Sunday, May 18, 2008

For my Newton, MA readers

Please join me and my neighbors in voting yes on this important ballot question. Thank you.


Unknown said...

I'm totally on board. But don't you wonder just when all those little yellow stickies were slapped on the yard signs. My yellow stickies appeared sometime last night. When did you get your stickies slapped on?

Anonymous said...

Same here!

Anonymous said...

Steve d. - check your blog for the info

Anonymous said...

Myth #1: The override adds nearly 100 positions to the City and school payrolls.
FACT: The override adds 54 positions, primarily for rising school enrollments and special education.

Myth #2: Taxes are high enough. There will be future overrides next year and the year after.
FACT: The chance of getting an override passed during the next few years is close to zero. It has been 6 years since the last override! The opposition presents a $6000 figure that is simply a distortion. Here are the facts: The annual increase for the median priced home ($690k) in Newton as a result of the $12 million operating override is $373.

Myth #3: There has been a failure to act – where did the money go from the last override in 2002?
FACT: Mitt Romney cut state aid by $4 million in 2003…thereby making the $11.5 million override a $7.5 million override. In addition, over the ensuing years, budget busters, such as health insurance, energy, pensions grew at double digit rates, chewing up more of the additional funding from the 2002 override. Despite these fiscal challenges, the schools did exactly what they said they were going to do with the additional funding they received: maintained small class sizes, increased building maintenance and expanded the literacy initiative.

Myth #4: Tim Cahill says Newton North should cost $125 million. A No vote will stop the project.
FACT: The State Treasurer cited elimination of the pool and voc-tech facilities (which are part of the current Newton North program), as well as scaling down an energy efficient HVAC system (which saves big dollars over the long term), in order to arrive at a 24% savings in project costs. Here’s the bottom line: 1) Even if there were no Newton North project, we would need this override to fund the FY 2009 operating deficit; 2) Yes or no, the override vote will have no impact on the Newton North project, which is currently under construction.

Myth #5: The budget problem can be fixed now.
FACT: There are no quick fixes, such as raiding the capital reserve fund, that will prevent significant cuts if the override fails. These are not “scare tactics;” this is the reality of municipal government, where more than 80% of the expenses are people expenses – critical people delivering services in our community. Unlike Dell or GM or Whirlpool, Newton can’t outsource these jobs to China, India or Mexico. Unlike private corporations, Newton’s revenue stream is capped and it is subject to a very long and expensive list of unfunded federal and state mandates. There is much work to be done in order to close the structural deficit (a point of agreement with our opponents), including a comprehensive review of city and school operations (to be undertaken by the recently announced Citizen Advisory Group); exploring the benefits of joining the state health insurance program; working to increase PILOT payments from tax-exempt property owners; increasing the commercial tax base and seeking alternative revenue sources. However, there is not a lot of low-hanging fruit. This is hard, long, slow work involving many constituencies and processes, and progress is measured in years, not weeks or months.

Myth #6: The city is mismanaged and can’t be trusted.
FACT: The City and the schools have provided very detailed annual operating budgets for review and approval by the School Committee and Board of Aldermen. Line-item transfers of municipal expenditures must be approved by both the Mayor and the Board. Newton is one of 14 communities (out of a total of 351) in the entire State with a AAA bond rating. For three years in a row, the City has earned the coveted Certificate of Achievement for excellence in Financial Reporting. Benchmarked against neighboring comparable communities, Newton’s taxes and spending are right in the middle of the pack, and we enjoy one of the strongest balance sheets in the State. Simply put, any concerns about controls and management of budgeted operating funds are misplaced. The cuts (or addbacks if the override is passed) are clearly set forth on our web site under the right hand buttons: “How will schools be affected?” and “What is the impact on public safety?”

Myth #7: The Yes Campaign is using Scare Tactics
FACT: While average class sizes may increase to 22 students, the percentage of elementary school classes with 25+ students rises from 15 to 59 classrooms (nearly 25% of total) and there will be fewer aides to assist with these larger classes. The way the opposition characterizes the 15 police officer positions is a misrepresentation of what’s happening here. Newton has been reducing headcount in the police department for decades. These positions historically have been filled. As officers retire or change jobs episodically, the police department “batch hires” as new recruits graduate from the police academy. As the police chief contemplated the possibility of cuts resulting from a no-override budget, he did not batch hire for a couple of cycles (so that he wouldn’t have to hire and then immediately fire new recruits), and instead has used the funds budgeted for those positions to pay overtime. If the override is defeated, there will be no funds for overtime and the positions will not be filled. While emergency response will be protected, this will come at a cost, as non-emergency call waiting times will increase to an hour, and a variety of other programs and positions will be cut, including youth officers, elder services, emergency management preparation, preventative crime and traffic patrols. Go to statement.pdf to read the Police Impact Statement.

Myth #8: The $25 million in cash currently in the City’s treasury is a “robust rainy day fund”.
FACT: This is a mischaracterization. The city holds cash reserves in a variety of segregated funds for health insurance, capital reserves and tax overlay reserves. These funds represent savings for defined capital needs and contingencies. Raiding these funds to pay recurring expenses, such as salaries, would be doubly irresponsible as needed reserves would be depleted and the next year’s deficit would be even wider. This would be the absolute opposite of “fiscal responsibility.”