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UPDATED Nov. 7: On Tuesday, Nov. 7, Arlington voters decided two ballot questions, including whether to raise taxes by $7 million beginning July 1, 2024. The deadline to register to vote was Oct. 28; the town clerk’s office was open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. so voters could register; they also had the option to use the state’s website to register with a Massachusetts driver’s license or to confirm their voting status. The actual ballot language is posted here>> 

The town of Arlington today publicized the following information: "Nov. 7 Special Election Information: Polls [are] open 7 a.m. through 8 p.m. Vote by Mail ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted. There are several options for returning your ballot if you have not mailed it. You may return your ballot by hand-delivering your ballot to your local election office [or by] using a ballot drop box at 730 Mass. Ave. in front of Town Hall; [at] 85 Park. Ave., the ACMi [cable television] studio; [or at] 175 Mass. Ave., Fox Library. Ballots cannot be dropped off at a polling place on Election Day. 

"Please note [that] unofficial results will be available on the Elections & Voting webpage as quickly as possible after the polls close.Voters can contribute to a smooth election day by depositing ballots in drop boxes before 6 p.m. Ballots collected between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. will be hand counted at Town Hall starting around 9 p.m. The more ballots to hand count after the polls close, the longer the results will take to announce.

"Read the two questions on the ballot and find your polling location at"

Basic facts on both questions

Question 1 asks whether the town can assess an additional $7 million in real estate and personal property taxes beginning in fiscal 2025: July 1, 2024. This amounts to 53 cents for each $1,000 of assessed value.

The town has posted a toolshowing the impact on the tax bill of the average condominium, single-family, two-family, or three-family home. For instance, the average single-family home, with an assessed value of $912,386, would see an additional tax burden of $484 per year, or about $40 per month.

The original intention was for the override to take effect in fiscal 2024, starting July 1, 2023 – but, instead, July 1, 2024, was inadvertently listed as the effective date when the Select Board voted in June to put the override before voters.

YourArlington covered the Select Board’s recent discovery of the mistake and its decision to proceed with next July 1 as the effective date.

Question 2 asks about means-tested tax relief for senior citizens whose homes are worth less than the median assessed value. A town web page provides detail on who would qualify and for how much relief.

Why override is on the ballot

Since Proposition 2 ½ passed in 1980, Massachusetts municipalities have been allowed to increase their total property tax revenues by no more than 2.5 percent each year.

However, as Arlington Select Board Chair Eric Helmuth said at the board’s June 5 meeting, Arlington’s expenses regularly rise by more than that, creating a structural deficit that necessitates overriding the 2.5-percent limit every few years.

Arlington voters in the past have approved such overrides several times, most recently in 2019, 2016 and 2011.

YourArlington’s Susan Gilbert covered this history more thoroughly here >>

Public schools expected to benefit

The great majority of the money (like most of the town’s budget in general) would go to the schools, in particular to funding the initiatives included in the Arlington School Committee’s five-year Strategic Plan.

The group campaigning for a “Yes” vote on the override -- Invest In Arlington -- emphasizes that “Arlington Public Schools pays its employees significantly less than similar communities.”

Select Board member Diane Mahon remarked at the Oct. 17 board meeting, “When I speak to people in the streets, I have hardly gotten anyone” who disagrees that APS salaries need to be higher, and she feels the same is true of police and firefighter compensation.

Invest In Arlington makes its case for a yes vote in more detail here>>

 The campaign chairs are Helmuth, School Committee Chair Kirsi Allison-Ampe and Finance Committee member Christine Deshler.

Finance Committee narrowly supports override

No known group has emerged to oppose a Yes vote, but Town Meeting member Alexander Franzosa (Precinct 6) said he plans to vote against the override, reflecting his constituents’ concerns about rising housing prices in Arlington.

“If these tax increases translate to rent increases, compounded with otherwise rising rents, the doors to our town will close on even more middle- and low-income individuals and families,” he said. “A significant number of Arlington residents are frustrated with constantly rising taxes, and they do not feel that they are personally experiencing a corresponding improvement in the quality of life in our town.” 

Mark Kaepplein (9) said that he also would vote no, saying that “An override seems premature now. Free cash is very strong, and we have no idea on changes that should come when federal ARPA funds end, and how many of the dozen or so new positions will continue. One needs to be one of the [members of the] Finance Committee to get a town official before you to answer questions on the various budgeted departments.” 

In its report to the Special Town Meeting on the override, the Finance Committee wrote: “By increasing school spending, we will worsen our structural deficit. This will almost certainly necessitate bigger and/or more frequent override votes in the future. Should any of those override votes fail, cuts to budgets—and services—may well be the result.”

Nevertheless, “by a vote of 10 to 7, the Finance Committee opted to support the override. While sobered by the knowledge of our having to confront future deficits, a majority of the Finance Committee believes it is our collective responsibility to close student achievement gaps, improve the quality of education for all and ensure that we are able to recruit and retain the best talent possible for our children. Towns thrive with a strong educational system; without one, they die.”

