Town Council finalizes wording, dollar amounts of override questions

Thursday, April 2, 2009
By Cary Shuman

By Cary Shuman
editor@winthroptranscript.com

The Winthrop Town Council finalized the wording and the amount of money sought in the 10 override questions that will appear on the May 19 ballot for the Proposition 2 1/2 override election.

Winthrop voters will decide on the assessment of a total amount of $2.6 million in real estate and personal property taxes in the election.

Led by Council President Thomas Reilly, the nine-member council systematically reviewed each of the 10 questions before casting a vote on the wording of each question and the amount of funds being sought. The council will send the ballot questions to Town Counsel Robert E. Noonan for his review of the legality of each question. Town Clerk Carla Vitale will then take charge of the process leading up to the townwide election, getting the ballot printed, proofread, and ready.

Interim Town Manager Larry Holmes, who recommended the structure of the ballot questions, and Finance Director Michael Bertino were in attendance as the council members discussed the wording of each question that will be subject to a simple yes or no vote. Executive Officer in Charge of the Police Department Terence Delehanty and Department of Public Works Director Dave Hickey were among the department heads in attendance.

Four of the ballot questions will address the entire budgets for those departments. For example, the Council on Aging question seeks $122,922, the operating budget for the Winthrop Senior Center and staff. Should the town approve, the center would remain in operation for the next fiscal year. A no vote would likely mean the closure of the center on July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

That all-or-nothing scenario also applies to the Winthrop Public Library, town trash collection, and the town planner/grant writer’s position.

One question has three parts, seeking funding for the purposes of operating the assessor’s office, health department, and management information systems (MIS) department.

Reilly said while he wishes the town were in better financial shape and it weren’t facing such crucial decisions in an override election, he was pleased with the work of the council and the town manager’s office in preparing the ballot questions for the election.

“We’re drawing from a list of painful and difficult choices,” said Reilly. “We have to find the best way to approach it. On balance, we’ve done it the best way we could.”

Reilly said the override referendum will be one of the most important townwide votes that he has ever seen in local history.

“With the severe cuts that we’re facing, these are major quality of life issues,” said Reilly in an interview following the meeting. “These are major services to the town that we’re talking about doing without – things that have been part of the community for many years.

“The library and Senior Center, for example, are interwoven into the fabric of the town,” said Reilly. “The idea that we’re in jeopardy of not being able to operate those facilities is extremely critical for us. But this is the critical condition that our town finances are in.”

Councillor-at-Large Joseph Ferrino Jr. noted during the public speaking portion of the meeting that the exact total of the Proposition 2 1/2 override is $2,635,561. Ferrino said Finance Director Michael Bertino has provided a breakdown of the real estate and personal property that each homeowner would have to pay for each of the override questions.

“The information will be available on the town Web site, so you have a breakdown of what your assessed value and how much your taxes would increase,” said Ferrino. “If you look at it, it’s really not a lot of money on a monthly basis.”

Town Councillor Linda Calla wasted little time in announcing a forum for her constituents in Precinct 6 to obtain information about the Proposition 2 1/2 override. Calla said she would attend a forum on Wednesday night (yesterday) at Amvets Hall hosted by School Committeeman John Macero and his wife, Trudy. Calla said she hoped Interim Town Manager Larry Holmes would also attend the event.

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