Opinion: I was Shocked and Disappointed that a $7,890,467 override passed

James E. Claypoole

April 26, 2023 By James E. Claypoole

Last Monday, voters attending the Town Meeting approved a Fiscal Year 2024 budget of $143.9 Million plus an Override of $7.89 Million for a grand total of $151,816,841.

The proponents of this approved budget were very persuasive during its’ presentation; however, I was shocked and disappointed at the superficial, cursory, and amateurish presentation to voters.

Let me tell you why. Let’s take a look at historical spending by the town.

Historical Hingham Town Actual Expenditures:
FY Year Expended
2016 $ 99,759,234
2017 102,995,149
2018 104,946,759
2019 107,785,655
2020 107,858,836
2021 119,623,646
2022 133,736,565 Appropriated
2023 138,403,775. Appropriated
2024 143,926,374 Appropriated, Excluding the override
(Sources: Town Accountant “Archived Budgets” and FY 24 Town Meeting vote)

The difference between 2016 actual expenditures and the approved budget for next year is $44,167,140.

This constitutes an increase of over 44% between 2016 and the approved budget, EXCLUDING the override.

If we take the 2020 actual town expenditures of $107,858,836 compared to the approved budget, the difference is $36,067,538. This constitutes a 33.4% increase between 2020 and the approved FY 24 budget, excluding the override.

The proponents not only did not mention this huge disparity, nor did they discuss any justification for the dramatic increase in spending year over year.

“The annual growth of our education budget is not sustainable. ……..from 2011 to 2020, student enrollment grew by 4%, while the Education Budget grew by 53%” (Source: Board of Selectmen Warrant TM 2021, page 18)

How did this runaway spending happen?

In the FY 22 budget, the town received a one-time grant of $2,600,000 from the Federal Government, and used $2,400,000 from the towns’ Rainy Day fund for a total of $5,000,000 to balance the budget. (Source: Select Board Warrant TM 2021, page 18)

The principal use of this one-time bump to the budget was to hire additional employees, with the lions
share in the School Department.

Year   Employees
2019    673
2022    733

Note the increase over the last 3 years of 60 employees. The school enrollment during this period declined 474, or over 10%. (Source: Hingham Annual Comprehensive Financial Report 2022, pages 136 and 141)

The COVID threat is over; the employees added to deal with the COVID threat of two years ago are still employed by the town, and are included in the budget approved by the Town Meeting April 24th.

There can be no justification to retain employees required by COVID in 2021, and include them in the FY24 budget.

Town Boards need to review staffing levels in relation to three years ago. Three years ago, the town was able to operate efficiently with substantially less employees than authorized by the current budget.

The town is top heavy with administrators!

The respective Chairs of the Select Board, School Committee and the Advisory Committee signed a “FY24 OVERRIDE FRAMEWORK AND FY24-28 FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT PLAN” mid-March 2023.

This agreement sets forth a variety of commitments with respect to future management disciplines to control the override of $7,890,467 approved at the recent Town Meeting.

The most important element of this agreement is that its’ terms and conditions are not enforceable beyond FY 24. (Source: see ACKNOWLEDGMENTS, last sentence page 2 of the foregoing Agreement).

I believe a balanced presentation of financial data should have been made to the voters for them to make an informed decision; at both the Annual Town Meeting, and those voters who will be casting their votes at the polls on April 29th .

The presentation of relevant financial and historical data to the voters by the proponents of the override is sorely lacking in balance and is at best, amateurish and sloppy.

This sort of presentation would never stand if an increase in spending of this magnitude were to be proposed in the private sector.

The voters were not provided sufficient empirical and historical data to make an informed decision.

Final approval of the override requires for its’ adoption a majority vote on Saturday, April 29th.

Vote by mail is still available; ballots must be returned to the Town Clerk by 8 PM election night.

When you go to the polls on April 29 th , I urge Hingham voters to vote NO on the override.

