Current Select Board hesitation on the override question and override amount

Both local papers covered last night's Select Board meeting (I attached the full text of the articles below as the specific links often expire). Both articles mention current Select Board member Robie Hubley citing a small questionnaire that current Town Meeting member Nancy Gordon sent out to about 300 people.

Something worth noting: working with the assumption that this is definitely along the lines of an interesting "questionnaire," not a "survey," in terms of large scale representation (I am especially sensitive to that concept since the Comprehensive Planning Committee is working *very* carefully to ensure the community survey for the Master Plan is very carefully designed and executed), I read these results as:

300 sent
150 approx returned
55/150 said no override
35/150 said $1m override
33/150 said $3m override
8/150 said $6m override

which I say indicates 37% (55/150) said no overrride, while 51% (76/150) would support an override of $1m or more. I really don't see the connection between these results and lack of support for an override!

Daily Hampshire Gazette, Tuesday March 6, 2007

Amherst Select Board in no hurry to make override decision

AMHERST - Select Board members still have a lot of questions for the Finance Committee about a proposed May 1 tax levy override.

But they agreed Monday to confirm by March 19, or possibly March 12, whether the levy will even call for an override and, if so, how much it should be.

The Finance Committee has recommended $2.5 million, combined with a three-year spending plan, cuts and a commitment from town officials not to request another override for three years.

School Committee members have said they endorse the Finance Committee's proposal and moreover would like to know as soon as possible how big an override the Select Board will agree to.

But Select Board members said they are in no great hurry to arrive at a figure. They also said they would take into consideration a suggestion by Town Meeting member Vincent O'Connor that they postpone the May 1 date. That would give the Legislature more time to deliberate on how much state aid would be coming to cities and towns, O'Connor said.

O'Connor also advocates that some high-level town officials and administrators who support a May 1 override agree to resign if an override on that date fails.

Select Board members did not explicitly endorse or reject that proposal. Member Robie Hubley argued that the board should set an override at $1.5 million to shore up a projected $3.7 million shortfall in the coming year's spending plan. Generating projections beyond one year amount to "pure vapor," he said.

Hubley is not sure a larger override would pass, citing a survey he said Town Meeting member Nancy Gordon recently conducted. She sent out 300 questionnaires to a random sampling of residents, about half of which were returned. Fifty-five people said they would not support any override, Hubley said. Thirty-five said they would support a $1 million override; thirty-three would support a $3 million override; and eight respondents said they would support a $6 million override.

Hubley also argued in favor of delaying a decision on the size of the override as long as possible. A decision has to be made by March 26, a night the board is scheduled to meet. But because the town elections are the next day, Anne Awad, the board chairwoman, said the decision should be made at the board's meeting a week before.

A week can make a huge difference, said Hubley, who is up for re-election. "There's no way in the world you can predict what's going to happen by Monday," he said. "Something has happened virtually every week since I've been alive."

Board member Hwei-Ling Greeney's chief concern is budgeting so that the town isn't facing a $2.4 million shortfall four years after an override passes. The Finance Committee has projected that could happen, if other revenues weren't secured in the meantime.

Member Gerald Weiss, who is also up for re-election, advocated for deciding sooner rather than later, to give the schools more time to refine their financial projections. He would also like to see a commitment to not raise the tax levy to the full extent allowable in the event an override passes, if the town comes into more money in the meantime.

Possible sources of revenue include a hoped-for payment of $500,000 by the University of Massachusetts for fire services and more local aid from the state. Member Robert Kusner argued that the town could press for a larger override than $2.5 million but make a commitment to not collect all of it the first year. Only Awad did not reveal what she is thinking about an override.

The Republican, Tuesday March 6, 2007

Select Board examining budget override options

AMHERST - While the Finance Committee has reaffirmed its recommendation for a $2.5 million Proposition 2½ override, the Select Board last night began reviewing whether it will propose that or another amount at the May 1 special election.

The Select Board has until March 26 to set the dollar amount. That's the night before the annual town election, a night on which the board usually does not meet.

The Finance Committee proposal also includes a three-year spending plan of limiting budgets to 3 percent for fiscal 2008; 5.5 percent for fiscal 2009, and 5.6 percent for fiscal 2010. The plan proposes the need for raising additional revenue.

Select Board members last night questioned those proposed hikes and also talked about requesting a lesser amount on the special election ballot.

Board member Robie Hubley proposed a $1.5 million figure. He said that Town Meeting member Nancy M. Gordon had mailed out about 300 letters to residents asking about an override. Of those who responded, 55 wanted no override, 35 would support a $1 million override and 33 a $3 million override. "There's a strong public sentiment against (a large override)," he said.

Board member Gerald S. Weiss agreed that the lower number, the greater the chance for the town to pass an override.

Board member Hwei-Ling T. Greeney wanted to look at cutting the general government budget before deciding on an amount.

Town Manager Laurence R. Shaffer has proposed a budget within 1 percent in keeping with initial Finance Committee guidelines. He also has prepared a list of things he wants restored if there is additional money. High on his list are restoration of public safety cuts - five firefighters and two police officers - and the hiring of an economic development director.

Select Board Chairwoman Anne S. Awad said the board could think of holding budgets to 1 percent even with an override. "Part of the plan is to rebuild reserves," she said.

Greeney also was concerned with the Finance Committee's proposal because of a projected $2.4 million deficit in 2011 and asked whether the budget increases proposed by the Finance Committee are too high.

Finance Committee Chairwoman Alice A. Carlozzi said the 5.5 percent increases would allow the town to "keep up with services" and might not cover inflation and increasing costs. "The idea (of the proposal) was to make it stringent," she said.

Voters approved a $2 million override in 2004. At that election, voters opposed a $2.5 million override question.