Sunday, May 24, 2009

What's At Stake

In 2 weeks we will once again go to the polls to decide whether we want to preserve town services by raising our taxes. On five occasions in the nearly 30 years since Proposition 2 ½ was passed we said yes. It is difficult to imagine anyone thinking that the $8.5 million those votes added to our revenue base could be removed without crippling current service levels in Milton. In other words, those votes were necessary to preserve what we value in a community.

This year we are faced with a potential lose of services significantly greater than in prior years. Our normal need for an override every few years, as so famously noted by our retiring Treasurer Kevin Sorgi, has been compounded by a loss of over $1 million in State aid caused by the severe recession. The result is deep cuts in the big departmental budgets --Police, Fire, DPW, and Schools—with smaller cuts in virtually every town budget.

These are tough economic times. Some Milton residents know this first hand. All of us share the psychological burden. Some who would otherwise support an override may not be able to because of economic challenges. This is understandable. On the other hand, as a town Milton has held up well during the downturn. While home values in the Boston metropolitan area have declined 19% in the past year, in Milton they’ve grown 3%. The difference to the owner of a medium priced home is over $115,000 in assets over just a 12 month period.

Faced with both economic pressures and the loss of essential services we become frustrated and anxious. This has created a desire among a few to “send a message”. Their reasons vary. Some want to target their frustrations on the unions. Others wish to blame those who oppose commercial development and the tax revenue it could bring. A group of elementary school parents want to focus their frustrations on the French Immersion Program.

There is a well known expression for this kind of thinking and the actions it could produce. It’s called “cutting off the nose to spite the face”. It means a needless and self-destructive over-reaction to a problem.

Does anyone harboring these thoughts believe they will not suffer if the override fails? I’m going to try your patience and laboriously list the major impacts of the contemplated cuts. I defy anyone harboring any of these single issue frustrations to deny that they will bear a far greater consequence for their protest vote than their intended target. And I ask them, long after your feeling of satisfaction has passed, and the consequences have become palpable, how will we ever get the services back?

Service Cuts If the Override Fails

Police Department

- loss of 5 police officers
- loss of 6 traffic supervisors
- loss of 2 emergency 911 dispatchers

The traffic supervisors are the crossing guards who protect the hundreds of children who walk to Milton schools.

The loss of 5 officers will have serious consequences. In a recent interview Chief Wells points out that Milton will have fewer than 50 staff for the first time in 100 years. Not only will response time be affected, but so will patrols. For many years now 5 officers have patrolled the Milton streets in the evening and overnight hours. This will be cut to 2 patrols.

Fire Department

-loss of 5 firefighters

On top of losses in prior years, this will require the closing of one of the three fire stations. Outgoing chief Malcom Larson describes the consequences as “delayed and inadequate response to emergencies” as well as greater risk to firefighters.


The loss of yard waste pickup will likely cost many residents a substantial portion of the proposed tax increase to privately contract for removal of clippings, leaves and other yard waste.


-loss of 47 staff, including 32 teachers

There will be drastic changes throughout the system. Superintendent Mary Gormley
says “educational quality on all three levels will suffer. Let’s look more closely.

High School

The following cuts would have the strong possibility of having the High School placed on academic probation by NEASC.

• Elimination of over 12 more full time staff, including teachers from the English, art, history, mathematics, world language, music, family/consumer studies, and physical education/health departments
• Cuts to support staff, library, business course, and the guidance department
• Increased class sizes: 25 to 30 in electives; 25 to 35 in required core subjects
• More than 400 students in study halls
• Reduced graduation requirements
• Fewer Advanced Placement Courses
• Elimination of World Language and Humanities classes
• Elimination of Interactive Math Program
• Elimination of lab activities in science classes
• Additional increases in fees for athletics, clubs, and activities

Middle School

The team teaching concept, long recognized as a sound educational tool for the challenging circumstances of 1000+ middle school students, will be eliminated.

