Talk of potential override dominates budget discussion

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December 23, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer

During a lengthy, well-attended and informative remote presentation about Hingham's financial management plan and town finances by Selectmen Chair Mary Power last night, the subject of a potential override was a recurring theme.

"In a typical year, the first revenue forecast is issued in November," Power said. "Due to the pandemic, and the resulting uncertainty regarding Fiscal 2022 state and local revenue, this will not happen until at least January."

Public budget hearings involving the Selectmen, Advisory Committee, and School Committee will be held in January and February.

After talking about how Hingham's revenue growth is slowing down, steps the town has taken to grow revenue in the past (including adopting a meals tax that generated $762,000 in Fiscal 2020 alone), operating budget trends, increased service and resource demands, the financial impact of the pandemic on town revenue and household budgets, in-district per pupil spending as compared with benchmark communities, the process involved should the potential for an override be explored, the impact an override would have on property owners, and the fact that overrides become part of the permanent tax base, numerous citizens spoke up both for and against a potential override.

The annual property tax on the average assessed home value of $877,640 is $10,254. The allowed Proposition 2-1/2 annual increase adds an additional $256 a year, and a $1 million override would add an additional $111 property tax increase, as an example.

'Not a slam dunk'

Power noted that a number of citizens have advocated for an override for the schools for some time and that seeking one is a long and involved process. "An override requires a majority vote at Town Meeting and at the ballot box -- it's not a slam dunk," she explained.

Priya Howell said that while she's pleased "to hear people finally saying the word 'override,' discussing the issue isn't enough. We need to get an override [for the schools] done as quickly as possible," she said.

Suzanne Garland noted that there is "a lot of support for an override, and we're prepared to do the hard work and make it happen."

Susan O'Horo said that "as a parent who has seen the schools underfunded" she won't vote to further fund the proposed public safety facility and associated expanded senior center "until our kids get the resources they need."

Power said that Hingham "is not a community that does overrides all that often, and an override at any point in this community is a big deal, while in other communities you might expect one every couple of years."

That's not to say an override isn't possible, she continued, but "there are fundamental questions we would have to answer. We would need to prove that the money would be spent wisely."

Power noted that only about 25 percent of Hingham households have children in the Hingham Public Schools system, "which benefits us all, but some citizens will want to know if raising their taxes is the last resort."

Because of all the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, Power said, "I don't even know where this is going. We're not even in a place where we can say this [potential override] is a good idea."

'Excited about this conversation'

School Committee member Libby Lewiecki said she was excited to be even having this conversation, "because our schools are underfunded. We need more money, and that's also true for other town services."

Member Liza O'Reilly said "multiple" overrides may be necessary.

Former School Committee member Christine Smith said that Power has always been a strong supporter of the schools and that Hingham does a "phenomenal job of educating its students."

She further noted that families with children enrolled in HPS receive a lot for their tax dollars based on the per-pupil annual expenditure, especially when a family has more than one child.

She pointed out that gaining Town Meeting support tends to be easier than when citizens vote in the privacy of a polling place. "When people are unemployed, and an override involves an increase of $1,000 a year [the average increase for a $100 million borrowing, which was used as an example in the presentation], some people will have to move out of town [because they can't afford it]. It's important to understand everyone's needs as we try to balance everything."

Former Selectman Paul Healey shared his perspective. "I grew up in this town and  all of my family attended public school here -- including my kids and grandchildren -- and got a good education."

As a former board member, Healey said he's "very sensitive" to the effects of the tax burden on the community. "The argument for an override needs to be compelling, and as a Selectman my fiduciary duty was to the Town of Hingham, including people who are hanging on by a thread so that any kind of property tax increase could compel them to move out of town."

Healey said he doesn't envy those who will be involved in future override conversations but that he has "full confidence that the Board of Selectmen will arrive at the right decision, and I hope the School Committee joins them in that as well."

Power said that in this community of 23,000 people, there are varying economic circumstances and priorities "and we need to balance it all and maintain economic diversity in our town."

School Committee member Michelle Ayer suggested that in this year especially -- considering the impact COVID-19 has had on all town departments and the schools -- "we make the budget process more collaborative -- to take another look [at everything] with fresh eyes."

After the meeting, Power told the Hingham Anchor: "The Board of Selectmen has not taken a position on an override because we don’t yet have enough information to do so. We understand there are members of the community who want the town to consider an override, so we began that conversation last night.

"Moving forward, we need to make sure that everyone in our community feels like there remains a place for them in Hingham. This includes seniors who live on a fixed income and working families, many of whom have called Hingham home for multiple generations. Our actions will speak louder than our words," Power said.

"Override discussions can become divisive. As we continue this conversation, the Board of Selectmen is committed to ensuring that all voices and different perspectives are both valued and respected," Power further stated in her comments to the Hingham Anchor.

The town financial policy was crafted by the Advisory Committee to:

  • ensure the continuous delivery of town services at a level that is consistent with the needs and expectations of its citizens
  • ensure residents of varied economic means remain a part of the community
  • provide for the acquisition and maintenance of appropriate infrastructure
  • stabilize tax rates
  • preserve the town's AAA credit rating

"It's a balancing act that considers all our citizens," Power said.

