and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
May #4

I'm voting for an override -- "for the children"!
by Barbara Anderson

Originally published with the misleading title:
"Preserving town's character paramount, even if it requires tax override"

The Salem News
Friday, May 27, 2005

I think I'm going to vote for my first Prop 2 debt exclusion.

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 Marblehead.

The offer to sell comes from a very generous local couple who are downsizing to a smaller home and have offered their 3 acres to the town for less than they would get from developers.

for a larger view of Marblehead's new "Maple Estates": Ten 4-bedroom, 2 baths "McMansions" ... "starting at $999,000."

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 block!

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 2 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 2 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 expenses forever.

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.