.

The money to do some of these things has already been approved at Town Meeting. The buildings will be fixed – that is not at issue. The only question is – how will we pay for these repairs?

We have two choices. Please listen to them carefully.

We can finance the extra money by issuing bonds. This is the municipal equivalent of taking out a loan. We will borrow the money for the repairs, and we will pay interest on the loan. The interest, plus the principal payment, will come out of the regular town budget. This will mean these emergency repairs will in effect be deducted from the town’s operating budget. That most likely means cuts in the bigger budgets – schools, fire and police.

Our second option is to pass the debt exclusion. What this does, greatly simplified, is place $1.9 million for repairs and capital projects outside the Proposition 2-1/2 limit. This will bring about a temporary tax increase. This increase will average about $36 per year for eight years for the average homeowner. At the end of eight years, the tax increase will disappear, and the town will be back under the Proposition 2-1/2 limit.

This will allow us to pay for the repairs, but without spending any money on interest. The repairs will cost LESS if the debt exclusion passes than they will if it is defeated. That is worth repeating, for those who may have missed it the first time: The repairs will cost LESS if the debt exclusion passes than they will if it is defeated.

But override opponents tell you it is a bad idea to pass the debt exclusion. They note – and quite correctly – that you will pay more taxes if it passes than you will if it loses. But they conveniently don’t tell you, as Paul Harvey so eloquently says, the rest of the story.

They want you to be penny wise and pound foolish. They want the town to unnecessarily spend more money so they can save a few bucks in their pockets. To them, the impact on town services does not matter.

The override opponents are simply not being honest with the voters. Their flyer says “How this money will be spent and what it will be spent on is anybody’s guess”. Yet they know selectmen and the Town Manager have already pledged to spend the money on the repairs and capital improvements.

And their own “expert” on Prop 2-1/2. Chip Faulkner of Citizens for Limited Taxation, told everyone on John Freeman’s TV show that he has never seen any town promise to spend override money on one thing and then spend it on something else after it is voted. But that didn’t get put in the flyer somehow.

Ladies and gentlemen, your town has never passed an override in the history of Prop 2-1/2. For 26 years Norton has lived within the constraints of 2-1/2 as though it were a religion. We built a school and a police station without any relief from 2-1/2.

Yes, there has been questionable spending over the years. There is in every town. Override opponents can point to instances where money was spent unwisely, or mismanagement occurred. No one is saying otherwise.

But defeating this intelligent, important debt exclusion does nothing to make up for the mistakes of either the past, present or the future. They think it sends a message – and I agree with them.

But they think the message it sends is “Just tell the town officials No, and teach them a lesson”. I think the message it sends is “We don’t care what makes good sense – we just want to flex our muscles and feel important”.

Voters of Norton – don’t let a small, angry and stubborn group of citizens make you disregard the clear facts of this matter. Don’t let them turn this election on Tuesday into a referendum on the performance of town officials. This is not about that. It is about the best, most economical way to pay for needed repairs to our buildings.

Vote with your heads, not your hearts. Don’t be swayed by empty threats and groundless accusations. Look at the facts, and figure it out for yourselves. Don’t rely on me, or John Freeman, or anyone else for the right answer. Rely on your own common sense.

Put the politics aside – do what is best for the community. Don’t let hatred and mistrust guide your vote, but rather intelligence and a desire to do the right thing. If you do that, I am confident you vote to pass the debt exclusion on Tuesday, and set Norton back on the right financial track.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The ballot question asks for approval of a $1.9 million Debt Exclusion Override to pay off the remaining balance on the Norton Middle School. The increased yearly levy funds would be used to fund capital improvements. The ballot question is neither a “gimmick” nor an answer to Norton’s financial problems, it is only a band-aid that makes good fiscal sense for the Town of Norton.
Why should Norton pass debt exclusion?

By removing the $1.9m Norton Middle School building project debt from our levy limit, we will free up funds to be used for other capital improvements such as Town Hall repairs, upgrading of aging equipment in our Public Works and Public Safety departments and building maintenance/repairs, etc. Not the least of which are the Norton Middle School roof and the Henry A. Yelle school project, both of which have been approved by Town Meeting and MUST be fixed whether the ballot question passes or fails. Without the debt exclusion, these dollars (approximately $1 million) will HAVE to come from various departments within the town and school budgets.

The REAL advantage in voting yes on this ballot question is it allows town officials the flexibility to borrow money OR fund capitol improvements WITHOUT dipping into operating budgets (currently running at extremely low levels) of our various town departments. The question, per the advice of the town’s financial advisor has been approved by the town manager, board of selectmen, and the finance committee.

The ballot question will read as follows:

Shall the Town of Norton be allowed to exempt from the provisions of Proposition 2 ½, so-called, the amounts required to pay for the bonds issued in 1998 in order to construct, equip and furnish the Middle School? Yes or No
This debt would exist for only 8 years (not forever). The average household would pay an additional $63 dollars in taxes for the first year, with the debt decreasing to $7 in the final year. This amounts to a total of only $295 over an 8 year period. If you need more information on how much will the debt exclusion cost you, please feel free to contact me either by email,, or phone (508) 285-0210.
Please vote YES September 18, 2007, and support your town. All precints will vote at the Norton High School and polls are open from 6am-8pm.

Norton Selectman