Oversight measures described

The Select Board has made commitments, leading with a guarantee of no further overrides until 2027, that are posted here >>

The board reaffirmed these commitments despite the mistake in the effective date, which means that, even if the override passes, the town will not start collecting the revenue until next summer. As Helmuth said at the Oct. 17 meeting of the Select Board, if the ballot language had been written as intended, the board would have been able to extend that guarantee further into the future.

Town Manager Jim Feeney acknowledged to YourArlington that the mistake “may affect our ability to wait more than a year” past 2027 before possibly recommending a future override.

Feeney also supplied more detail on the first of the Select Board’s commitments: “Exercise fiscal discipline.” He said that the town could maintain the override commitments despite the mistake in the ballot language partly because it spends free cash more conservatively than many other towns do; only 50 percent of the 10-year rolling average can be used in a given year, while the rest can be used to absorb shocks like the discovery of the mistake in the override ballot language.

In addition, the town has long maintained an annual reserve fund, “which is what we’d draw on to pay for [surprise expenses such as] a really bad winter, a wave of retirements or a lawsuit.” 

The surplus generated by the override, if it passes, will be deposited in the town’s Override Stabilization Fund, which was set up after the 2005 override passed. In an earlier interview, Arlington School Committee Vice Chair Paul Schlichtman gave credit to the late Charlie Lyons, a longtime local leader, for initially setting up that structure: “He put together a plan with a reserve account and commitments to spending limits to assure Arlington voters of the wisdom of investing in our town.”

It’s the eventual depletion of that fund that triggers the need for an override; the town’s government has been forecasting this expected depletion, possibly as soon as for fiscal year 2024, since March 2023.

YourArlington’s story explaining on why the override vote is taking place next month rather than occurring earlier this year is here >> 

Two more TMM positions

Kristin Anderson (11), who supports the override, said she hopes to see the town’s commercial tax base grow to reduce the need for future overrides.

“In the new MBTA Communities housing plan [approved Wednesday night at Special Town Meeting] the Redevelopment Board worked very hard to ensure pathways for future commercial growth in the Heights, the Center and in East Arlington.”

As for Carl Wagner (15) who was a vocal opponent of the MBTA Communities plan just adopted by Special Town Meeting, he told YourArlington that he has voted for overrides in the past – but also said that he does not yet have a position on this one.

About the second ballot question; tax relief for senior citizens 

Feeney also answered YourArlington’s questions about how Question 2 would work in practice.

Taxpayers age 65 and older whose property value and income fall below thresholds set by the state could apply for relief of up to 50 percent of their tax bill. However, the total relief the town grants can’t exceed 1 percent of total property tax revenue for a given year.

Other towns’ experience, said Feeney, suggests that “you really know how many eligible people you have only after about three years.” So, some uncertainty about how much relief a given taxpayer can expect is written into the ballot language.

If this passes, taxpayers who believe that they qualify would apply for relief to the town Assessor’s Office -- as they already can do for existing tax relief measures.

The director of the assessor’s office, Dana Mann, said that 6,000 people in Arlington -- a number that includes renters -- qualified for tax relief in 2022 under the state’s “circuit breaker tax credit” program, according to the Department of Revenue.

The state circuit breaker would also help determine who qualifies for relief from the override’s additional property tax, should that measure be approved.

Mann concurred with Feeney’s assessment based on what has happened elsewhere. “I would expect the number of applicants to increase in the first three years. The other fact I would mention is that the cost of the relief will be borne in the tax rate by the residential class.”

How the ballot language mistake happened

“After reviewing the circumstances that led to the error,” Helmuth told YourArlington, “I think we’re likely to implement more specific timeline and workflow guidelines for advance review of the Select Board’s most significant votes.”

Feeney was reluctant to cast stones but said he thought that the Select Board had seen the language for the first time the day they voted on it and that “insuring that materials are prepared further in advance” makes sense going forward.

More background

A public override vote, on a date set by a given municipality's Select Board, allows local government to ask taxpayers for funds beyond this threshold. A successful tax override raises taxes of town property owners 

Arlington's last override, for $5.5 million, was in 2019. Residents also voted that year to fund the rebuilding of Arlington High School.

Previous requests to raise taxes were in 2016 – a debt exclusion, to pay for renovating Thompson and Gibbs elementary schools, and for an AHS rebuild feasibility study and Minuteman support. 

In June 2011, voters approved a $6.5 million tax override to support town and school operations by 860 votes.  

April 12, 2023: Town tax override put off to fall 


This news summary by YourArlington freelance writer Catherine Brewster was published Friday, Oct. 27, 2023. It was updated the next day, to correct the the street address at Town Hall, where registration is open until 5 p.m. that day, and to correct the amount of money per $1,000 of assessed property-tax valuation involved in the override. It was updated Oct. 29, to correct the spelling of the name of Town Meeting Member Kristin Anderson. It was upddated Nov. 6, to add information from the town on where and when to vote on Election Day, Nov. 7.

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