Friday, May 18, 2001
Ballot questions: what they mean, what they cost
Ballot questions 1, 2 and 3 at next Tuesday's town election each involve different uses for the town's money, but the three questions all have one thing in common: they authorize the town to raise more money in property taxes than Proposition 2-1/2 would ordinarily allow.
Under Proposition 2-1/2, each town has a baseline spending level, referred to as the "levy limit." Essentially, except for small automatic increases each year, the town's voters must approve any taxes raised over this levy limit in the form of "overrides" (ballot questions at town elections). The ballot questions let the town raise more taxes to run ("operate") the town for that fiscal year, and also permanently raise the levy limit for future years. (Other questions, called "capital exclusion" or "debt exclusion" questions, allow the town to raise more taxes to buy or make debt payments to borrow for big-ticket items like school buildings, or soccer fields, or trucks, but don't permanently raise the levy limit.)
Town Meeting articles ask voters to approve spending for the same things as the ballot questions, and this sometimes leads to confusion. Such seemed to be the case at Monday's Town Meeting, as voters tried to understand the combined effects of votes on this year's Article 5 on the Warrant and ballot questions 1A and 1B at next Tuesday's town elections.
Essentially, Town Meeting votes appropriate funds for particular purposes. This sets limits on what the town can spend for schools, the police department, the library, and any other department. If the amount appropriated by Town Meeting is higher that the Proposition 2-1/2 levy limit, then ballot override questions must be passed to authorize the town to raise the additional Questions 2 & 3: DPW and fire trucks
Question 2 is a "debt exclusion" question, which literally would let the town exclude from the Proposition 2-1/2 levy limit the annual payments for principal and interest necessary to borrow about $85,000 to buy a sander/dump truck for snow removal for the department of public works. The FinCom has not formally estimated the tax rate impact of this article, which would decline over the term of the loan. For the first year the payments could vary between $0.0085 and $0.014 per thousand, or between $3.40 and $5.70 for a home valued at $400,000.
Question 3 would similarly let the town exclude debt payments from the levy limit, in this case to borrow approximately $760,000 to purchase a ladder truck for the fire department. The FinCom also has not formally estimated the tax rate impact of this article. For the first year the payments could vary between $0.0076 and $0.127 per thousand, or between $30 and $51 for a home valued at $400,000.
Question 4: Community Preservation Act
Question 4 is not technically an override of Proposition 2-1/2. Rather, this question would adopt the Community Preservation Act, which would allow the town to establish a fund dedicated to affordable housing, historic preservation, and open space, using a property tax surcharge of 2% added to each year's tax bills.
A surcharge would remain in effect for five years (though the level of the surcharge may be changed by Town Meeting vote), and a Community Preservation Committee appointed by the board of selectmen would recommend how the money would be spent. At least 10% of the monies collected must be spent in each of the three categories, and the remaining 70% could be spent in any category. Town Meeting would have to approve any spending from the fund. More information about this process may be found at www.tpl.org/CPA or www.communitypreservation.org.
The vote will exempt from the surcharge the first $100,000 of assessed value for every residential taxable property in town, and all properties owned and occupied by a person who qualifies for low income housing, or an elderly person qualifying for low or moderate income senior housing. Also exempt will be taxpayers who receive any other exemptions and abatements (such as for the blind, disabled, veterans or the elderly) in proportion to the amount of the abatement.
Because of the exemption, how much the CPA would add to the homeowner's tax bill would differ based on the assessed value of the home. For instance, for a home assessed at $400K the CPA surcharge would be 1.5% or about $93 per year. By contrast, homes valued at 1 million would pay a 1.8% surcharge, or about $280.
Two votes, two budgets, two questions, two towns
This year, this situation has grown more bewildering, as prolonged negotiations over the budget for Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) have tangled the possible outcomes of both ballot and Town Meeting votes. (For more information, see "Two towns move closer on CCHS budget" and related stories in the April 27 issue of the Mosquito.)
Even though both Town Meetings have now voted appropriations at the same level, that requested by the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (CCRSC), these decisions are not final until citizens of both towns vote to approve the necessary Proposition 2-1/2 overrides at their respective town elections. Since each town will have two or more levels from which to choose, and the town of Concord has never passed an operating override, it is possible, even probable, that the towns will in the end approve different budgets.
Also contributing to voters' confusion this year has been the selectmen's decision to combine override funding for the Carlisle Public School with funding for the high school, and to offer two related ballot questions to voters. So, at Tuesday's election, voters will be asked to vote on ballot questions 1A and 1B, both of which would raise taxes to pay for both schools. Voters who wish to be counted in support or opposition to either override should vote on BOTH questions 1A and 1B. If the 1A level fails, your vote on 1B will still be counted.
Questions 1A and 1B: schools
Carlisle Public Schools: Both questions 1A and 1B would, if approved, provide an additional $150,000 for the Carlisle Public Schools. According to the school, if either override passes, the school will be able to hire four grade six teaching assistants, a technology aide, and a cafeteria/playground aide, all to meet needs from increasing enrollments.
Concord-Carlisle High School: The two questions 1A and 1B would provide different amounts of additional funding for the high school - $108,733 if 1B passes, and an additional $41,324 (or a total of $150,057) if 1A passes.
The lower override level, question 1B, would thus raise an additional $258,733 in taxes, whichthe FinCom estimates would increase the tax rate by an additional 2%, or $0.30 per thousand of assessed valuation, over the tax rate for the "within the levy limit" budget. Based on these estimates, for a home assessed at $400,000, the tax bill would rise by about $120 if question 1B passes.
Question 1A would raise an additional $41,324 in taxes, for a total of $300,057. FinCom estimates the tax rate would increase by an additional 2.3%, or $0.35 per thousand of assessed valuation, over the "within the levy limit" budget. Based on these estimates, for a home assessed at $400,000, the tax bill would rise by about $140 if question 1A passes.
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