Posted on: Wednesday, April 3, 2019

MELROSE — In a landmark decision, voters Tuesday overwhelmingly passed an override of Proposition 2 1/2, which will add $5.18 million to the coming year’s tax base so the city can deal with significant educational issues and provide adequate municipal services.

Over half of the city’s 20,239 registered voters participated in the special election. Unofficially, 6,079 cast ballots for the override and 4,875 were against it.

Proposition 2 1/2 overrides involve raising property taxes, and they are difficult to sell, especially to those living on fixed incomes. Under the proposal passed this week, the “average” residential taxpayer will see their bill go up about $554 a year.

Mayor Gail Infurna, her administration and other advocates pushed hard for the override, launching a months-long informational campaign that began almost as soon as Infurna took office early last year.

The override drumbeat was long and steady, with all manner of published articles coming from the chief executive’s office. The School Department did its part too. At just about every School Committee meeting since the start of the new year, administrators laid out the dire consequences of not approving the property tax increase. The picture they painted without the additional money was bleak.

The infusion of taxpayers’ cash will address several factors that officials say have contributed to the city’s budget challenges: increasing student enrollment, permanent reductions in state funding and the need to recruit and retain quality teachers.

The newly generated $5.18 million will be used to add teaching and school staff positions ($1,905,000); to fund classroom space and infrastructure to meet enrollment needs ($675,000); to eliminate the funding shortfall created by permanent reductions in state aid ($750,000); and address recruitment and retention of “quality” educators by funding salary increases for public school employees ($1,850,000).

Because the schools’ serious problems can be dealt with financially, it is believed that money will now be freed up to help out the city’s other departments as well.

Supt. of Schools Cyndy Taymore said in a statement: “Thank you to the voters of Melrose. Thank you for investing in our students, our teachers, our schools and our community. The additional revenue generated by the override will allow our school system to meet the educational needs of a growing and thriving student body, providing adequate classroom space and appropriate resources while ensuring that our faculty and staff receive more competitive salaries and much-needed professional supports. I look forward to working with the School Committee, our educators, and, most importantly, our students and their families and caregivers, to bring renewed energy and vigor to the mission and vision of the Melrose Public Schools.”

The mayor exclaimed, “I want to thank the people of Melrose for making this difficult choice, and I want to thank the One Melrose campaign for their hard work and their civic engagement. We gave the community all the information and made ourselves available to answer any questions. It came down to two choices: Support the override or live with the cuts in city and school services. I am so proud of our city’s decision, and I am forever grateful to the One Melrose campaign.”

The $5.18 million override passed Tuesday in all ward precincts except Ward 6, Precinct 2. The last time the city held a vote to override Proposition 2 1/2, it was voted down in every single one. 

On November 19, 2018, the aldermen made this week’s special election official when they voted 10-1 to call it for April 2. Alderman-at-Large Monica Medeiros, a fiscal conservative, was the dissenting vote. She had complained in the weeks leading up to that decision about a lack of information coming from City Hall and the School Department regarding projected demographics, school enrollments and overall financial forecasts.

Other override opponents believed that the city hasn’t been very well managed, and that adding positions to the municipal rolls will mean more money spent in costly pensions down the road.

Additionally, they feared they won’t be able to afford to stay here.

In the mayor’s only State of the City address in January, Infurna depicted a Melrose without the extra money.

She told the audience, “Without an override, everything that we as a community have worked so hard to create is in jeopardy. It comes down to this: Our city funding no longer matches our community values. 

“This is the state of our city today. 

“The new fiscal year will begin on July 1, but the future of Melrose will be determined on April 2, when you will vote yes or no on the override.

“In the absence of millions of dollars in new funding, we will have to make a series of hard choices, none of them good.

“If the override does not pass, we will only be able to increase the school budget by half of last year’s increase. We know this isn’t enough. If you have children in the schools, you already know that what we have this year is not enough. Next year will be worse because we will see:

• An increase in students

• An increase in the number of teachers we need

• An increase in special education costs

• An increase in the need for space and

• An increase to fund a new teachers’ contract

“We will have more students but no additional staff or space to accommodate them.

“And that’s not all. Providing even this small increase to the schools will require drastic cuts to city departments that have already been underfunded for years.

“Many of these cuts will have a domino effect that will increase their impact. For example:

“If we reduce staff by laying off employees, our unemployment costs will increase. As a rule of thumb, we would have to cut three people to save the cost of two positions because of unemployment.

“The state requires that we contribute a set amount toward the schools. Cuts to our public works facilities budget, which includes school maintenance, may bring us below that required spending limit.

“If we reduce the Melrose Public Library budget any further, we will not meet the state’s required spending level and we risk the library losing its accreditation.

“The Recreation Department pays rental fees for the use of the schools. If those programs are eliminated or cut back, the schools will lose that revenue, making their budget situation even worse.

“Over the past 5 years, the city has allocated most of our new revenue to the school department. In order to do that, every other city department has gone without much needed increases. 

“We cannot cut our way out of this situation. The bottom line is that we must bring in more revenue in order to keep what we have today, and the only way to do this is through an override.

“Without an override, the fate of our city would be the same as an abandoned house. At first, it just sits empty, but then the signs of neglect begin to show.

“The grass becomes overgrown.

“The paint chips.

“The chimney crumbles.

“A window is broken.

 “Soon a once proud house becomes an empty, dilapidated shell,” she continued.