Why do we need an override?
The problem is Wareham doesn’t bring in enough money to pay for its needs and its bills. Our basic expenses exceed our income. The override vote is part of a five-year plan, developed jointly by nearly all of our key elected and appointed officials.
We have already cut $2.5 million from the 2015 budget which begins July 1. Next year we will have to cut more. The year after that even more. Over the next five years, we will have to cut an additional $9.7 million. The 2015 budget already includes severe cuts in our services, and cutting more over the next five years means Wareham will barely be able to function as a town and as a community.
We can reverse this downward spiral and make Wareham financially sound with an override now of $4.5 million. An override will bring our schools, police department, library, and elder services to adequate levels while fixing our crumbling buildings, our outdated computer systems and putting money into our stabilization or savings account so that we can maintain our credit rating and take advantage of low-interest borrowing.
Why can’t we live within our budget?
We DO live within our budget. State law requires that every town have a balanced budget. People speak of living within our means, but the problem lies in the fact that our ability to increase our "means" is limited by law (Proposition 2 ½), and our expenses as a town, just like our expenses in our own personal budgets, have increased at a rate greater than 2.5% over a long period of time. In your personal life, if you're not bringing in enough income to support your household, you have a variety of choices. A municipality’s options are more limited. The Town has to pay for insurance, loan repayment, retirement benefits, health care for employees and state assessments. We are required to fund our schools at state-set minimum levels. In addition, there are many federal and state regulations that are addressed on a local level that we have no choice but to fund. Over the past years we have cut so much from our budget that we are now at a point that there is no more that we can cut without impacting our education, our safety, and our essential services.
Who will be affected if we don't pass an override?
Everyone will be affected one way or another. Do you have children in the schools? Use the library? Have a neighbor who accesses senior services? Drive on our roads? Might you ever call the police after a car accident or break-in at your home?
Our children will be affected when we can’t provide current school books, reasonable class sizes, or bus transportation. Senior citizens will lose the Council on Aging and its elder care services. Library patrons will be affected when the main library will be open only one or two days a week, and there will be very limited service at the Spinney branch in Onset. Public safety will continue to be a concern as our police force is stretched thin. Town-owned property and our roads will continue to deteriorate, our cemeteries will be neglected, and our property values will decline.
How much will the override cost?
For the average homeowner, the override will add $1.43 to the tax rate which is $143 per year for each $100,000 of assessed property value. For the average house in Wareham, that means approximately $27 per month.
How will the override help?
We will be able to fund the contingent budget that was approved at Town Meeting in April.
That budget allows us to fund the library so that it will remain open full time; we can fund the Council on Aging; we can replace the six police officers who are leaving and purchase additional cruisers to replace those in the aging fleet; we can hire additional help for the understaffed municipal maintenance department; the schools can restore some positions lost in the balanced budget and hire reading and math specialists for the primary grades; and both the town and school can address technology issues and provide sorely needed upgrades to equipment and infrastructure. A complete listing of how the funds are being spent is available on this website or on the Town’s website at end of the budget under the heading, “Contingent Appropriations.”
How do we know how the money will be spent?
The budget was voted and approved at Town Meeting according to a five-year plan. All future budgets will have to be approved by us, the voters, Town Meeting. The plan includes regular reporting and review of benchmarks. The administrators who were instrumental in creating the plan are committed to following it. We must hold our town officials accountable and insist that they follow the five-year plan, and as voters, we can attend subsequent Town Meetings to be sure the plan is followed.
Could we save money by combining the water/fire districts into town government?
No. About a century ago, a number of southeastern and western Massachusetts towns received legislative approval to establish separately governed fire districts, and the town government has no authority over them. Wareham is not unique; Dartmouth has three independent fire districts, and the town of Barnstable has five.
What have other towns done in similar situations?
Other towns use overrides. Surrounding towns have voted favorably on several override questions in past years. Bourne has used overrides to fund operating expenses, schools and police. Sandwich has had seven successful overrides, and, although they were smaller dollar amounts, Marion has had 37, Mattapoisett has had 23, and Rochester has had five successful overrides – all while the town of Wareham has had none.
These overrides have provided financial security to these towns while providing their citizens with efficient services and spending.