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Pro-override group wants watchdog to guard Newton finances

Posted by Ralph Ranalli April 8, 2008 02:00 PM

A group supporting the upcoming Proposition 2 1/2 override in Newton is calling for the formation of a fiscal watchdog group to monitor the city's troubled finances.

The group Move Newton Forward issued a press statement yesterday, calling for the formation of a permanent group similar to the Blue Ribbon Commission that issued a sobering report about the city's financial future early last year. Move Newton Forward co-chairwoman Sarah Ecker was a member of the commission.

"Newton needs to pass this override in the worst way, but just as important is the need to figure out a way where voters won't be confronted with budget problems year after year," Ecker said in the release.

According to the Move Newton Forward's proposal, one key job of the watchdog group would be to examine creative ways to balance the city's budget, including:

* Having city workers join the state's insurance plans to save on premiums;
* Installing energy-efficiency measures in city buildings;
* Forming partnerships with other cities to share the cost of providing some services, and;
* Exploring ways to increase the city's tax base.

The release appears to be a sign that, before the polls open on May 17, override proponents want to shore up shaky voter confidence in the city's ability to spend money wisely. While Newton voters have generally favored overrides in the past, proponents of the current $12 million proposal are facing an electorate concerned about the effect of the Newton North High School project's $197.5 million price tag on the long-term health of the city's finances and nervous about the economy in general.

Overrides have been going down to defeat all over the state -- 3 out of every 4 have been defeated -- and the city's aldermen have already cut the proposal in half from Cohen's original $23.9 million proposal.

-- Ralph Ranalli

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