Override put on hold

Published February 11, 2009 | Select Board | Automatically Archived on 3/16/2009

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The Board of Selectmen decided not to place an override on the March 30 ballot at their meeting on Tuesday, but that does not mean an override is off the table.

The board said it was not opposed to an override “philosophically,” said Selectman John Drobinski, but from a political and timing standpoint, it is strategic to wait if an override is to have any chance of success.

“From a political perspective, if an override fails, it gets than much more difficult to pass another one. We learned that from the police station when we put it up for a second vote,” said Larry O’Brien, Selectmen Chair. “We want to craft an override that targets where the money will go and shows the town is trying to get the structural deficit under control.”

In all likelihood townspeople will be debate an override at Town Meeting. A motion may be made to suspend discussion of Article 4, the town budget, until the town has a more reliable budget number for state aid and a contract with town union employees. If voters agree to suspend Town Meeting it would reconvene, probably in early May, to vote a town budget. A pro-override vote at Town Meeting would trigger a special town election for a ballot vote on an override.

The town is in active and aggressive collective bargaining with the majority of its union employees, said O’Brien, and an acrimonious pre-election debate on an override could “change the tenor and tone of the negotiations.” Another uncertainty is the amount of state aid the town will receive, a number that will be more reliable when the state House of Representatives releases its preferred budget in April.

“We don’t have any control over what the state aid will be, they work at their own pace,” said Selectman Bill Keller, but collective bargaining is another issue. “Health insurance costs for town and school employees have been growing much faster than we can afford to pay. We are seeking to bring the plans for health insurance for town employees more in line with the private sector.”

Keller also favors a temporary salary freeze for all town employees, a measure the town’s non-union employees have agreed to accept.

Drobinski said that in the past 20 years there have been eight successful overrides and four defeated, “and those that were not successful were devastating to town services.”

“We need to know how (an override) gets targeted,” said Drobinski. “Our goal is to save programs and save jobs.”

The Board of Selectmen will release a statement later this week outlining their position on not putting an override on the March 30 ballot.