• Elimination of 6 team teachers in math, English, science, and geography/history
• Elimination of 2 world language teachers, 1 art teacher, 1 computer teacher, 1 librarian and .5 physical education teacher
• Elimination of leveling for English language arts, and possibly for math
• Elimination of the entire Latin program, in which more than 80 students currently participate
• Reduction in frequency of world language classes to every other day
• Elimination of Grade 6 writing program
• Increase in electives class sizes to 25-30 students
• Increase in English, math, science, social studies, and world languages class sizes from to 24 to 30
• Reduction in time available for common planning, curriculum meetings, parent meetings, peer observation and other activities that contribute to a better education for your child
• Elimination of physical education classes for some students
• Elimination of the honors art program (ACE)
• Implementation of study halls, which are discouraged by the state’s Department of Education
• Closing of the library during the day

Elementary Schools

-Loss of 11 classroom/specialist positions leading to larger class sizes
-classes with 34 children and only one classroom teacher
-all instructional aides (who currently assist teachers in classes of 26 or more)will be eliminated
-elementary schools will be restructured, so families may end up with children in more than one school.
-children may have to attend school outside their neighborhood
-children may have to attend kindergarten in one school, and then switch to another for grades 1-5.
-many more children will be bused across town.

The breadth and depth of service cuts is so great that dozens of residents have committed to educate the entire town and support an override to prevent them—even in these difficult times.

The organization is called Invest In Milton. We have two weeks left to get this information into the hands of all voters so they can make an informed choice.

Here’s the website:

We need your help. There are a couple of things you can do.

1) Forward a link to this post to anyone you think needs to know the details of service cuts

2) Make a donation to help finance the final pieces of communication and other crucial activities. Any amount, whatever you can afford. You can donate online at the website, or send a check to:

Invest In Milton
99 Nancy Road
Milton, MA 02186


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Totally understood but Milton does need a shake up re: having industry/retail in "there" areas..for too long we have relied on the buloic Milton...Guess what....other towns icluding Needham and Weelsley have incorporated retail seemlessly..we have to get out of the mind set of total real estate and not any income...?How did we even get Milton Market Place in Milton??

We need to eduacate the people to accept retail into their humble town!!

9:59 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

I agree with you.

We need to keep a close watch on the Planning Board's updating of the town's Master Plan.

The first step in this process, a townwide survey, has been finished.

The results have just been posted here:

Go to the bottom.

10:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's not forget to mention the library debt exclusion bonds are coming due and will add an average of $344 to property taxes even before we talk about another $400 to our tax bills if the override passes. The overly-generous entitlements to our public employee unions is taxing our patience (and family budgets). Our town employees need to join residents in collective sacrifice. Residents are losing their jobs and homes. A tax bill increase of $700-800/yr is insane in this economy. Our town employees need to "share the pain". Salary increases of 4% are unheard of in the private sector today. Many people are taking salary cuts !! We're tired of being asked to pay more to finance generous pensions, health insurance and lucrative benefits. The Milton Teachers Assciation REFUSED to join the GIC; they are the biggest union. We will have larger class sizes/less teachers because they were not willing to "share the pain" and join the town in a "collective sacrifice". It will be their own doing; rather un-doing. The unions will have failed the children on Milton.

1:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Great piece. I support this override even though I have opposed some of the overrides in the past. This is different situation where several factors have converged to create the current shortfall.

That being said I have to question the following statement:

“While home values in the Boston metropolitan area have declined 19% in the past year, in Milton they’ve grown 3%”

While not involved in real estate professionally I do try to follow the market and I am not aware of any evidence to support this statement. I do believe that the average selling price of homes in Milton is slightly higher year over year however this can not be interpreted to mean that home values have increased. I believe any realtor working in Milton will tell you that home values have decreased across the board in Milton. The median selling price is dependant on a constantly changing universe of homes where the sale of a few high more “high” or “low” priced homes can shift the direction significantly.

