Voters deliver tax increases verdicts

Proposed property tax increases were approved by voters in Georgetown, Hamilton, and Wenham and shot down in Newbury in local ballot questions at Tuesday’s state election.

In West Newbury, meanwhile, voters agreed to a reduction in taxes.

By a close tally of 2,303 to 2,037, Newbury voters turned down a $293,000 override, or permanent tax increase, to fund various town operating costs. They included $100,000 each for the police and fire departments; $34,000 for culture, recreation, and the library; $30,000 for the Finance Department; and $29,000 for the Public Works Department.


The added funds would have largely been used to restore cuts made in the current fiscal year budget. A Special Town Meeting on Oct. 23 had appropriated the $293,000 subject to passage of the override, which was identical to the tax increase voters turned down last spring, according to Town Administrator Tracy Blais.

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“It’s disappointing we are not going to be able to provide the residents with the level of essential services they’ve received in the past,” Blais said. “But the cuts have already been made, so the department managers will continue to do the best they can with the resources that have been allocated to them.”

Blais noted that while voter turnout at Tuesday’s election was significantly higher than when the override was previously taken up last spring, the percentage opposing it was almost exactly the same. “To me, it almost speaks to an economic issue,” she said, referring to the ability of people to pay higher taxes.

She said it remains to be seen whether selectmen will want to place another override proposal before voters next spring.

In Georgetown, residents passed a debt exclusion — a tax increase that will last the length of time it will take for the town to pay off the debt — to fund the town’s $25.6 million share of a $46 million project to construct a new Penn Brook Elementary School. The vote was 2,432 to 2,254.  


“We are very grateful in the schools for this funding and really feel it provides a great opportunity for the children in the town,” said Superintendent Carol C. Jacobs. 

The measure will add $829 to the tax bill of a home valued at $500,000, or $415 to a home valued at $250,000.

“Certainly, it’s a project that will be hard for people, particularly at this time,” Jacobs said. “So we are very grateful knowing that . . . voters supported the project and we can now move forward on something that has been discussed and a priority in the town for more than a decade.”

Town Meeting Nov. 1 had authorized full funding for the project, for which the Massachusetts School Building Authority will reimburse the town 54.76 percent of eligible costs.

Hamilton and Wenham both approved a pair of debt exclusions to fund a total of $2.1 million in repairs to facilities in the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District.


One of the debt exclusions will fund the $575,000 cost of repairing the Cutler Elementary School roof in South Hamilton, with the district eligible for 43.3 percent MSBA reimbursement. That measure passed 2,524 to 1,558 in Hamilton, and 1,406 to 748 in Wenham.  

The other debt exclusion is for $1.5 million to replace the Winthrop Elementary School   roof in South Hamilton, and to install insulation, windows, and a sprinkler system at the Buker Elementary School  in Wenham. It also will pay for new windows at the Cutler, and other upgrades to the elementary schools. Hamilton voters approved the measure, 2,535 to 1,526, and Wenham approved it 1,407 to 742.

Special town meetings in Hamilton and Wenham last month had appropriated the funding subject to passage of the debt exclusion, which will cost owners of an average home in Hamilton $31.54 more in annual property taxes and in Wenham, $32.62 .

William R. Dery, a member of the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School Committee, said he was “elated” by voters’ approval of the projects.

“I think people in both towns fully realize that they have to take care of the maintenance of the buildings; it’s something you just can’t ignore. They’ve been let go so much that the cost is now escalating,” he said, citing the condition of the Winthrop school roof as an example of the deferred maintenance.

The projects represent the first phase of an overall $4 million plan to improve the district’s buildings.

West Newbury residents voted 1,945 to 569 to approve an $180,000 “underride,” which permanently reduces the amount of property taxes a city or town can levy.

Voters last year approved a $265,000 override to help fund its assessment to the Pentucket Regional School District. But the town ended up needing only $85,000 after the district’s budget was rejected by its other two member towns, Groveland and Merrimac. Tuesday’s vote reduced the town’s property tax limit by $180,000, the portion of the 2010 override not needed for the school assessment, said Town Clerk Michael McCarron.  

John Laidler can be reached at