5 thoughts on “Opinion: I was Shocked and Disappointed that a $7,890,467 override passed”

  1. I know this is difficult for people who didn’t have children in school the past few years to understand but I cannot overstate how much kids have been harmed. I agree that the health emergency is over. But the effects of the choices made during that period of time – to keep kids out of school longer and to provide less in person learning time than most other communities – created profound social, emotional, and academic problems which aren’t solved with the wave of a magic wand (or pen to paper rescinding an order). We are contending with record high numbers of students requiring special education, tiered support services, and mental health services. We are not alone in facing these issues, but in Hingham, these issues were further compounded by the chronic underfunding of our schools for decades. We have consistently been below the state average in per pupil spending. We therefore entered the emergency at a deficit and exit it in a deeper hole compared to other communities. That enrollment has declined is not reason to suggest less funding is warranted but a warning that parents now understand the effects of decades of underfunding and the inadequacies that come with it. Voting against the override will further proliferate this effect. More families will leave for private school or move to other districts, students who remain will have diminished opportunities, new families interest in moving to Hingham will fall, and property values will drop.

  2. As a longtime Hingham resident, I take a very different view of these numbers. For many years, Hingham kicked the can down the road rather than investing in programs and infrastructure that the town—including schools—desperately needed. We talked about rebuilding Foster for FIFTEEN YEARS, putting a generation of students in a subpar and sometimes dangerous building. (My students did not attended Foster.) The end result was having to spend far more to build now than if we had built earlier. In addition, we wasted money renting the old St. Jerome’s building, patching the heating system, and emergency-bussing kids to the high school.

    Furthermore, many families have left the system because we do not provide services to which their children are entitled by law. Every family in Hingham whose child needs extra support has to fight for it. The resources are spread too thin. Talk to some families and find out how much they have spent on reading tutors, math tutors, speech therapists, occupational therapists…a huge number have because it’s easier and cheaper to pay than to keep fighting. And, again, these services are not extras, but legally mandated. Many families hire advocates and attorneys to get their kids services, and the new positions help the district address some of the unmet need. And lest anyone try to blame parents or teachers for not doing what previous generations did: the current academic expectations for kindergarten are close to what was expected of second graders decades ago.

    Perhaps more maddening, the lack of investment pre-Covid ensured that Hingham was unable to return students to in-person classes in a timely manner due to the state of the Foster building. Every day that students could not return was another day that they fell behind in learning, and struggled emotionally. The failures were no fault of the extraordinarily hard-working staff and building administrations. Hingham had so little flexibility in budgets that teachers lacked resources that many other towns were able to leverage. This override budget reflects our failure to adequately support our students BEFORE Covid, not simply providing supports during the shutdown. (See Dr. Gallo’s comments about the requested funding for East in 2009.) Our students are still struggling, and it’s our responsibility to provide them with the resources to ensure that they will not suffer a lifetime of deficits.

    Failure to invest strategically over decades also means that we failed our public safely officers, with firefighters living and working in unsafe conditions. Our seniors have fared little better, with inadequate facilities and parking at the senior center. Rejecting this override would have cut funding for the transportation services on which our elderly neighbors rely to get to the doctor or the store. And as for the argument that we are somehow building “prestige” projects: I moved to a town with a pool and we now don’t have one, every town we visit for sports has better fields than we do (usually with bathrooms instead of portapotties!), and I used to take my kids to Weymouth and Pembroke’s nicer playgrounds to play. Our facilities are adequate, not impressive or amazing. The only notable upgrades to our town facilities in more than a decade have been the rec barn and bathhouse. Neither one is extravagant, and they both bring in revenue and provide restrooms that allow more people to enjoy public spaces. It’s fine to have adequate rather than spectacular facilities, but we shouldn’t be making the argument that our leaders have somehow led us off a cliff of unsustainable funding based on “prestige projects,” because that’s simply not the case.

    As many have said before, this is a “right-sizing” of the budget. It’s unfortunate that an unwillingness to increase taxes gradually over many years means that we have such a huge increase now, and I hope we take a more gradual and strategic approach moving forward.

  3. Great summary Jim. This is unconscionable. Town departments are overstaffed. 40% increase in town budget in 7 years. How many residents have seen that type of pay increase.

  4. Mr. Claypoole,

    This year’s budget presentations have been some of the most transparent discussions and presentations I’ve witnessed.

