Saturday, June 03, 2006

Yes, Another Override

Just 10 days from today the citizens of Milton will decide whether to raise taxes by $2.41 million or suffer the most far reaching, significant cuts to services since Proposition 2 ½ was passed. In the 26 years since the law was enacted we have overridden the tax limit for our operational budget, as the law provides, in four years. We have also passed a number of debt exclusion overrides, long term but temporary tax increases to fund substantial capital improvements.

Recap of Operational Overrides




It is sobering to consider where we would be today if we had to reduce our level of services by over $6 million (unadjusted for inflation). And as anyone who has lived here during this period of time knows, these increases were not to fund new services, but simply to maintain a basic level of service. So it is with this override.

The consequences of a failed override to our level of primary services has been much discussed. At the most basic level we expect local government to protect our homes and our persons; keep our streets and sidewalks clean, clear, and maintained; and provide our children with a quality education. Without an override all of these basic services will suffer significantly. For an overview of the impact on the Police, Fire, DPW and School departments, go here:

No one should think the many other departments that provide desired services will be unaffected by a failure to raise taxes.

The Library will lose one part-time employee and most of its funding for new books and materials. They will have to make up this loss in some way or their status for the state grant to build the library would be lost.

There will be staff reductions in Town Hall which will likely result in a longer wait to transact business with Town Hall departments.

The Council on Aging will have insufficient funds for the van service for elderly residents and utility costs for the COA Building.

The Board of Health will stop animal inspections.

The Parks and Recreation Department will be forced to consider reducing some programs to use the money to maintain the town’s athletic fields.

Numerous other departments will also be impacted.

Why Do We Need Overrides?

Well, it certainly isn’t because we spend too much on services. The best measure of this is to look at operational expenditures on a per capita basis. Milton spends on town services $2319 for every resident. The State average is $2422 per resident. This $103 per resident difference means Milton would need to raise its expenditures by almost $2.7 million just to reach the statewide average. In fact, Milton ranks 144th out of 347 reporting communities on this measure, despite ranking 43rd in Median Household Income. Compared to comparable communities as identified for the Town by Municipal Benchmarking LLC., Milton ranks 15th out of 20 towns. One of those communities is our neighbor Canton. Canton spends $2609 per resident. We would need to increase our spending by almost $7.8 million to purchase the same level of services.

I think a strong argument can be made that we are spending too little. That’s why our roads and sidewalks are in such need of repair. Why our Fire Department is chronically understaffed. Why our classrooms have too many students. Why we have an insufficiently funded rainy day fund. Why we are behind on taking care of our capital needs.

But this override isn’t about addressing a shortage of services. It’s about preserving what we have. Town leaders have been telling residents for some years that we will need periodic overrides. And yet, understandably, whenever one is in the offing people ask why. The simple answer? The costs for keeping the same level of service in place rise faster than our revenue. Our revenues grow annually almost a full percentage point less than the state average. We have one of the lowest commercial tax bases in the state and we have little new growth of any kind. Each year this systemic problem robs us of about 1% or so of our buying power. Over the course of a couple of years this is managed by cuts here and there that are not in and of themselves serious. After 4 or 5 years, however, you’re talking about 5-6% of the budget and the cumulative effect becomes significant. During this cycle of 5 years since the last override you have the compounding problem of a recession induced cut in state aid. We’re still receiving less than we did four years ago.

So this is why we face the unpleasant choice of raising our taxes or witnessing a troubling erosion in our core services. This erosion will be noticeable, which is why the Town department heads have taken the unprecedented step of voicing their concerns to the residents in public forums. If the override fails, all of the repercussions that have been described will occur. And next year at this time, having long ago progressed from cutting fat to cutting meat from the budget, we’ll face the need to cut services again.

The League of Women Voter’s Forum on the Override provides an excellent overview of the subject. It is being repeated on Milton cable often. Consult your cable guide.

Please visit the “Get the Facts” page of the Yes4Milton website for a wealth of information:


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