Mayor Ruthanne Fuller of Newton asked residents to support a nearly $15 million tax increase during a speech Monday night and outlined a sweeping plan to boost funding for the city’s schools and senior services, plus make greater investments in roads, parks, and school building projects.
The proposal, which Fuller hopes to put before Newton voters on the ballot next spring, would ultimately increase taxes by about $470 a year for a single-family home assessed at the city’s median value of $1.2 million.
The proposed tax increase would come amid the prospect of a looming recession, rising energy costs, and high inflation. But Fuller said Newton has much work ahead if it is to continue being “the community of choice” for generations of families.
“This is a critical moment for our community,” Fuller said during her speech at Newton City Hall.
If Fuller’s proposal goes before voters, it would take the form of three separate questions under the state’s Proposition 2½, which caps tax collections in municipalities unless voters override it.
Under Fuller’s plan, voters would be asked to approve a Proposition 2½ override that would raise $9.175 million for school programs, senior services, and efforts like upgrading parks, roads, and buildings. It would also call on voters to back a pair of Proposition 2½ debt exclusions to raise an additional $5.8 million to help rebuild the Countryside and Franklin elementary schools.
The override would include $4.5 million for the Newton Public Schools, including money for academic programs, to address students’ mental health needs, and for more learning technology, according to Fuller.
Newton’s roads and sidewalks would receive $1.4 million for upgrades and repairs; another $1 million would go to improvements for athletic fields, courts, parks, and playgrounds, Fuller said.
The override would also include $775,000 toward the annual bonding of a project to renovate and expand the Horace Mann Elementary School.
It also calls for splitting $1.5 million equally among three other goals: expanded senior programs and services, replanting the city’s urban tree canopy, and converting public buildings and schools from fossil fuels to electric systems, according to Fuller.
Newton is also working on a pair of $61 million projects to rebuild the Countryside and Franklin schools. The proposed debt exclusions would raise $2.3 million in annual bonding for the Countryside project, and $3.2 million for Franklin, according to Fuller.
Fuller pledged that the city will conduct ongoing “town hall” discussions with residents about the proposed tax increase; the first session will be held virtually Thursday at 7 p.m.
A link to the session and a schedule of upcoming meetings will also be posted to the city’s website at newtonma.gov, Fuller said.
“We’ve pulled together in this override proposal those things that matter most here in Newton,” Fuller said in an interview. “In order to move Newton forward at the pace that all of us want, these investments by our taxpayers will allow us to do this good and important and necessary work.”
Newton’s City Council must still vote to approve placing Fuller’s proposed tax increase on the ballot. The date would be set by the council and the city’s Election Commission; Fuller asked that the vote be scheduled March 14.
If all three proposed questions are approved by voters, the impact on local property tax bills will not be seen all at once, according to Fuller.
The override, which would go into effect for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2023, will add $290 to the tax bill of a single-family home assessed at the city’s median value.
An additional $183 will be added as the bonding is put in place for the Countryside and Franklin projects over the next seven years, according to Fuller.
A calculator to determine the override package’s impact on a specific Newton property tax bill will be available on the city’s website.
This is the first time that Fuller, who has been mayor since 2018 and was re-elected to a second four-year term last fall, has proposed a tax hike under Proposition 2½.
The mayor is asking voters to green-light a tax hike after Newton was the recipient of federal pandemic relief funding, including $63 million in one-time aid from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Fuller said pandemic aid, particularly through ARPA, was a “godsend” for the city and allowed Newton to take steps such as upgrading ventilation systems in schools and funding emergency rental assistance for residents. But the city needs additional funding going forward to continue serving residents and paying for new buildings.
“We know that year after year, we will need ongoing funding, not just this one-time [money], to support our students, to improve our roads, to allow us to do climate resilience actions, to support our seniors,” Fuller said in the interview. “We are using both to meet the needs of our residents.”
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.