    The 109-page Warrant for Town Meeting provided extensive data and explanation. As our Town Moderator reminds us at the beginning of Town Meeting, it is incumbent upon residents to review our Warrants before the meeting and ask clarifying questions at the meeting; not reiterate the hundreds of hours of presentations already conducted. *There were very few questions asked about the Town Budget on Monday night.*

    FY2024 budget discussions started as early as November 29, 2022 with the first joint meeting of the Select Board, School Committee and Advisory Board. It can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/JKtdiuiOez0

    Many more budget presentations were made during the past six months and are also available for viewing through Hingham Harbor Media’s YouTube channel: https://youtube.com/@HarborMedia

    In addition to the information and data presented in the Warrant, all of the budget documents and presentations (as well as agenda postings) were made available on the town website:

    Much of the financial and comparison data used, as well as different measurements of the population growth Hingham has witnessed, was presented back in February 2022 in the Sustainability Task Force’s presentation and final report. https://www.hingham-ma.gov/916/Sustainable-Budget-Task-Force

    Since 2010, the Reports of the Advisory Committee found in the Warrants cited Hingham has not received level services. Over the last few years, the Reports also expressed the need for an override. You can review them here (best if done in chronological order.). https://www.hingham-ma.gov/413/Ballots-Warrants-Results

    Finally, the town provided an email address several months ago for questions specific to the override. If any voter has questions before Saturday, they may email: override@hingham-ma.gov.

    Town Meeting attendees were very-well informed and voted with confidence and their educated conviction — as will the Yes! voters participating in this Saturday’s Town Election.

    Sincerest regards,
    Laura Donnelly

  5. We are indeed indebted to Mr. Claypool for his bold, clarion call for the Town to emulate the private sector in managing its affairs. It inspired me to conduct a little thought experiment – what might that look like? As John Lennon said, “imagine”…
    • For starters, all of the Town’s uncompensated or minimally compensated civic volunteers – (the Select Board, the Light Board, the Planning Board, the Advisory Committee, all of the numerous essential committees that labor for free to do so much of the work in running Hingham – would be lavishly remunerated, just as corporate boards are, with six figure “stipends”, tax-free contributions to retirement accounts, etc.
    • The Select Board would be busy selling off Hingham assets and pocketing huge “bonuses.”
    • Town services for fire and police would be available only on a paid subscription basis. Choose Elite, Premium or Basic. If you can only afford Basic, that service level entitles you to have grey water sprinkled on your smoldering embers, with a complementary package of Fenway Franks.
    • The “overstaffed” School Department would fire all teachers and replace them with H-2A visa guest workers from Kazakhstan who have English as a second language (but terrific math skills!). They would be paid $5.00 per hour plus tips and housed in tent dormitories in Wompatuck. The teachers would have to train their replacements as a condition of receiving minimal severance pay.
    • School class pictures would be sold to facial recognition software firms. School lunches would be dispensed from vending machines – this week, on the menu: Nacho Cheese McSticky Bun Tallow-fried Crunch Burgers – only $9.99. Twenty-ounce sodas included. Insulin available!!
    • Zoning by-laws would be stratified according to neighborhood income levels. Hint – stop worrying about ADU’s and start worrying about that car wash going up next door.
    • There would be a mysterious, catastrophic fire one night at the Foster School, which would of course be insured to the max.
    • The many talented, dedicated women of Hingham who contribute so much would have to constantly struggle against a glass ceiling to hold Town leadership positions and would be regularly subjected to various forms of sexual harassment, lascivious insults and other puerile, chauvinistic behavior.
    • HMLP would be burning coal at their Beal Cove generating station.
    • The Town would be squandering Weir River Water Company resources for profit and would be aggressively marketing Bare Cove Wonder Water, available in – yes, single serving plastic bottles!
    • The Inner Harbor would have long ago been developed into an exclusive seaside resort. The snack bar would be a 1 Michelin star restaurant with a revolving assortment of celebrity chefs who routinely get sued for verbally and physically abusing the staff. Bon Appetit!
    • Instead of a painstaking, multi-media outreach effort to explain the Town’s finances to stakeholders, as so aptly described by Laura Donnelly above, the Town would instead simply publish for its “shareholders” an inscrutable legalese document printed in tiny font, which would arrive two days before Town Meeting.
    • Instead of the Hingham Climate Action Commission, the Town would have a special committee chartered to auction off drilling and mineral rights to Town properties. Fracking would be underway in Home Meadows. There would be a drilling rig on the front lawn of Town Hall. Hingham Energy Independence Now!

    These are just a few of the wonderful benefits that would accrue to Town citizens were we to run our Town like the private sector. Instead, we’re stuck with an antique New England Town Meeting democracy, selfless citizen volunteers, an impeccably honest municipal government guided by an ethos of fairness and service to residents, plus Town electric and water utilities run for the benefit of their owners – the citizens of Hingham. Oh yes, and a deep commitment to give our children the best education possible. Darn, I guess we’ll just have to grit our teeth and soldier on….


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