12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As residents of Milton, we must divorce misgivings or feelings about unionized employees from the reality that we are faced with. It does not serve this town or our individual families at all to blame unionized public employees.

Regardless if they "share the pain" or do not, we should be most concerned with the number of students in our children's classes, the number of police officers on the street, the number of firefighters, etc.

Please do not let your misgivings about what you feel public servants are entitled to get in the way of saving our town. If this override does not pass, the cut in services will take years to rebuild: much longer than this recession and soft job market will last. Laid off Milton employees will be back at work in their fields before our services are restored.

3:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The government employees and their generous benefits are one of the main reasons we are in this "mess". If it is all about the children then the teachers should join the state healthcare system and have their pensions converted to a 401k plan.
The government employees have made themselves unaffordable. My kids are in the public schools but I will be paying for these tax hikes for years after they have graduated.

I agree with the poster above about the lack of commercial taxes that Milton receives. The problem is that the NIMBY's are a hard nut to crack.

The recession has only brought on this "crisis" a couple of years early. Voting for the override now will only mean that we will be back in crisis mode again in another three or four years. Pensions and retirement medical benefits are a thing of the past, only government employees enjoy these perks. The voting public (me) doesn't understand why my taxes are increased to provide benefits that I don't receive.

This no vote isn't about "sharing the pain" this no vote is about the government joining the 21st century.

I have voted for overrides in Milton in the past, which is more than the Governor can say. This time it is different. I am tired of being held hostage and told the future of Milton is at stake. I am tired of having to decide between my taxes going up and services cut or my taxes going way up and have less services cut.

When government employees have a reasonable medical package and their pensions are converted to a 401k then they will get my vote. It seems in this town the only loud voices I hear are pro-override. Well I am here to tell you that there are plenty of quiet ones (for obvious reasons) that are seething at these threats.

The recession didn't cause this financial mess, neither did the voters. This mess was caused years ago by our leaders who refused to deal with the problems and took the path of least resistance.

It's easy to be pro-override. Especially if you are financially well off or related to a government employee. The pro-override people ask us to think of the children and to think of the government workers. I would like to ask the pro-over-ride people to think of the common taxpayers for once. Think about the people who earn less than $65,000 a year, who live in this town. Who don't have a pension and who don't receive medical retirement benefits. These are the people who live paycheck to paycheck who will be making huge sacrifices. These sacrifices are essentially going to support benefits that they don't receive.

I have sacrificed and sacrificed some more. It is time for the government employees to step up to the plate and sacrifice a little. I am not asking them to take a pay-cut and I am not asking for lay-offs. All I am asking is for a reasonable benefit package comparable to the private sector. I am asking the government employees to think of the children, to think of the taxpayers and to think of the town.

How about it?

11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you to the previous poster for articulating the thoughts of my husband and I (and countless others with whom I have spoken). While the pro override movement is better publicized, I am hoping this vote is defeated. Stop by the tax collectors office and ask how many people are behind in their excise, water and residential taxes. There are countless residents that are struggling to pay their basic bills. These may or may not be your immediate neighbors but they are out there and very concerned about paying higher tax bills.
We just can't afford to be wasting each others hard earned money.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

Let's not overstate residents losing their jobs and homes. The foreclosure crisis has peaked, and if we didn't have the quality of services we do, and our home values had plunged the way many communities' did, there would have been a lot more foreclosures as peoples home value sank below their mortgage. It was this type of upside down situation that caused the vast majority of foreclosures.

As for unemployment, the latest data has Milton at 6.5%, almost 2 percentage points below the state average. In the April report, 838 Milton residents were unemployed, 12,541 were employed. While the number of unemployed is higher than during the past decade, we always have a few hundred residents unemployed. Hopefully, with the economy firming up, this will not be long term.

