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Newton aldermen vote to place $11.4 million tax hike on ballot

Posted by Leslie Anderson  December 3, 2012 09:43 PM

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Newton voters will decide on March 12 whether to approve the city's first property tax override in a decade to pay for aging buildings, deteriorating sidewalks and rising student enrollment.

The Newton Board of Aldermen voted unanimously Monday night to ask voters for an $11.4 million override of Proposition 2 1/2, approving Mayor Setti Warren's proposal to raise additional tax revenue for the city.

"We feel very strongly this is the right package to invest in the future," Warren said Monday night after he personally thanked each alderman. "I am looking forward to the vote on March 12."

Warren has proposed three ballot initiatives to help pay for $143.5 million in projects. His plan calls for a permanent tax increase to provide $8.4 million for road repairs, four police officers, new teachers to handle the school system’s growing student population, expansion and renovation of Zervas Elementary, replacement of the Newton Centre fire station and Fire Department headquarters, and a new communications building.

The mayor is also proposing two temporary tax increases, totaling $3 million and to be paid off over roughly 30 years, to cover rebuilding the Angier and Cabot elementary schools.

If all three increases are approved, officials said, annual taxes on a house with the city’s median assessment, $686,000, would go up by about $343, to $8,006.

Since Warren proposed the override in October, some aldermen have questioned the accuracy of the project cost estimates and whether voters should be asked to approve a larger tax increase to pay for more projects.

"I have a problem with this getting our numbers right," Alderman Richard Blazer said. Still, the voters should decide, he said.

Warren said this package is the right one to deal with the city’s most immediate infrastructure and building needs and that the money is sufficient.

Warren will have to sell that same message to Newton voters in the coming months and it will likely be the biggest challenge of his first term as mayor.

Property tax increases beyond the limits of Proposition 2½ 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 about $191.5 million, the most expensive high school ever built in Massachusetts.

The high school 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 and Cohen, a long-time mayor, decided not to run for reelection.

Supporters of Warren’s override proposal have already formed a committee called Building Newton’s Future to encourage residents to vote for all three ballot measures. They have launched a Website and will become more active in the months before the March 12 vote.


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

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