Mayor David Narkewicz seeks override vote on June 25
Mayor David J. Narkewicz, seen here at the Northampton Senior Center on March 12, is asking the City Council to place a Proposition 2 1/2 override question on the ballot at a special municipal election June 25. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON — Mayor David J. Narkewicz will ask the City Council to place a Proposition 2½ override question on the ballot in June, saying it is his duty to bring the idea before voters before making the types of “unprecedented” and “irreparable” cuts that are currently on the table.
“I believe we’re facing the level of cuts, particularly in the schools, that this merits taking it to the voters and asking them to decide,” Narkewicz said. “I don’t want to make these cuts without the community’s input.”
The city is currently facing a $1.4 million budget gap, a figure the mayor doesn’t think will change drastically after the House unveils its budget on Wednesday.
That type of gap will mean deep cuts to personnel — 22 full-time positions would be eliminated across all departments — and a reduction in services the city is able to provide, Narkewicz said.
Narkewicz said his office has been inundated with calls and emails from people who want the chance to vote on an override.
“This is not a step that I relish, that I take lightly, or that I thought I’d see myself doing a year ago, but this is where we are and I believe it’s my duty to bring this forward,” Narkewicz said.
The council had little comment, aside from logistical and timing questions. Ward 3 City Councilor Owen Freeman-Daniels thought that putting the question in the voters’ hands was a wise move.
“I think it’s important to come to the voters with the proposal,” Freeman-Daniels said.
An override is a measure that, with voter approval, allows communities to increase property taxes beyond the limits imposed by Proposition 2½. Narkewicz said it’s one of the last remaining options the city has to raise money to keep services in fiscal 2014 at the same levels as the current fiscal year.
Narkewicz intends to submit an order to the council at its April 18 meeting calling for a June 25 special municipal election for the override question. That’s the same day voters will head to the polls to elect a new U.S. senator.
For the override to move forward, the council must approve the override question and a special election. The city clerk must receive written notice of the referendum at least 35 days before the date of the election. For passage, a majority of voters must approve the measure.
The mayor was not ready Thursday to put a dollar figure on the override. He did hint that the number will be more than the $1.4 million needed to plug this year’s deficit, so that the city isn’t in the same position again next year. The figure will likely be set based on financial models over the next three to five years.
Narkewicz was also not ready to outline how much money each department would get, though he anticipates the schools would get the most.
“You can easily assume that a large percentage would go to the schools, but I’m also concerned about public safety and general government,” he said.
Freeman-Daniels encouraged the mayor to be ready to show at this spring’s budget hearings how the override would help each department.
The mayor intends to submit a fiscal 2014 budget to the council next month that will not include the override figures. That budget will spell out the positions on the chopping block and other services that will be reduced to close the gap. Should voters approve an override, the city would have enough time to update its budget before the next fiscal year begins on July 1.
If the override idea moves ahead, it would be the second time in four years that voters have been asked to give the city permission to increase property taxes beyond the state limit to fund city services. In 2009, voters overwhelmingly approved a $2 million override.
Proposition 2½ is a state law passed by ballot initiative in 1980 that limits the increase in the property tax levy to 2.5 percent each year. With voter approval, an override allows communities to increase property taxes beyond this limit. The increase in the levy limit becomes part of the base for calculating the current year and future years’ levy limits.
Voters have weighed in on eight Proposition 2½ questions since 1989, approving six of them. Four of those overrides were to fund the city’s general operating budget, two of which failed. The other four, called debt-exclusion overrides, were for specific projects. All of those passed.
Since 2009, residents have approved a general operating override for city government and schools, a debt exclusion to build a new police station and ratification of the Community Preservation Act.