WVN #427: Voters OK $4M in tax relief
- Dear Wayland Voter,
In a strong defeat for the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee, a large turnout of Special Town Meeting voters approved a petitioners' article to grant $4 million in property tax relief.
The 818 voters Thursday night first rejected proposed compromises of $2.25 million and $3.3 million. After the petitioners' Article 3 passed, the selectmen's Article 4, which would have provided $1 million, was passed over (withdrawn.)
The resounding voice vote for Article 3 means that the property tax rate will roll back from $20.71 per thousand of assessed valuation to close to the Fiscal 2011 tax rate of $19.35, assuming the value of all property in town remains flat compared with FY 11, the previous fiscal year. The difference will appear in residents' future quarterly tax bills.
A property valued at the Wayland average of $592,285 will see a tax bill reduction of about $1000 if values are stable. All projections of tax rates by both the petitioners and FinCom assumed the value of property in town would remain flat because there needed to be one constant in the formulas.
In Fiscal 2014 the tax rate is expected to be about $22, nearly identical to the figure projected by Article 4.
Proponents of Article 3 assured voters that the $4 million to be transferred from free cash to lessen the current Fiscal 2012 budget would not affect existing town services. Free cash will drop from 15% of the budget to about 9%. The FinCom policy is 5-10%. The so-called compromise amendment of $2.25 million by Selectman Tom Fay would have left about 12% of budget in free cash, higher than FinCom guidelines.
Wayland passed a 7.6 % tax increase last April for no good reason, petitioner Tony Boschetto asserted. He also said that the town budget can rise in the next two years without overrides.
The provisional rate of $20.71 might be the highest in Massachusetts, petitioners said. (Official figures won't be compiled until December.) The 2011 rate of $19.35 ranked fifth.
Citizens and auditors have shown that a pattern of ever increasing free cash is "not a sustainable course," said petitioner Kim Cook.
Arguing against Article 3, FinCom Chair Cherry Karlson referred often to pages of charts and figures distributed to voters, data that the petitioners mostly agreed with.
"The vote tonight should be an informed vote, not an emotional one," Karlson said. But some of the arguments for Article 3 were emotional.
"We have not recovered from the economic crisis," said petitioner Donna Bouchard. Petitioner Kent George said he spoke for seniors, many of them facing financial difficulty.
One citizen estimated that total income in Wayland in the past five years has remained flat or declined.
"I challenge the basic assumption of the Finance Committee," said voter Steven Glovsky, arguing that in this case emotion is appropriate. He read from a recent townwide mailing from the Wayland Community Fund pleading for donations to aid Waylanders facing unemployment, hardship and eviction.
"I want my money back," said an elder voter, Dorothy Dunlay. Voters, as the town's legislators, should decide spending, she said, calling officials' stated goal of shielding voters from override votes "paternalistic."
Opponents of article 3 predicted budget troubles and high tax increases ahead. Karlson said that petitioners' projections were too optimistic.
The article is just too risky, declared Selectman John Bladon, a former FinCom member. He questioned whether voters could live with increases of 5 and 10 percent in the next 17 months.
Others said they relied on the experience and knowledge of the FinCom and selectmen.
Former selectman Michael Tichnor called the petitioners' approach "fiscally irresponsible" and predicted that residents would find themselves "staring at dramatic cuts in services."
He and others, including current selectmen, argued for a compromise at $2.25 million. The FinCom had voted 7-0 to support the compromise. Voters evidently wanted that extra $1.75 million. Some voters favored a motion for a much higher amount, but no amendment was offered.
Earlier in the meeting voters approved Article 1, a resolution supporting voting by hand-held electronic devices. They rejected arguments about cost, accuracy and potential health risks.
To a voter who feared harm to his pacemaker, proponents cited studies, including one from the Mayo Clinic, that showed no effect even from devices emitting much more power.
As for accuracy, the device sends a return signal to the voter confirming the vote. All votes can be audited and printed.
Article 2, seeking a public hearing by assessors before the tax rate is set, was passed over by the petitioners. Proponents said they had consulted with residents and officials and would continue to work toward an "inclusive and transparent" process for preparing the tax recapitulation sheet.
Almost 400 registered voters had signed a petition in early October calling for the Special Town Meeting after the Selectmen failed to act on numerous citizen requests to do so themselves. The Abrahams Group had recommended a fall town meeting as the way to address the unusually high free cash surplus in time to impact the FY12 tax rate.
Voters heeded the advice of Moderator Dennis Berry and showed up early Thursday evening. For the first time in modern Wayland history, a quorum (100 voters) had checked in 45 minutes before start time. The overflow crowd was sent by public safety officials to a second venue -- the auditorium -- where Assistant Moderator Miranda Jones conducted the meeting, with a live feed to the Middle School gym.
Some view the petitioners' success with Article 3 as a vote of no confidence in the town's fiscal management.
-- Michael Short
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor