After Override Passes, Winchester To Focus on Increasing Revenue
Mar 28, 2019 06:50AM
● By Katie Lovett
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WINCHESTER – A $10 million override passed on Tuesday with support from voters in all of the town’s precincts.
For months, town officials have been advocating for the override, the first in 10 years, saying it was a necessity to continue to provide quality town services and to fund the schools, as the town population continues to grow and expenses continue to rise.
Without the override, they warned, the town would need to resort to layoffs, unfill open school and town positions, stall the repair and maintenance of traffic signals and street lights, and operate with larger class sizes in the schools.
Eight million will be used to fund the FY20 operating budget and future year budget needs, and $2 million has been earmarked for capital projects and building up the town’s depleting stabilization funds.
With the passage, the schools will be able to hire a math coach for the district, increase the hours of kindergarten aides, add a Mandarin option to the middle school World Language department, and fill a technology director position that was eliminated in 2013.
On the town side, two additional police officers will be funded, as well as a full-time 911 dispatcher, and a part-time dispatcher. Two firefighter positions will be retained, which would have been eliminated once a current Homeland Security grant ended, which was funding the positions.
The funding will also allow for additional maintenance and upkeep of the infrastructure, roads and sidewalks.
Newly-elected Select Board member Susan Verdicchio praised the vote on Wednesday.
“I think people understood it was badly needed,” she said.
Amy Shapiro, the other new Select member voted into office on Tuesday, said she appreciates the fact that the override was for a large amount and it is an expense for residents.
“It’s not something I take lightly,” she said. “It’s a big asking of the town and I don’t take it lightly.”
As a Select member Shapiro said she will look to find new and creative ways to increase the town’s revenues so they will have additional streams of revenue coming in, while ensuring that the override funding lasts as long as possible.
“That’s really going to be my goal,” she said.
The town’s past practice of falling back on Free Cash and reserve funds to fill budget gaps is “not a comfortable place to be,” Shapiro added.
Thirty four percent of the town’s registered voters turned out at the polls to pass the override, 2,845 to 1,899. The ballot question passed in all of the precincts.
An override allows town officials to raise the tax levy limit or the amount of revenue that can be raised via taxes by more than 2 ½ percent allowed under Proposition 2 ½.
With the passage of the $10 million override, the increase in the levy limit will be staggered over time so that taxpayers aren’t hit with a huge tax increase in one year.
Unfortunately for residents, this situation will undoubtedly come back again, as Winchester lacks the commercial tax base many neighboring communities have, which can decrease reliance on taxpayers to continually foot the bill.
“Winchester is built out,” said now retiring Select Board member, David Errico said. “We don’t have the large tracks of land needed. We are who we are. We’re a bedroom community that has a 95 percent residential tax base.”
In order to avoid another override vote in the next few years, Errico is optimistic that new Town Manager Lisa Wong will be able to find efficiencies the town can take advantage of in order to cut costs while finding innovative ways to increase revenue.
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