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CCW answers override questions

By Natasha Clark

Assistant Managing Editor

WILBRAHAM The Concerned Citizens of Wilbraham want to know if you understand what an override is? "You," is a taxpayer living within the town or nearby Hampden where an override may very well be in your future.

On Oct. 25 the group hosted a meeting at Wilbraham Middle School complete with a presentation titled "Planning for the Coming Override."

CCW member Zig Pabich opened by giving a simplified explanation of overrides, stating that it is a "very popular subject these days."

He explained that there are three kinds of overrides: debt exclusion, capital exclusion and a general override.

Pabich said a debt exclusion override is very much like a mortgage on a house. The town borrows a large sum of money for a major project. The bond is for a term of time and the town pays for it with a temporary tax increase. He used a term example such as 20 years and said once the bond is paid off, the tax increase goes away.

Capital exclusion, which is sometimes referred to as a special general override, raises taxes for a single year for a special item or items to purchase or repair. Once the item is paid for the tax increase is finished.

A general override is a tax increase that goes on forever.

"This is the category that gives us the most trouble," Pabich said.

He said the last override Wilbraham passed was in 2003 and was for $1.4 million. According to information provided by the CCW, that override increased the average homeowner's tax bill by $280 in 2004, $287 in 2005, $294 for 2006 and $302 for 2007. Pabich said it will continue to grow by 2 1/2 percent at compound interest.

All overrides take a majority vote to pass and there have been three overrides in the last eight years.

"What is it that we should be doing?" Pabich asked.

He explained that residents should stay knowledgeable, attend meetings, get written materials and ask questions.

"Be inquisitive," Pabich said. "Be knowledgeable, read newspaper articles carefully separate fact from opinion."

CCW member Robert Page said there are about 9,600 voters in town and only 300 attend town meetings.

"Wilbraham is truly a great town," Pabich added. "And I think we want to keep it that way."

"Who determines the type of override we're going to vote on?" a member of the audience asked.

Page and Pabich said that depends on what the override is needed for and whether or not the Board of Selectmen decide to put an override question on the ballot. Page said as voters "we have to make a judgement as to the value of the override.

"That's what we're doing tonight, to make this part clear to you," Page said.

Allan Kinney, also of the CCW, presented Financial Planning Committee projections. He said that the figures presented were from the town's financial report.

Municipal expenses are anticipated to increase by 4.55 percent every year while state aid is expected to grow by 2 1/2 percent every year.

According to documents provided that are based on the town's Financial Planning Committee Report, the budget will be out of balance by half a million dollars in 2012.

"Maybe then taxes will be high enough for people to get concerned in Wilbraham," an audience member responded.

Page said the figures provided did not include additional revenue streams. There are several projects either underway or soon to begin construction: Wilbraham Gardens Condominiums (Boston Road), Cedar Ridge Condominiums (Stony Hill Road) and Big Y Food Store (Boston Road).

Page said of the 250 units that were initially proposed, 44 units are built and 19 are occupied. He acknowledged that his purpose of going to the site was to see how many units were occupied and that he has no idea how many have been sold.

The Big Y on Boston Road is slated to open in Spring 2008.

A resident questioned whether the market for these types of facilities have become saturated in Wilbraham.

A brief discussion on split tax rates followed and Page said, "Our feeling is that the burden to residents should be the same. If my taxes go up 10 percent, their taxes should go up 10 percent. Our goal is fairness."

Toward the end of the meeting the CCW contemplated the financial impact Minnechaug Regional High School could have on taxpayers in the future. The group weighed the cost of renovation of the school versus building new. CCW estimates, based on costs averaged by the architectural firm Fountain Brothers and CCW engineers, that a fix-up would cost $15 million. With state assistance at 65 percent for a 25 year bond the average household would pay approximately $66 for a fix-up. This fix-up, titled "Plan B," would include new windows, replacing HVAC, a new roof and removing asbestos. Without state aid the cost rises to $188 per household.

According to CCW, Dore & Whittier, the architectural firm the school district hired to conduct a feasibility study, reported that a full renovation of Minnechaug would cost $57 million. Page said with state aid at 65 percent it would cost $250 per household.

CCW documents said according to prices provided by Dore & Whittier using 2004 costs, the costs of building a brand new Minnechaug "extrapolating forward at 6 percent plus a $10 [million] buffer" brings the cost to $59.64 million with state aid, costing the average homeowner up to $498 in the first year.

Page added that everything is subject to final approval from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, so when you hear people tell you they're building a new Minnechaug "it's wishful thinking."

To read all documents provided at the Concerned Citizens of Wilbraham's meeting, click below.

CCW overrides explained