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Newton Override: Is $11.4M Enough?

During Thursday night's Committee of the Whole meeting, Alderman Lisle Baker said he was "very troubled" about putting the current override package on the ballot.

Newton Override: Is $11.4M Enough?

On Monday night, the Newton Board of Aldermen will vote whether to put the mayor's $11.4 million override package on a March 12, 2013 special election ballot. 

However, a couple of aldermen may want to see some changes to the override package before voting on the ballot question. 

During a Committee of the Whole discussion Thursday night, aldermen discussed details about the override proposal, which consists of an $8.4 million operational override as well as two separate debt exclusion overrides for rebuilding Angier Elementary and Cabot Elementary. 

However, Ward 7 Alderman Lisle Baker argued that the current request is too low and the city should be looking to do more with the override opportunity.

"We have to be willing to say this is not enough for what we need to do," Baker said Thursday night. "I'm very troubled about putting [the override package] on the ballot the way it is."

Baker argued that a number of added costs have come in since the initial override amount was announced, including higher enrollment projections in the schools and higher construction estimates for fire station projects. 

According to Chief Financial Officer Maureen Lemieux, the most recent estimate for construction costs at Fire Station 10 (Oak Hill) came in almost 50 percent higher than what was initially budgeted after a feasibility study. The uptick, she said, was likely due to estimates that were too low for the size of the building.

The current estimate for Station 10 is at more than $4 million, according to minutes from the Nov. 28 Public Facilities meeting. The Project was initially estimated at $2.9 million.

In addition to added enrollment and fire station costs, Baker said he is also concerned that the School Department's technology needs were not covered in the override.

"We have an opportunity, maybe once in a decade, to go out to the voters [for an override]," Baker said. "We have an opportunity to take a look at the future of this city and ask what kind of city we want to live in."

Ward 7 Alderman-at-Large Ruthanne Fuller agreed that the amount on the override is "low", especially as the city's list of needs continues to grow.

"What becomes clear is that we need more money," Fuller said.

What do you think? Should the override increase? Should it stay the same? Tell us in the comments section below.

Despite the concerns Baker brought forward, several aldermen underlined the override's cost to residents. 

"For some people it is really hard to make the investment in passing the override," said Ward 5 Alderman John Rice. "We're not going for the most money but going for what the citizens can afford."

According to city officials, if all three overrides pass, the average Newton tax bill will increase by approximately 50 cents for every $1,000 valuation of a home. This amounts to an average of $343 per year, based on Newton's median home price of $686,000.

Other aldermen agreed that the board needs to move the question forward in order to start work on roads, schools and public safety.

"At the end of the day, we really need this override," said Ward 7 Alderman-at-Large Marc Laredo. "Our single question is: should we put this out to the citizens?...We should do it as soon as possible."

Following the discussion, the Board's Finance Committee voted 8-0 in favor of putting the override question on a March 12, 2013 special election ballot. The Programs & Services Committee also voted in favor of the ballot measure, 5-0-2, with Aldermen Ted Hess-Mahan and Baker abstaining (Ald. Carleton Merrill was absent).

The full board will vote on the item on Monday. During that meeting, aldermen are welcome to recommend changes or amendments to the override item, however, Board President Scott Lennon urged aldermen to consider the "likelihood of [the amendment] passing" before taking the time to put the item before the board.

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