Overriding concern

Once again, the town coffers are running perilously low. To keep things rolling along, including our cars on our currently pothole-riddled roads, we need to pass an override to Proposition 2 ½. For younger readers, this law, which came to roost in 1982, limits the amount that real estate taxes can be raised in any given year to 2.5% of the total worth of the town’s taxable properties. In a town like mine, Arlington, MA, which has neither a technology highway running through it, nor an office park to speak of, taxes come primarily from homeowners.

When I bought my first house in Arlington, over twenty years ago, I was single; I had no children; my social life happened largely elsewhere. I didn’t get the local paper or watch local access television. I was oblivious to town politics and I certainly didn’t vote in local elections. Then I got married, had a baby, pushed her stroller around the neighborhood and started to meet people. I began to pay attention to more than the state of my yard.

I worried about cars driving too fast on our street, fretted when streetlights were out, waited impatiently for plows to come by. I looked forward to garbage day with happy anticipation. I started to vote in town elections. Then I sent my daughter to kindergarten and my world expanded even more. I don’t expect my interest in the town’s health and well-being to dissipate when my daughter graduates from high school in three years; I will still care about all the things I’ve learned to care about. To quote a friend, “You can’t not know what you know.”

I walked around my neighborhood last week sticking Vote YES for Arlington flyers inside storm doors and under welcome mats. I met an older man who challenged me with, “Why should I care?” I responded that we were going to lose a bunch of DPW positions, police and fire personnel, and teachers. He said, “I’m on a fixed income, did you think about that?” I said, “Yes, you can contact the town for an abatement.” He tossed the flyer onto his driveway and said, “I don’t see the point.” “All right then,” I said, as I picked up the flyer and headed back down his driveway. For the life of me, I couldn’t come up with an appropriate response. I didn’t think I’d convince him by saying, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”

I don’t know what research says about the local voting habits of young adults, but I do know what I was like. If someone had asked me to help maintain our town’s health and prosperity when I was a new, happy-go-lucky homeowner, I like to think I would have responded positively. Reach out to all the young people you know, whether they own property or not. Tell them your own stories. Share this post with them. There’s not much time left before the town votes on whether or not to pass the proposed override. With a little help from our young friends, I think we can do it.

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6 responses to “Overriding concern

  1. I am a senior (going on 68).
    Recently, my day job as an editor was eliminated.
    I have a mortgage.
    I have two children still at home, 18 and 15. Neither goes to the Arlington public schools.
    I will be voting in favor of an override. I think I need to do so for the sake of Arlington, a town I love.

    Bob Sprague (writing as a private citizen and a taxpayer)

  2. Thanks for airing this important topic. The situation is even more dire for a reason you never hear discussed. Towns with good schools tend to attract immigrant families, which means that a lot of the people who benefit most from the good schools can’t vote in the overrides–they’re not US citizens, just residents with visas. This makes it that much harder to get overrides through! (State law determines town voting qualifications, and in Massachusetts, you need to be a US citizen.)

  3. I will probably vote for the override as well. But I do have a concern that spending is reviewed on how to prevent this from happening again and again.

    I realize that a good portion of the town budget is claimed by health insurance for town employees and retirees and can’t be touched until the law is changed. I am also concerned that public safety continues to take hit after hit. We currently do not have a police officer who used to deal with graffiti and similar problems – that position was cut. Graffiti in itself is minor but if it is tagging and not dealt with, good schools are fine but we also need to pay attention to how potential new residents view the town – covered in graffiti is a deterrent just as bad schools are.

  4. It’s hard to reach younger voters because they don’t feel the same stake in society. Until people have children, unless they’re one of the few politically minded, don’t think it has to do with them or that there’s much they can do.

    I’m surprised about the tunnel vision some older people get. Once their children are out of the schools, they’re less interested in supporting. I argue this with my mother all the time. All she knows now is she wants lower taxes, even if it means taking from the same schools my sister and I attended and that her grandchildren would be attending if we’d stayed there.

    These are hard times. I think it’s great you’re involved, Judy. Good luck!

  5. There is an argument you might make to older folks who have no personal stake in the education of today’s children since their own children are grown up; the quality of schools affects property values in a town. The irony is that people who vote against an override are hurting themselves because the value of their home will drop.

  6. As always, a wonderfully written piece, that captures the time-line of life….carefree without kids, blissfully ignorant of such things as who pays for snow plows, and how schools impact property values. I’m not sure that there aren’t a lot of wasted funds, and I have always been upset that the town doesn’t do more to help provide childless, tax-paying dog owners with more leash-free playgrounds for their dogs. Already very upset about the state DMV passing new low-speed scooter laws (rather than encouraging more people to use this eco-urban-friendly alternative transportation), I was also very upset at my treatment by the police, who insisted on having my tiny, one-seater scooter towed, rather than allowing to push it home (his “choice” I was told by the police.) My property tax is getting precariously high, esp. when compared to my semi-retired income. It may soon get to the point of crisis. BUT KUDOs TO YOU, JUDY, FOR GETTING INVOLVED IN YOUR TOWN…and taking the time to go door to door, and reach out to your neighbors.

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