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Newton mayor seeks $11.4 million in tax increases for school buildings, fire station, more teachers and police

Posted by Leslie Anderson  October 15, 2012 08:52 PM

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A decade after Newton’s last successful override of Proposition 2 1/2, Mayor Setti Warren asked residents Monday to pass tax increases to help pay for $143.5 million in new building projects and additional employees.

Warren is seeking a total of $11.4 million a year in additional tax revenue to pay for three school construction projects, replace the Newton Centre fire station and headquarters, fix streets and sidewalks, and hire more teachers and police officers.

Warren said he will ask voters to support three separate ballot measures on March 12, 2013.

“This is a critical moment for the city,” Warren said in an interview, before presenting his plan Monday night to the Board of Aldermen. “The package I’m putting forward tonight addresses the most immediate needs of the city.”

If the tax increases are approved, the owners of a median house in Newton assessed at $686,000 would pay an additional $343 in taxes annually, starting in 2013 or 2014, said Maureen Lemieux, the city’s chief financial officer.

The package calls for one permanent tax increase that would cover about $1 million annually for road repairs, $4.5 million for new teachers and temporary space to handle growing school enrollment, $500,000 for four police officers and equipment to tackle pedestrian and bicycle safety issues, and money to pay off new fire department buildings and the expansion and renovation of Zervas Elementary School.

The other two questions on the ballot would raise taxes to pay $3 million a year in borrowing costs associated with rebuilding the Angier Elementary and Cabot Elementary schools. The total cost of those two projects is estimated at $80 million, although the state is expected to pitch in about $20 million.

Selling voters on the need for a tax increase to address Newton’s aging buildings, deteriorating roads and increasing student enrollment may be Warren’s greatest challenge in his first term as mayor. Eight months after the vote on the override initiative is scheduled to take place, Warren, himself, will face voters in November 2013 for reelection.

Property tax increases beyond the limits of Proposition 2 1/2 have not always fared well in Newton. Voters last approved an override, of $11.3 million, in 2002.

Newton officials decided against asking voters to raise taxes to build Newton North High School, which cost more than $190 million and was the most expensive high school ever built in Massachusetts. The project put a strain on the city’s operating budget and in 2008 then-Mayor David Cohen went to voters for a $12 million override for daily city expenses. That measure failed, despite Cohen’s attempt to mollify angry voters by promising not to run for another term.

Warren said he is confident that the voters will support his plan.

“I believe we have a comprehensive pathway forward that will be successful,” he said.

The Board of Aldermen must vote to place the measures on the ballot. Warren is holding a series of town hall meetings to discuss his plan, beginning Sunday Oct. 21 at 12:30 p.m. at Cabot Elementary School.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com.

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