Are North Andover Officials Out of Touch with the Citizens
Ted Tripp, North Andover Taxpayers Association – April, 2005
That’s a fair question to ask.
Just as recently as three years ago, North Andover voters showed up in huge numbers to overwhelmingly reject a $4 million tax increase by means of a Proposition 2 ½ Override. The School Committee, the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen all said the Town couldn’t function without it and the money was desperately needed. The voters didn’t believe them and denied the tax increase. Yet, the Town seems to have survived just fine without the extra money.
Now, just three short years later, what made Town leaders think the voters were in the mood for a $7.3 million tax increase to finance a new police station? Did they not talk to the people around town about whether they were willing to pay more in taxes before going through all the effort to bring the issue to a vote?
Did they not think many residents driving by the new high school would view it as extravagant and deny the Town more money to build another “monument” to town government? Did they think voters had not noticed that taxes had gone up 42% since the year 2000 or 21% since the last override attempt in 2002? Did they think that taxpayers had not noticed that their tax bills are 71% higher than the state median?
The defeat of the March 29th Override by 69% to 31% should have been foreseen by a responsive Town government so that we could have saved the $4-5,000 cost of a Special Town Meeting in February to approve the project. The vote at that Meeting for the override was 176 to 16. Did anyone really think this was representative of the electorate? At least one of the more cognizant selectmen called this nothing more than a “Pep Rally”, whereas others thought this was a mandate to forge ahead and ask the voters to dig deeper into their pockets and hand over more money to the Town.
Much of the problem comes from the current makeup of our Finance Committee. Several months ago I wrote a column for the North Andover Citizen, entitled “Finance Committee Fails as Town Watchdog.” When it was published, there was great “wailing and gnashing of teeth” from members of the Committee.
I was personally chastised by the Chairman of the Committee, Jack Watkins, who is perhaps best known as Spokesman of the 2002 Task Force Committee that recommended a $10 million tax override. I was also personally attacked in print by the Vice Chair of the Committee, Keith Mitchell, who is also the Chairman of the Republican Town Committee, and who called me the “Town Crank.” You should know that this latter individual was one of the most visible proponents of the current $7.3 million override campaign and also the previous $4 million effort in 2002. Another member of the Finance Committee, Paul Stewart, was the fourth highest money contributor to the 2005 pro-override campaign.
With leaders like these on our Finance Committee, is there any wonder their recommendations are out of touch with the people?
The selectmen are not off the hook, either. While they take their recommendations from the Town Manager and the Finance Committee, they also have to have a sense of what the people want and don’t want. If the taxpayers refuse to pay any override tax increases, the selectmen have to know this so that they can prevent all the wasted time, effort and money of going through the motions to request such an increase.
We now have a new Board of Selectmen with a new member who campaigned against the override. Let’s hope that Tom Licciardello and the other selectmen got the message last Tuesday that the residents won’t support any more Proposition 2 ½ Tax Overrides for many years in the future.