The residents have to decide if they want their services decimated. Our problems are not caused by unions. Looking for scapegoats is no solution. It's not up to our employees to solve a problem that is systemic in Milton. We've largely missed the boat on creating a sizeable commercial tax base that would take the burden off the homeowner. If we want a beautiful, rural setting up next to the 6th largest metropolitan area in the country, we're going to have to pay for it, or see the town decline along with its services. If we want to reign in wages and benefits, that's up to the elected officials in charge of negotiating with the unions. If you want to "go to the mats" on these issues, expect some rough times ahead with unions. But whatever success we have on that front, it is naive to think that we can alleviate our basic financial problem by forcing our emploees to accept on an ongoing basis, year after year, lower wages and benefits than the marketplace of municipal employees.

5:45 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

The real estate data comes from the March Boston Magazine article: "The Teflon Ten". The same data for all Massachusetts communities was published in the Boston Globe. The source of the data is The Warren Group.

Home values are always computed from a time sample of sales. This is true in good times and bad, and for all communities. Using this standard technique there is an obvious and substantial difference between Milton and the Boston Metro area.

The only way a real estate agent would know what the home values are in a community is based on what they sell for, that is, sales data. Anything else is conjecture.

6:34 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

It is a mischaracterization to call the cuts that will come without an override as "threats". It's simply the reality. And if this override passes it will be bacause lots of people who make around or less than $65,000 supported it, as they have in the past.

Frankly I find it odd that commenters would expect people to voluntarily give back wage increases, relinquish good health plans and say no thanks to pension plans. Yes, the private sector has done away with these levels of beneifts. But it wasn't because the employees said please take it. They didn't give back anything, they didn't sacrifice. They had no choice.

So why this anger and jealousy directed toward our employees who do have a choice? Would you come home and tell your spouse that you were volunteering a wage give back, a more expensive health plan and the conversion of a pension plan to a 401K possibly leading to a less secure retirement? Come on!

The fact is state law places municipal employment under collective bargaining laws. If you want that changed, you need to talk to the legislature. Overwise you need to negotiate it at the bargaining table.

In the meantime, I'm not willing to see Police protection take the unprecedented hit it's going to take, or lose a fire station, or see the schools suffer a serious body blow. I'm not willing to pay hundreds of dollars a year to have my yard waste taken away (probably as much as the entire override cost to me. And I'm not willing to get carried away with my frustrations and strike out at Police Officers,Firefighters, School Teachers and DPW workers who provide me with the very services I need.

6:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will not try to dispute that certainly a number of poor decisions over the course of Milton’s history have contributed to the circumstances that we are faced with now. It is not the singular fault of the economic conditions. That being said, Philip is right in pointing out that few of us would willingly give up our salaries and benefits. Why should teachers, police officers, and fire fighters be expected to do something that we would not? I still say “good for them on negotiating good contracts.” Maybe the town of Milton should have been a bit better at negotiating the contracts.
This being said, as a town we do not deserve the diminished services we are facing. No one’s child deserves to be in a class of 30. At least 10 of those students will fall through the cracks in a class that large. No one’s home deserves to be further away from a fire station than it already is. Milton has a lot of land area and thru-traffic to monitor. We deserve to have a police force adequate to monitor all of that.
So, ask yourself these questions. Are you okay with your child being one of the at least 10 to fall through the cracks in the enlarged class size? Are you okay with the fire station closest to your home being closed? Are you okay with police taking longer to get to your home should you have an emergency? And (less seriously) who are you going to pay to remove your leaves and other yard waste?
Voting no is not going to solve anything, and in fact, will contribute immediately to a set of unprecedented problems that no amount of reform in political decision making will be able to solve for years to come. I am not willing to condemn the future my children’s education and the community’s public safety because of decisions made in the past, when there is something I can do about it now.
I realize that these are tough times for some, but as the statistics Philip cited indicate, Milton is not nearly as bad off as some towns. If you care about this town, there is only one solution. Let’s vote yes on Monday to secure the immediate future, and then get to work on coming up with viable longer-term solutions to Milton’s budgetary and fiscal problems.

2:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's easy to run a municipal government with overrides. The proof of whether we have the right people in charge is how they act to preserve town services during budget cuts.
No real fiscal reform can be achieved without dealing with the generous benefits received by town employees. A discussion must start with the unions and administrators. Our citizens have supported our town employees with generous raises and health insurance. It is time they step up and "share in the pain" ACROSS THE BOARD to give taxpayers relief. Many young families are struggling to meet mortgage payments. Some are facing foreclosure; others are being driven out of town. Many retired taxpayers are living on incomes that are half of what they earned before retirement.
There needs to be less talk and more action to control the cost of employee benefits. Five-dollar health insurance co-pays do not exist anywhere else but in municipal health plans. If GIC coverage is not agreed upon by the unions, then negotiations should begin to implement plans that have parity with those offered to non-government workers.
Real reform will only be accomplished when we acknowledge the fiscal realities of this deteriorating economy.

1:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It does not matter who has the moral high ground right now. The only thing that matters is that our schools do not get decimated and our police & fire departments continue to be able to serve this town at an appropriate level. As I said in an earlier post, let's deal with the immediate problems at hand now, and then get to fixing Milton's budgetary problems with longer time-horizon.

2:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It matters to the citizens of our community who are continually asked to support generous benefits for town employees from our cash strapped family budgets. Just one example, the Quinn Bill, which affords our municipal police officers additional compensation upwards of over $10,000 yearly merely for holding college degrees. Our town police officers cannot expect the citizens of Milton to continue funding their generous contracts.
Enough is enough. Taxpayers are receiving fewer and less basic town services while our town employees get fatter at the trough. We have run out of time and patience. No more "putting off until tomorrow" what this town has largely ignored - an inevitable fiscal time bomb. Prolonging the mismanagement is not the solution.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

I'm afraid that you don't speak for the citizens of our community.

They will speak on Monday.

The wages paid to our town employees are not "generous" in any meaningful sense of the word.

The benefit structure of government employees are a throwback to a time when those who worked in public service made significantly less than the private sector. In the last two decades or so, pensions and health care benefits in private industry have changed substantially. The time has come for similar changes in municipal government. But this will take time.

Many people feel that the benefit structure, and programs like the Quinn bill, which has likely outlived its purpose, need to be revisited and possibly changed. But disagreeing with something government does is not mismanagement. We need to choose our words more carefully.

I think that weeks of communicating what we have to lose in services has reached the voters of the town. Each will vote their own conscience and their own desires. Voting no because you think it will force people to agree with you on issues will only produce a less desirable town.

10:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Things won't change until the voters vote no. A yes vote today means that government pay and benefits will continue unchecked.

Town services would only be decimated because we can't afford the employee's cost. I agree with you that if I had a choice on a benefit and pay package that I would not cut my own pay or benefits. I do not fault the town employees at all for wanting to receive the best benefit and pay package. Today the taxpayers have a choice on whether they want to continue to fund these benefits. People will be voting either yes or no for a variety of reasons and I don't think that you can draw conclusions from the results.

What I would like to end is the hostility directed toward people for their opinions. People should be able to vote however they want without intimidation tactics. People today will vote yes or no for many reasons and no-one knows what those reasons are except for the voter casting the ballet.

Whether you like it or not the taxpayers have a say in this town. People pay a lot of money to live in this town and I think we should respect their decision and vote, whatever the results may bare.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

I don't understand your comment that town services would be decimated only because we can't afford employees costs. Employee costs are town services. Only employees can provide services.

I also disagree with you that change will only happen with a no vote. And by voting no the loss of services will be so severe that there is no path, including the complete adoption of your desires with respect to employee costs, that can restore those sevices except a sizeable override.

If, as you state, no conclusions can be drawn from the vote going either way, there will be no conclusive verdict on your theory for voting no, but there will be a serious erosion of public safety, school, and DPW services.

