April 21, 2023 By Beth and Mark Rockoff
Advocates for the proposed $7.9 million tax override highlight many benefits that will occur for the town’s schools and municipal services if a majority of voters approve this request at the upcoming town meeting and subsequent town election. However, much less attention has been devoted to addressing the adverse consequences that will occur if this proposal passes.
In particular, those of limited means, including many retired senior citizens living on a fixed income, are already being challenged to keep up with rising costs due to inflation. This is even before they feel the effects of the tax increase approved last year for a new Foster School and Police/Fire Department Building, let alone the additional, large, permanent, property tax increase currently proposed. It is especially difficult for many long-time (or life-long) residents whose homes were purchased years ago when the price, and assessed value, was significantly less than now. Rising assessments and property tax bills are outpacing the ability for many to afford to remain in their homes.
Supporters of the override note several programs that currently exist in the town to assist those of limited means. But a close look at these options indicates they are cumbersome (and some would say demeaning) to apply for, do not permit many who need help to qualify, and even for those who do qualify, the extent of assistance provided is often inadequate. Essentially, while property taxes have been significantly increasing, abatement programs have not been keeping pace. Yet applications for assistance have been markedly increasing because more residents now need help.
Hingham is a beautiful town with excellent schools and municipal services. All residents desire it to remain that way. However, unless we want to see Hingham become a place where only the wealthy can afford to live, attention needs to be focused on more efficient utilization of available funds, as well as seeking sources of revenue beyond property taxes. Incidentally, it is worth noting that school enrollment has been decreasing for years while the number of school employees and school payroll has been increasing. Meanwhile, funding for schools still consumes 2/3 of the town’s increasing budget. Nevertheless, despite a request for additional school personnel, the school budget proposal does not even address the poverty-level wages currently being paid to the school’s paraprofessionals. Furthermore, there is no funding provided for a new or improved senior center, even though there are more senior citizens in the town now than there are children in the public schools. On top of all this, another tax override is projected to be necessary four years from now just to maintain “level services”. Is it appropriate to wait several more years before addressing the core issues here?
In conclusion, the town’s Financial Policy Statement that was approved a little more than a year ago lists seven principles to manage the town’s expenditures and financial resources. One of these is “to ensure that people of varied economic means remain part of our community”. Another is “to maintain stable tax rates”. In our opinion, these two important principles are not being adequately addressed. This is unfortunate since more of Hingham’s residents should not feel compelled to leave after they have, for many years, helped fund the town they care deeply about.
This is why many people are concerned about the large property tax increase currently proposed and troubled that a more modest option was not even offered as an alternative. Incidentally, similar issues recently arose in the town of Newton, and citizens there rejected a large property tax increase for many of the same reasons. Hopefully everyone in Hingham will consider all the implications of this current tax override proposal – and be respectful of individuals who express an opinion different from their own.