Northampton City Council backs $2.5M override for March vote

  • Northampton city hall File photo

Staff Writer
Published: 12/6/2019 12:36:11 AM

NORTHAMPTON — The City Council has voted on first reading to put a $2.5 million property tax override before voters on March 3, which would permanently raise property taxes in the city if approved.

The goal of the override is to replenish the city’s fiscal stability fund, which is meant to help the city balance its budget.

On Thursday, the council voted 7-1 to put the override on the ballot. Ward 6 City Council Marianne LaBarge voted against it, while Ward 4 City Councilor Gina-Louise Sciarra was not present at the meeting.

“We don’t make this decision lightly,” City Council President Ryan O’Donnell said.

LaBarge said she heard all summer not to put the override on the ballot from residents.

“I cannot support this,” LaBarge said. “The outcry has been huge.”

The override still needs to pass the council one more time on second reading. However, if it does, and if it is signed by the mayor, the vote on it will coincide with next year’s presidential primary.

Mayor David Narkewicz is championing the override.

“I’m proposing that we renew the fiscal stability plan,” Narkewiz said, prior to the meeting.

Created following the successful 2013 Proposition 2½ $2.5 million override, the stabilization fund has allowed the city to maintain balanced budgets. While the fund was originally supposed to require replenishment in fiscal year 2018, it instead will not require replenishing until fiscal year 2021, according to the mayor.

“We were able to make that plan last longer than anticipated,” Narkewicz said.

In 2009, the city also backed a $2 million Proposition 2½ override. Should the $2.5 million override pass in March, it will be the third successful override in a little more than a decade.

Narkewicz said recreational marijuana revenue reduced the amount of the override that was being requested. He said this revenue calculus includes both the recreational marijuana excise tax revenue built into the current budget and anticipated for future budgets, and the marijuana tax revenue from fiscal year 2019, all $980,414 of which the mayor is seeking to be placed in the fiscal stability fund. On Thursday, the council voted on first reading to put the $980,414 into the fund.

“I say, thank goodness for the pot money,” Narkewicz said at the meeting.

Should the fund not be replenished, cuts will have to be made to balance the city’s budget.

“That’s really our only option,” Narkewicz said.

The mayor said that renewing the fund would allow the city to have four fiscal years of balanced budgets, with the city needing to next consider another override in fiscal year 2025.

He also said that, hypothetically, emptying the stability fund could result in a balanced budget for fiscal year 2021, although that would leave a large deficit for fiscal year 2022 without an override.

The mayor also put forward a package of property tax relief proposals for income-eligible seniors, which were passed by the council on first reading Thursday.

LaBarge said that, even though she has always supported an override, it has always failed in Ward 6.

“I think it’s going to be worse this time,” she said.

  The mayor said at the meeting that he looked forward to meeting with those residents. He also said that he planned on doing town hall meetings about the budget and the override, beginning in January, in every ward.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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