When I began writing this column, I talked about the ways in which history repeats itself. That sentiment may never be more true than for this week’s installment of “Blast from the Past.”
Stop me if this sounds familiar: “Override of Prop 2 ½ far from certain.”
If I weren’t staring at the news clipping, I could be convinced that was a headline from the May 18, 2023 edition of this paper, not a 35-year-old news story. But, indeed, history repeats itself and thus here we are.
In 1988, Town Meeting voted to support an override — the first of its kind following the enactment of Proposition 2 ½ eight years earlier. That year, voters were set to determine the fate of not one, not two, but three overrides, with questions one, two, and seven seeking to permanently raise taxes in order to fund the school department’s budget, the construction of a multi-purpose building for the Recreation and Park Commission, and repair and reconstruction of roofs at the high school, middle school, Eveleth, Coffin, and Glover schools. Any of that ring a bell?
Those overrides were far more divisive amongst town officials at the time than the $2.47 million override that sailed through Town Meeting earlier this month.
While the then-Board of Selectmen approved the eight ballot questions set to go before voters during a June 13 special election, several members “made no effort” to hide their displeasure with the School Department, the only town department to ignore the recommendation of the Finance Committee and plow ahead with a full budget request.
“The School Department should have kept its budget in line with the recommendations of the Finance Committee,” Selectman James Hourihan Jr. told The Daily Evening Item in an interview.
School Committee Chair Pauline Howes, meanwhile, urged proponents of the override to unite and support each of the eight ballot questions, which she believed were necessary to ensure the town’s future.
“Now the time has come to address the referendum and go forward instead of bickering over what has already passed,” she is quoted as saying.
The Item story notes that Howes joined forces with former Selectman Jo Anne Mayer, and members of the Conservation Commission and Recreation and Park Commission in support of the override.
That override — question one on the ballot — sought an additional $315,000 in tax revenue.
Finance Committee member Christine Berthe, on the other hand, said she did not support a general override and blamed the School Department for failing to make cuts to its budget. School officials cited salary negotiations for the failure to trim departmental spending.
But, Berthe called for the department to take a closer look at how those salaries were administered.
“Everybody had to cut, but not the schools,” she is quoted as saying. “There are always options, but the question is whether they choose to exercise those options.”
Questions three through five on the ballot concerned the purchase of conservation land at Leggs Hill Road and Lafayette Street. Question six called for the remodeling and reconstruction of science laboratory rooms at the high school. Question eight provided for the remodeling and reconstruction of Mary A. Alley Hospital and Abbot Hall for town offices and the space for the Council on Aging.
Berthe said she supported questions two through eight, but was concerned about a potential lack of support from the public, adding that it was scary for Town Meeting to approve overrides but then give the final say to the general public, who may be less educated on the issues. She said she feared the public would vote with their pocketbooks.
Hourihan said while he supported the taking of the conservation land, which he said was a one-time opportunity, the town and other communities had seen rampant overspending following the inception of Prop 2 ½.
“Our revenue estimates are way above our receipts,” he is quoted as saying.