Prop 2-1/2 Override Question Passes at June 9 ElectionJun 01, 2020 03:00PM ● By Pamela Johnson
by Marjorie Turner Hollman, Contributing Writer
In January, a Proposition 2-1/2 override was proposed to address Bellingham school department budgetary shortfalls and avoid staff cuts, as well as provide for enrichment of course offerings. The proposal stirred interest, concern and controversy. And then the Covid-19 virus turned life as we know it on its head.
The town election—delayed, but not cancelled—will be held in Bellingham on June 9. Three candidates are vying for two available seats on the Board of Selectmen. Incumbents Robert Biagi and Don Martinis face off against challenger Kelly Grant. (See the candidates’ profiles in this issue.) The remaining races on the ballot are uncontested.
Arguably the most important decision voters will be asked to make is on the proposed Proposition 2-1/2 override.
Because of the pandemic, many felt they would table it, but the Board of Selectmen kept the override question on the ballot for voters to decide. A tax increase is never welcomed, but in the midst of a national recession any tax increase is a tough sell.
If the override fails, the school department would be unable to allocate its needed funding, much of which is contractually obligated, and would be forced to eliminate positions and make other cuts. If the override passes, the school department would be able to meet its obligations and proceed with their strategic plan, but based on an average home value of $324,000, the additional cost to Bellingham taxpayers would be in the neighborhood of $165, plus the allowed 2-1/2 percent increase (around $185); this would increase the average tax bill from $4,612 to $4,962. (CFO Mary MacKinnon has noted that Bellingham has among the lowest average single-family tax bills in the general geographic region. Also, according to the MA Department of Revenue website [www.mass.gov/lists/reports-relating-to-property-tax-data-and-statistics], the average single-family tax bill in the Commonwealth is $6,182; in 2019 Bellingham ranked 216 of 351 available communities for average tax bills.)
But according to the Boston Globe, as of May 7, over 960,000 people have filed for unemployment in MA since the coronavirus outbreak (https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/05/07/nation/another-32-million-americans-filed-unemployment-last-w...) and that number has risen to over 1 million since then*. The picture is still unclear as to how many of those jobs will be waiting for employees to return to as officials work to figure out how to safely reopen the economy.
Since mid-March all businesses except those deemed essential have been closed, per Governor Charlie Baker. Schools in Bellingham have been closed since March 13, with classes shifted to all virtual interactions, but teachers have not stopped teaching, and administrators have not stopped supporting staff and Bellingham families. Custodial services have been more important than ever as they have sanitized the buildings, allowed for students to pick up items left in their lockers, and supported the school nutrition staff as they work to provide free meals for all Bellingham children under the age of 18.
While teachers and administrators have been working from their homes, they have not ceased in their efforts to support our children’s education. Thus, most school expenses have not changed significantly, even as the students have been studying away from the school buildings. Considering the dire budget situation at the state level, cuts in state funding for schools are a distinct possibility, so what local schooling will look like in Bellingham in the fall is unclear at this point in time. (For more information, read Municipal Spotlight: Marano Offers Glimpse into Re-Opening of Schools [beginning on page 1] for a Q & A session Bulletin Contributing Writer Ken Hamwey had with School Superintendent Peter Marano.)
On May 18, the Governor announced a strategy for phased and (hopefully) safe reopening of businesses to reboot the economy. As restrictions loosen, it’s uncertain how successfully businesses will be able to operate amidst concerns about a possible resurgence in Covid-19 cases, especially in the absence of an effective vaccine, and about how resilient the economy will be.
METHODS OF VOTING
In any event, there will be an election in town, and your participation is important! Unlike in the past, this year no reason needs to be given to obtain an absentee/mail-in ballot. A completed application must be submitted, and may be obtained at https://www.bellinghamma.org/home/news/town-clerk-announces-annual-spring-election.
After printing and completing the application, you may send it by regular mail, scan and email it, or deposit it in the drop-off box opposite the front doors of the Municipal Center. As soon as ballots are available, you will receive one by mail. The ballot must be completed and received by the Town Clerk’s office by no later than 8 pm on June 9th in order for your vote to be counted.
Polls will be open for in-person voting, from 12 to 8 pm, for any residents who feel comfortable doing so. Voters may bring their own writing implements (felt tip pens or #2 pencils).
Poll workers will be issued personal protective equipment (PPE), and voters will be expected to wear the PPE recommended at the time of the election.
The deadline for registering to vote in the town election was May 29th. There are, however, two additional elections also coming up—a primary in the fall, and the general/presidential election in November—and voter registration is available on an ongoing basis through the town clerk’s office.
Your vote will make a difference. Despite the challenges, and no matter which side of the issues you are on, it is important to our democracy that your voice be heard.