To the surprise of many, Norwell residents turned out in droves to vote in favor of a nearly $2.9 million property tax hike, a decisive mandate that thrilled advocates for the town’s schools.
In another unexpected twist, longtime selectman John Mariano lost his seat to challenger David DeCoste, after two Norwell voters challenged Mariano’s residency status and right to take part in town politics shortly before last Saturday’s election.
DeCoste beat Mariano by a vote of 2,308 to 1,683.
“It was a ploy to help the campaign of my opponent,” Mariano said this week. “I certainly look forward to clearing things up, but unfortunately it will be too late for the election.”
Mariano, who had been chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said he will make his case at a May 29 public hearing before the town registrars.
Two unnamed Norwell residents had filed a voter registration challenge, saying Mariano resides in Quincy. The challenge received local media coverage after an emergency session of the town’s voting registrars on May 14.
Patricia Anderson, the town clerk and registrar, said the matter was raised too close to the election — just five days before the vote.
“It made for quite a lot of additional work in this department,” she said.
Mariano, the owner of two homes and an office building in Norwell, said it was a surprising attack. He steps down after 18 years in town government, a dozen as selectman, and said he is proud of his accomplishments.
“I had a hand in shaping Norwell to be one of the best towns in the area,” he said.
Sixty percent of the town’s registered voters — 4,310 out of 7,157 — voted on Saturday. Of those, 60 percent, or 2,535, said yes to the “big-ask” $2.9 million tax-limit override that will cost approximately $690 more a year in taxes for the owner of a home with the town’s average property value of $541,000. The “no” votes totaled 1,740.
“We are so proud of Norwell. It is a clear mandate; we value education,” said Betsy Hilsinger, head of Invest in Norwell, a volunteer organization of 14 mothers who ran a “get out the vote” campaign.
“We are so grateful to our community,” said Hilsinger.
At Town Meeting on Monday, voters approved a $22 million school budget paid for by the override, despite objections from residents upset their property tax bill will increase. Schools will be acquiring key resources, including 17 new full-time educators, two new buses, and money for textbooks, technology, and athletics. The override will also fund a full-time human resources director and an accounting department position, previously part time, at Town Hall.
On the day of the vote, Norwell’s young people — including the soccer girls, lacrosse team, and baseball players — rallied at the high school. Band members played. A dozen teens from the drama department waited into evening for the count. Some began to cry in joy when the results were read, Hilsinger said.
“Those kids kept thanking us,” she said, adding one of them said, “ ‘Thank you for saving me from a high school without Drama. You have no idea what this means to me.’ ”
Donald Brown, a retiree in Norwell, said town voters did the right thing supporting the schools. “I think that Invest in Norwell group really got out the vote. They did the work,” he said.
Hilsinger, a parent of both a middle-school student and a fifth-grader, said she is proud of the “amazing women” in Invest in Norwell: Jess Chase; Alison Demong; Karen Driscoll; Jennifer Fairfield; Laurel Homer; Tricia Lederer; Cristina McCullough; Kristin O’Sullivan; Karen Straley; MaryEllen Stoddard; Marianne Sullivan; Jennifer Weier; and Paula White.
Voters also approved changes to the town charter by a vote of 2,573 to 1,374. And Maureen Clarke-Lewis won the race for assessor, tallying 2,262 votes to defeat Kevin Costello with 1,142.