Residents Give Override Proposal Mixed Reviews
By: Mary Stanley
Town officials’ campaign for a Proposition 2 1/2 override to help support the town’s operational expenses has sparked a fair amount of debate within the community—a community that is only just barely starting to feel the pressure ease from the national recession.
A sampling of opinions from residents and business owners in town about the prospects of a tax increase makes it clear that the town will be fighting a difficult uphill battle as it makes its financial pitch to voters.
Owner of Cerulli’s Barber Shop in Merchants Square, Noreen B. Cerulli, just does not see how people in this town can afford to vote for an override.
“The president just extended unemployment benefits. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t hear of somebody who is still out of work,” she said.
With a donation box sitting at the front of the barber shop labeled for the Sandwich Food Pantry, Ms. Cerulli said business is up for that nonprofit organization, and that is not a sign of a healthy economy. “The food pantry is the busiest it’s ever been,” she said.
Police Officer Brian A. Bondarek, who was at the barber shop getting his hair cut, said he sees firsthand the number of people who have been affected by the recession.
“People are really hurting. Just drive around town and look at the number of homes up for sale or the number of homes that are under foreclosure,” he said.
Ms. Cerulli said if an override passes, she would take a financial hit twice.
“Property taxes on my house and my business would go up,” she said. An increase in property taxes could also affect her bottom line, she said, especially if customers decide to cut back on their visits to her shop.
So when the time comes to voting for an override, she said, “it’s not happening in my world.”
Customer John L. Cusolito said the town, like the people living in it, will just have to tighten its financial belt.
“Private enterprises have to cut back. Local governments should run the same way. It’s about time this country started living within its means,” he said.
Kevin R. Conrad, co-owner of All Cape Sports on Route 130, said if an override does pass, it will not have much of an impact on his business.
“When it comes to kids, people will still splurge,” he said.
But from a resident’s perspective, Mr. Conrad said he could not afford to support an override.
“I just put an in-law apartment on my house, so I’m already paying more in taxes. Another increase in taxes wouldn’t fit into my budget. And there are a lot of people in the same situation,” he said.
Brian J. Clifford, owner of the Earl of Sandwich Motel on Route 6A, said he would not support a tax increase.
“I already pay $16,000 a year in taxes. I’m not going to be voting for any override.”
Especially, he said, since the override town officials are talking about would only go to support current services, not add anything new.
“If they were going to use the money to do something like reopening the East Sandwich Fire Station or adding police, then, yes, I would vote for it,” Mr. Clifford said. “But the way it is, no.”
Former member of the finance committee Hank Sennott said he hopes any Proposition 2 1/2 override would include an increase in services. “I would hope it would include reopening the East Sandwich Fire Station. People should be getting something extra and that fire station has been a real concern for many people. It should be on the table,” Mr. Sennott said.
Shawn P. Murray, member of the Sandwich Taxpayers Association said the town has its work cut out in trying to “sell” a tax increase. “We have 10 percent unemployment in this town. And that doesn’t include the number of underemployed people or those who have stopped looking for work,” he said.
Mr. Murray said he has not made a firm decision yet on whether he would vote for an override.
“I haven’t seen any definite numbers yet. Obviously, I would need to see a detailed breakout of how much money is needed and the corresponding loss of services should an override fail. It’s a little premature right now to make any final verdict,” he said.
He pointed out, however, that town workers have shown a sacrifice when they agreed not to take pay raises two years in a row before coming to the taxpayers.
“The municipal government is asking for a sacrifice from the people in very difficult times. When you see unions, department heads, and town administrators taking no increases for the past two years, then the taxpayer can share in the burden,” he said.
Mr. Murray said he will be watching the negotiations with the teachers’ union very closely to see what kind of sacrifice the school department will be making.
Susan R. James of Pinkham Road who attended the selectmen’s meeting two weeks ago to listen to the first of four presentations on the state of the town’s finances and the $2 million deficit it is facing next year, said she is very pleased that the board is having these discussions now.
“I’m delighted to see the presentations being made now. This is a very important issue,” she said.
Ms. James, who is a former member of the finance committee, said she would support an override.
“From a financial perspective, I really do think the town has a history of making do with very little, and still providing very good services. The department heads have been doing everything they can to jury-rig this budget. We have reached a point where you can’t do more with less,” she said.
Mr. Sennott agreed. “The town has done a very good job of delaying the inevitable for a number of years. You get to a certain point where you have to face up to the difficult decision, which is a Proposition 2 1/2 override.,” Mr. Sennott said.
Ms. James acknowledged that this is a difficult economy in which to ask people to pay more in taxes.
“When people are stressed economically, the timing is terrible to ask them for money. But at the same time, the town is stressed economically,” she said.
While the timing for an override might be bad, Ms. James said the timing for the discussion is very good.
“The presentations had to start now. Educating people is really important. If you give people the time to ask the questions and get the answers, they can make informed decisions. I respect that people have to look at their pocketbooks to decide how they are going to vote. But they really have to listen to what is being said,” Ms. James stated.
Mr. Murray agreed that educating the public is going to be an important part of an override campaign.
“It’s not going to be an easy sell. I’m not sure about the tolerance for an override. A case has to be made and it is up to the board of selectmen to make that. They will have to show the services that will be lost if an override is not supported. Then it will be up to the voters to decide what they can afford or what they are willing to live without,” he said.