The full 34-page presentation, including a history of Hingham's override history since 1990, will be posted on the town website at

Power ended the meeting on a high note, recalling that even during a pandemic, Hingham maintained its AAA bond rating, bought a water company and made a successful transition -- "and water is still coming out of our taps!" -- helped save the ferry, held two Town Meetings, interviewed 75 "of our fellow citizens and appointed 50 of them to serve on town boards and committees," secured major CARES Act reimbursement, and as a community "pivoted to running our town government and schools during circumstances we never could have imagined."

Power said she's proud to stand with her colleagues, town employees, and Hingham citizens.

"I regret the personal toll the pandemic has taken on all of us, and I hope that with the turning of the page to a new year we'll continue to move forward," Power said. "As Paul Healey likes to remind us, this town has been around for almost 400 years, and it's weathering through these very difficult times" thanks to the efforts of many.

10 thoughts on “Talk of potential override dominates budget discussion”

  1. I support an override so that we can finally fully-fund our schools. Every year, the school budget is so pared down to the bare minimum by the time it gets to town meeting.

  2. Yes, Hingham Public Schools have found a way to operate during this pandemic. However, the quality of that operation is sub-par on many levels, even considering the pandemic situation. Years of underfunding have left the schools with serious systemic and structural problems that cannot be repaired to a satisfactory level without an override. The lengthy explanation behind the notion that “Hingham is not an override town” proved that we SHOULD be an override town. What is the purpose of following a tradition that has put us decades behind in many public services (not just schools)? Mary Power’s presentation demonstrated that towns that push for override votes (even if they don’t work the first time) get things done!

  3. I’m glad the selectman is considering all members of our town. That’s the right thing to do. But I strongly urge the town to really understand that our children in the HPS system are suffering. Their education and mental health are at stake. On fixed incomes, we’ve paid nearly $20,000 dollars to meet the social and academic needs of our children this past year. I support an override. I would much rather put my tax money into the town to give our children what they deserve.

  4. Here are some thoughts racing through my head and I wonder if other parents are having the same thoughts: 1. I am living in a town I moved to “for the schools” and now it’s becoming clear that these schools are severely underfunded. 2. I guess my only options are to move or send my kids to private school. 3. Why am I paying a ton to live in a town where I don’t feel confident enough to send my kids to public school? If a parent friend expressed interest in moving to Hingham, it would feel dishonest not to warn them about this issue. This has nothing to do with our fantastic teachers who do an amazing job despite this lack of funding. I love this town and grew up here but I’m really alarmed. I think people who oppose an override need to know that this will affect everyone’s property values if people with young children catch wind of this crisis. They’ll simply choose to move to a town that prioritizes schools. Healy said he and his family all got a good education in Hingham. That’s great but it probably happened despite level funding, not because of level funding. Power said she wants economic diversity in the town which I fully agree with. But there must be a more creative way to ameliorate these folks’ hardship other than letting the schools tank. Successfully educating the next generation is just too important to continue to ignore. What good is a AAA bond rating when the schools are falling apart? We need to get our priorities straight.

  5. I support an override and think we will actually need several to dig ourselves of the hole that we’ve created with many years of level funding. As others have stated, we have been sold a bill of goods with the message that Hingham schools are top notch. The pandemic has laid bare so many deficiencies in our school system. We cannot expect to have a top notch school system if we don’t invest in it. It’s time to stop passing the buck and put up the funds for our kids. Strong schools should be our top priority, not our bond rating, not a public safety building, not sports, not restaurants, etc, etc. Enough is enough.

  6. I support an override. As a mom of two young children, the way I see it I have three options at this point: pay more in taxes so the schools can be properly funded, send my kids to private school, or move. My preference is the first!

  7. I support an override. We’v lived here for five years and every year the school budget has been an issue. The pandemic has exposed the weaknesses that have been hidden below the surface to most of us. Quality schools are critical to a sustainable, healthy, thriving community – and not just for the people with children in the public schools.

  8. I support an Override. Something HAS to be done to get our kids back in school. If people can go to the Dollar Store and Walmart for as long as they want with no one monitoring social distancing, Schools need to be open 5 days Full Time… WITH social distancing 3′.
    The town has secured 5 new buses and parents will drive kids too. It’s time to follow other school leads and get them back

  9. I’m confused as to why town officials are so keen on fast tracking the new public safety facility, but appear to be nonchalant/disinterested in funding the schools. People buying homes in Hingham are families with kids. The comment about only 25% of households have kids in HPS is comical. If you include the kids, those households make up a significant portion of the population. Read the room and know your audience. The current safety facilities are supposedly ‘demoralizing’. Take a tour of Foster, that’s demoralizing.

  10. Hooray for the AAA bond rating. The children across Hingham are feeling the love and giving a great big cheer! 👏🏼👏🏼
    This pandemic has shed light on the years of underfunding. To pretend our schools don’t bring a massive amount of value to our community is foolish. We are approaching the one year anniversary of the time our children once received a full-time, in person, public education. We are still left without a plan yet are questioning the need of an override? We can call urgent meetings to fund the purchase of property for a new safety building but can’t do the same to help the children of our community out? What a huge fail at a leadership level. This will be looked back upon as one big fat disgrace. Supporting the override means supporting our community and bettering those in it.


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