March 8, 2022 by Diane DeNapoli
I will first start by confessing I am not a finance person. Knowing how to build long term financial models seems like voodoo to me. This was one reason I was so pleased the town was beginning to work on a Sustainable Budget. Being a rather avid follower of the town budget, especially the school budget, for about the last 10 years I understood that it felt like the can has been being kicked down the road on many critical projects. Based on last years unprecedented increase in the school budget, a lack of timely investment in capital projects, a decrease in revenue, an increase in population and a widening wealth gap I think it is easy to feel like the can has been kicked into oncoming traffic.
The Sustainable Budget Task Force did a very commendable job holding up a mirror to what years of deferred investments has done to our town. The taskforce laid out several potential scenarios, that all felt more like unpleasant consequences, because of an odd blend of saving too much money and not living within our collective means.
When I first moved to Hingham in 2007, I felt like it was a nice Middle to Upper Middle-class town. I was able to purchase a small house, that needed work, and I looked forward to growing a family in Hingham. As my kids became entrenched in the school system, I realized my “Hingham experience was going to be significantly different than many since both my children required Special Education. Due to a lack of sufficient Special Ed programming, years of frustration with some in Administration and fear of prolonged remote learning both my children are being educated outside of Hingham. One of my children is in a private placement, and one is of those “volatile and unpredictable” out of district placement as they are referred to in the Sustainable Budget Final Report.
For many families caring for a person with a disability is a lifelong financial and emotional commitment. As a mom of a child with a moderate to severe disability my husband and I have accepted that we need to plan for a future that does not include financial independence for our son. Part of that planning consists of looking at the type of community in which my son has access to public transportation, job opportunities, and affordable living with other individuals with disabilities.
Although my situation might be unique, I am certainly not alone. To date there are over 600 students with disabilities in the Hingham Public Schools and that population is growing rapidly. A vast majority of the population of Hingham with a disability are under the age of 22 or over the age of 65. The lack of adults in their “wage earning years” with disabilities living in Hingham is due to a variety of factors including high cost of living, a lack of community housing options, and limited public transportation. I believe my situation demonstrates that models might be able to tell you about people’s purses, but they do not tell you much about the person. As the town does a variety of necessary work on how to foster Diversity, Equity and Inclusion please keep in mind many of the proposed revenue increasing measures proposed by the town will likely DECREASE Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Being blunt making it more expensive to live in Hingham, without mitigating the tax base and fees, to accommodate certain critical members of our community will continue to widen the wealth gap and cause our town to be far less inclusive.
I would respectfully ask that the Sustainable Task Force continue their critical work. Continuation of this essential work could lead to better refining some of the revenue increasing ideas, address the growing wealth gap, and foster a community that is more inclusive. Hingham, like many other communities, stands at an unparalleled crossroads. In the words of John Lennon “There are no problems- only solutions”. Below you will find some possible solutions for the community to consider. Again, I am not a finance expert, an ordinary Mom with some big dreams for our wonderful little part of the world.
- Work Training and Volunteer- Increase opportunities for people with disabilities and their families to work and volunteer their services to the town for a tax deferral.
- Civic Incentive- Provide a tax credit for someone serving on a town committee, board etc. earning less than $75, 000 as an individual. This could increase diversity in town leadership.
- Municipal Workers- Instead of overtime pay an employee, who is also a resident of the town, could defer the first $3,000 OT pay towards their Real Estate tax bill. This would allow the employee to take home more money and could provide some level of control the town’s OT cost. This also might help with recruiting new employees to work in Hingham.
- Real Estate Transfer Fee- Would be applied only to houses selling for 1 million and over and is paid solely by the buyer. The revenue is SPLIT between capital, community living for seniors and those with disabilities, and fully funding programs in the Hingham Public Schools such as VOTEC, and a comprehensive Language Based Program (ages 3-22).
- Reactivate TAC- The town of Hingham already has a mechanism in place to allow for financial assistance for those who are elderly and disabled. To date there is $39, 000 in the account. The TAC commission needs to be reconstituted so that the monies can be allocated to help elderly and disabled residence with needs.
- Business Planner- At least one person needs to be solely focused on courting new business to Hingham, researching private funding partnerships and working with a grant writer to ensure that Hingham is getting it’s fair share of grant money.
- Explore Tourism Opportunities- Hingham should be on the list of a “great day trip” list from Boston. Adding a more robust walking tour from the Historic Society, having more community events at the Bathing Beach, and exploring tasteful lodging opportunities downtown could increase spending downtown and open a new line of revenue with lodging fees.
Thank you for your tireless work on the Sustainable Task Force. I am submitting this as a private citizen and not a member of the Commission on Disabilities.
16 Gardner Street, Hingham