Seeking a cure for override fever in Marblehead
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, June 3, 2010

How would you like it if you were Mother Earth and someone wanted to replace your hair with AstroTurf? What if you were a little secret garden and someone wanted to "out" you to hordes of noisy tourists?

Taxpayers often contact me about proposed Proposition 2 overrides in their communities, asking for advice on defeating them. I respond with news about the latest Marblehead overrides or debt exclusions that I have no idea how to prevent, and tell them if they come up with a plan to let me know.

Marblehead is having another special election on June 15, this one for ten Prop. 2 debt exclusion overrides that, if they all pass, are estimated to increase annual property taxes by $500 on a median value home. Thank heavens I don't have one of those median value homes.

But whatever my share of the total $40 million is, I didn't get a pay raise to cover it. Neither did a lot of other taxpayers. Some are unemployed. And seniors aren't getting a cost of living allowance this year from the seriously underfunded Social Security system.

But who cares about them? People who can afford to pay more are happy to make the rest of us pay more too. Hey, it's 2010 let's do 10 tax hikes! Next year we can do 11, for 2011! Can't wait for 2050 ... as our founding fisherman fathers keep turning over in their graves.

Heaven forbid that anyone should make the effort to set priorities. Construct a new transfer station, "out" the library garden who in town government, including the selectmen who put the issues on the ballot, is qualified to decide that one is more important than the other?

If they and Town Meeting can't tell the difference in importance, then neither can I, so I'll treat all 10 with the same urgency that I feel toward the garden: I'm voting "no," times 10.

Some of the Marblehead debt exclusions are for basic town services like the town dump and sidewalk repair which you'd think the existing property taxes, with their annual Prop. 2-allowed increases, should cover. One is for yet another new school; hurry and replace the old ones while the state is still covering part of the cost, never mind its fiscal crisis.

My gosh, opponents cry, that school was built in 1917! Well, my house is even older yet, over the decades, owners including me have maintained and fixed it when necessary, even without paid janitorial staff. I notice that other town departments manage to do maintenance and repair without overrides.

Under "library repairs" (debt exclusion No. 7), I've heard this vote is essential to create better access to a tiny "secret library garden."

It would be cheaper to buy a few more copies of "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett so more readers can appreciate a hidden flower place.

They can also walk around town for free and see all the lovely gardens on which homeowners have spent their own money.

Debt exclusion No. 8 would replace the grass of the high school playing field with AstroTurf. There's a "Save the Earth, Vote Yes for Turf" sign at the corner of my street, where signs for liberal candidates cluster during other elections on a large manicured lawn. Why not replace all Marblehead grass lawns with AstroTurf, and save the earth from water sprinklers, gas-powered lawn mowers and pesticides?

There's another debt exclusion to "fix" the main road into town where it passes the middle school, so it's less dangerous for students who jaywalk while distracted by their cellphones and iPods, heedless of cars driven by people who are distracted by their own cellphones and iPods.

Giving credit where it's due, Town Meeting did something right when it voted to outlaw texting while driving, though some people who think they should be allowed to drive with their heads up their butts are complaining about the decision.

A few years ago some town busybodies wanted to force all homeowners with sidewalks to shovel them immediately after a snowstorm so they could be used for wheelchair travel and dog walking. Those of us who opposed this mandate noted that even in summer many sidewalks aren't passable because of the trees growing out of them. We won the point, but may have lost the war, as now there's a debt exclusion to get rid of the tree roots that are buckling the sidewalks.

If you cut the roots, won't the trees fall down, come a major wind? Maybe we should just replace the trees with AstroTurf.

Speaking of the handicapped, Marblehead has been told by the state that it can no longer use the Old Town House for voting because it's not totally handicapped-accessible.

For years, town clerks arranged for poll workers or the poll police officer to take a ballot out to the few voters who couldn't navigate the historic building. Apparently this is no longer good enough for certain advocates and state bureaucrats, whose brains should be replaced with AstroTurf too.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.

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