I think I'm going to vote for my first Prop 2½ debt
I've never voted for an override of any kind, and would never vote to
raise my neighbors' taxes for some service I wanted for myself. But I'm
considering a debt exclusion to buy some open space in my town of
The offer to sell comes from a very generous local couple who are
downsizing to a smaller home and have offered their 3½ acres to the town
for less than they would get from developers.
CLICK ON PHOTO
for a larger view of Marblehead's new
"Maple Estates": Ten 4-bedroom, 2½ baths "McMansions"
... "starting at
There is very little open space left here. People seem to congregate in
oceanside communities whenever possible, perhaps feeling nostalgic for
our evolutionary beginnings in the sea. One large parcel next to the
Catholic cemetery was recently sold and now has 10 giant homes crammed
onto it, selling for roughly a million dollars apiece. This is on a main
route into town with no view (except of a cemetery).
When they can't find open space, developers buy
affordable cottages and rip them down, replacing them with larger
buildings. My little house is surrounded by them and would be demolished
and replaced itself if I were to leave it.
I don't begrudge the developers, who are offering a product that people
want to buy. Some new developments, like the one around the corner, are
quite charming, each home different with beautiful landscaping. I enjoy
taking a long walk around the block where there didn't used to be a
Maybe the new McMansions will be nice, too, when they're done. I
wouldn't criticize other people's choices. I dream of a simple log
cabin, but others want big houses.
Perhaps they like to entertain, which I do only in the summer when we
can sit outside at the picnic table. Maybe they have art and furniture
collections to display or want to have a large family. To each his own.
However, I'm beginning to suspect that some people's "own" is being
subsidized by "mine" through Proposition 2½ overrides to pay for their
kids' education extras.
I understand that we must all chip in for education basics. But some
parents insist on a lot more than that, at taxpayer expense of course.
They then pass along their sense of entitlement to their children, who
are sometimes told by their teachers that citizens who don't vote for
overrides are the selfish ones.
The debt-exclusion override for which I intend to vote is an example of
why Prop 2½ was created with an override provision — for something
unexpected, that won't be repeated, and that's a good deal that benefits
the community as a whole. Using a debt exclusion to buy open space is
better than adopting the Community Preservation Act, as some towns have,
that would take our money "just in case" a need arises — and creates a
little local bureaucracy to find ways to spend it.
But besides the desire for open space, it has come to this, and let's be
honest about it: Every piece of land without a McMansion on it might
represent children who will not be entering the schools, with parents
who might demand higher taxes to subsidize them. In my town, each
million-dollar home brings in roughly $9,000 a year in property taxes.
Each kid's education costs $8,800 a year. Someone computed that each
home costs the town, aside from schools, $1,500 to service. Lower-income
people must make up the difference.
It wouldn't be fair to assume that all wealthy people always vote to
raise taxes, even though they can afford their share and may find it
hard to identify with those who cannot. I'm sure some well-off parents
have a sense of fiscal responsibility and recognize, along with some of
the rest of us, that towns can't count on overrides for school operating
But in my town, the big spenders dominate and prevail. Some of us are
starting to think that they hope we'll go away so they can have their
annual overrides with less effort after bulldozing our cottages and
attracting slightly tonier neighbors.
I generally like seeing more kids in the neighborhood, playing catch,
riding bikes, visiting at Halloween. But someone should tell them that
the entitlement mentality that pays for their schools now will take a
huge tax burden to maintain when they are taxpayers themselves.
Maybe they'll inherit the house, and have trust funds, so they won't
have to worry about paying the tax bills. Still, today's adults should
remember that unless voters in general put the brakes on government
spending, these same kids will have to cover the national debt and the
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid crises, too. It's time that all
levels of government begin to plan for their future.
Yes, though I'm voting against Marblehead's general override, I think
I'll vote for the debt exclusion to buy the Robinson property and keep
the open space. I'll do it for the trees, the unprocessed grass, the
birds and the squirrels. And hoping to prevent many permanent overrides
far into the town's future, I'll do it for the children.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.