I think it's a little exaggerated to say that people are being intimidated for their opinions. There are strong feelings on both sides, and we on the yes side are the ones who have always argued for letting the voters decide these issues against those who say we shouldn't even have an override vote. If seems to me that the people who have not completely respected the will of the voters are those who always vote no and then offer up ever more outlandish charges of incompetence directed to our volunteer members of town government.

12:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The employee’s costs are too high. If the costs were lower than we wouldn’t need to have overrides. It seems pretty simple to me.

I disagree with you on the result of a no vote. There is nothing on the law books stating that our town needs to provide a pension, medical insurance for retirees or sick-time buy back. A no vote will force the town to review these benefits. In my 12 years of living here in this town I don’t believe this issue has ever been addressed. I doubt this issue will be addressed in another 12 years if the override is passed.

By the way I have voted for overrides in the past so it is not always correct to make assumptions. The “always yes” people don't always respect the will of the voters either. One year we had three override votes. If this override vote fails today there will be another vote in two months. Keep having votes until you achieve the desired results. Why would a no voter even want to have an override vote? That is akin to a teacher asking for a pay freeze. If this override passes today would you ask for a re-vote to ensure the will of the people? I have seen the teachers override kit, I know all the secret tactics and I have read the propaganda. To say the “yes” people are some how better than the “no” people or have a better respect for the voters is outlandish.

I will vote no and I have earned the right to vote no.
I disagree with you, so let us agree to disagree.

2:00 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

The fact that proposition 2 1/2 created a completely arbitrary limit on taxation doesn't mean labor costs are too high. It simply means you want them to earn less.

There most certainly is a law which limits any community's abiltiy to act on its own with respect to any of these long term compensation issues. It's called collective bargaining. These give backs must obtained over the negotiating table, which will take time, and then most likely would apply to future employees, not those already in the system. The only alternative would be for the legislature to change the laws governing municipal and state employees. These kinds of changes take time, and your solution simply cuts the services now, with no plan for ever recovering them. That's what voters need to realize.

By the way, I made no assumption how you have voted.

We have not three operational override votes in one year. And however many votes there are, they are votes, and describing voting as not respecting any voter is a little strange.

No one has made the comments about no voters you attribute to them. And there is no secret plan nor propganda. There are only the facts that have been laid before the voters.

No one said you didn't have the right to vote how you please. You don't have the right to offer rationales that are not accurate, or make false accusations about secret plans without being called on it.

So yes, we do disagree.

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't want anyone to earn less. I only want government employees to have a benefit package comparable to the private sector. You want me to earn less by raising my taxes. You only lay out the facts that benefit your argument which is your right.
I think if the benefits were more in line with the private sector than we would not be having override votes for personnel costs.
I don't see any other way to vote but no. You stated back in October that if question 1 passed then we would have most of our local aid cut. Well question 1 failed and our local aid was cut anyway.

I care about town services as well I'm just tired of being ripped off.

We did have three override votes in one year and I don't care if they were called capitol or budgetary. My property taxes only go to one place the last time I checked. And having three override votes in one year is strange. I don't know any other town that has done that.

I'd like to see question 1 back on the state ballet again. Would you deny the will of the voters on this issue?

3:00 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

I'm afraid you repeating yourself.

I've tried to explain to that the changes you wish to make are very complicated and will take time. That's no reason to cripple town services now.

There are no facts that have been laid out by anyone that does not serve my argument, I'm afraid.

As for Question 1, had this silly law passed we would be facing a true crisis, with far greater cuts than now, even with the current override. The vote on that question and the economic crisis and two entirely different things. No one promised anything that wasn't in fact the case.

You are hardly being ripped off. You get great services for less money than similar towns spend.

Thank you for acknowledging that the overrides were for different issues. So there is no disrepect in asking the voters to vote on different issues.

The will of the voters on question 1 is known. It's not my fault that your views did not represent the majority.

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We won!!!

Next year lets go for a $5 million override.

10:37 PM  

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