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Northampton City Council OKs $2.5 million override vote

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO<br/>At the request of Mayor David J. Narkewicz, the Northampton City Council on Thursday approved placing a $2.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 override on the June 25 ballot.

    GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
    At the request of Mayor David J. Narkewicz, the Northampton City Council on Thursday approved placing a $2.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 override on the June 25 ballot. Purchase photo reprints »

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO<br/>At the request of Mayor David J. Narkewicz, the Northampton City Council on Thursday approved placing a $2.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 override on the June 25 ballot.

    GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
    At the request of Mayor David J. Narkewicz, the Northampton City Council on Thursday approved placing a $2.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 override on the June 25 ballot. Purchase photo reprints »

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO<br/>At the request of Mayor David J. Narkewicz, the Northampton City Council on Thursday approved placing a $2.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 override on the June 25 ballot.

    GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
    At the request of Mayor David J. Narkewicz, the Northampton City Council on Thursday approved placing a $2.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 override on the June 25 ballot. Purchase photo reprints »

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO<br/>At the request of Mayor David J. Narkewicz, the Northampton City Council on Thursday approved placing a $2.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 override on the June 25 ballot.
  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO<br/>At the request of Mayor David J. Narkewicz, the Northampton City Council on Thursday approved placing a $2.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 override on the June 25 ballot.
  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO<br/>At the request of Mayor David J. Narkewicz, the Northampton City Council on Thursday approved placing a $2.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 override on the June 25 ballot.

That means voters will have the ultimate decision whether to allow the city to raise their taxes beyond the limit imposed by state law. A special municipal election is set for June 25, the same day voters statewide will elect a new U.S. senator.

Unlike two weeks ago, when two councilors were absent and one abstained from voting on Mayor David J. Narkewicz’s request, Thursday’s final vote was 8-1 in favor of the ballot measure. Ward 7 City Councilor Eugene A. Tacy voted no.

The money would be used to plug a projected $1.4 million budget gap next fiscal year and to create a cushion for the next several years. It would be divvied up like this: $1 million for the schools, $726,300 to other city departments and $773,700 for an override stabilization account.

If approved, the override would add 79 cents for every $1,000 of assessed home valuation, increasing the tax bill for an average single-family home valued at $297,323 by about $235. The tax would be permanently added to the city’s tax levy.

Supporters said the money is needed to stave off deep cuts to personnel, especially in the school system. Narkewicz said Thursday that 15 positions would be eliminated across all departments if the budget gap holds without an override. Of that total, 11 would be in the schools and four in the police department. That’s fewer than early estimates of 22 positions lost, but is still a considerable hit, the mayor said.

Several supporters told the council during public comment that it’s unacceptable to take that kind of hit to schools and public safety. Stephen Herrell, of 474 Elm St., said the tax increase is a small price to pay compared to what’s at stake.

“I can sum up my reasoning in six simple words: ‘You get what you pay for,’” he said, enunciating each word.

Other supporters said the community owes it to future generations to step up now and fund the school system rather than to allow further cuts to diminish its quality and reputation.

“This is the one community asset that we pass forward to our kids,” said M.J. Adams, of 16 Norwood Ave., a parent of four daughters.

Opponents, however, argue that the tax is not affordable for many residents, especially when combined with a tax increase from a general override approved in 2009 and other recent and projected fee increases in water, sewer and a looming stormwater tax.

“This is a death by a thousand cuts and it’s permanent,” said Anthony Patillo, the city’s former building commissioner. “It’s not one or two years ... this is going to hurt and hurt bad.”

Patillo, who will not support the override, said the combined tax increase of the 2009 override and the one proposed this year equate to about $400 for an average homeowner. For many residents, that’s a month of heat or a month of food.

Other opponents, such as Eugene Lafrance, of 310 Coles Meadow Road, said the city should not “cry poverty” when it is spending large sums of money to conserve land and not doing a good job living within a budget.

In placing the measure before voters, many councilors said they intend to lobby for its passage. Ward 4 City Councilor Pamela C. Schwartz said she supports the override, with “great clarity and a heavy heart” that the city is being put in this position by state and federal governments.

“We have been covering this immense hole year after year after year,” she said. “It is no mystery why we are in this position.”

Schwartz said she doesn’t want anyone to have to pay higher taxes, but the alternative of city job losses and cuts to city services and school programs makes the choice “extremely clear.”

“On balance, we will decide that we have so much more to gain all together,” she said. “That in the end, the value of protecting our public education and the value of our public safety, will be enough to dig deeper. Because there is no other alternative.”

Other councilors felt it imperative to get the question before voters, but they reserved taking a public position on the increase.

Ward 6’s Marianne L. LaBarge said she would not pressure people to vote a certain way, especially when many people in her ward are in tough financial positions.

“If you want to support it, then vote yes,” she said. “If you feel you cannot support it, then mark no, and don’t be embarrassed about it.”

As the lone dissenter, Tacy said the cumulative effect of recent and projected tax and fee increases is hurting many of his constituents.

“It’s not a vote against the schools or public safety,” Tacy said. “It is what is in the best interest (of my constituents.)”

Narkewicz intends to submit a fiscal 2014 budget to the council at its May 16 meeting that will not include the override figures, and thus will include cuts and service reductions. Should voters approve an override, the city would have enough time to update its budget before the next fiscal year begins July 1.

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