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Override or no override, it all comes from the same place

October 17, 2012

On the heels of their shocking discovery of a multi-million-dollar revenue surplus, town officials are congratulating themselves this month for developing a plan to pay for a new town senior center, or other new town facility, out of the town’s operating budget without the need for a debt exclusion override.

On Monday, Town Meeting Representatives voted to put $430,000 into the debt service budget as a starting payment for a new town facility. Over the course of several years, the town hopes to put aside yearly funds, through surplus state aid, to pay for a new construction. Officials believe a new senior center, estimated to cost between $3 and $4 million, would be an attainable goal but the precise use of the cash will be determined at a later date.

For beleaguered local taxpayers who have been hit with one override after another – seven, to be exact, every single year since 2006 – the plan might come as welcome relief. The onslaught of debt exclusion overrides is only expected to continue again into the future, with a $180,000 town facilities study expected for release by the Maguire Group within the next few months.

The other good news for taxpayers is that the debt service budget is out of the hands, and out of the reach of, the big spenders at Town Hall, at least for now. It’s better to keep the money safe and secure in a part of the budget that could actually be used for meaningful long-term investments in the community, such as a new senior center, rather than shovel it off to free cash to be used for a seemingly limitless amount of spending in the future. Town Administrator Michael Boynton has already alluded to an impending Capital Budget spending spree for FY 2014.

But, override or no override, the plan is certainly not relief for anyone’s wallet. Whether the money for a new facility comes from a debt exclusion override or through surplus revenue as this plan proposes, it is important that everyone keep in mind that the cash all comes from the same place: the taxpayers. And frankly, I personally am tired of reminding town officials of this fact over and over again.

When Town Meeting voted to set aside the $430,000 to start the process rolling, not one RTM or town official ever acknowledged that the money doesn’t belong to them in the first place. It belongs to the taxpayers.

Might it have been wiser to give all surplus revenue back to the taxpayers, and find a way to finance a new senior center using the $3 million override Town Hall has already gotten from us? Or perhaps this money might be better spent on paying down the $33 million unfunded OPEB liability.

Meanwhile, the town should continue cutting costs, along the lines of the $200,000 they have already cut from the lunch service and Special Ed. transportation budgets, to pay for the new teachers the override would have paid for.

Also at Town Meeting on Monday, it took no more than five minutes for Town Meeting Representatives to spend nearly $1 million of our tax dollars, nary a protest from anyone, to repave the parking lot of the DPW Garage and Boyden School in South Walpole, to put together a new affordable housing production plan, to put together a study on the feasibility of dredging Memorial Pond, and for hazardous tree removal.

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