This letter to the editor appeared in the print edition of the Belmont Citizen Herald on March 11.
Advocating for a tax increase is an awkward exercise in the best of times. And it hardly needs to be said that these are not the best of times. Many override opponents point to the pandemic as a reason to vote “no” — either because of the financial straits caused by COVID-19, or because opposition is seen as a way of punishing town officials for their response to the crisis (school closures and weak-tea hybrid models in particular).
It would be foolish to dismiss the emotional power of this argument. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on finances, and I understand why people are seething about the schools. Yet it would only compound the tragedy of the pandemic if the fog of this moment drives us to shortchange the town’s future. There’s no sense in starving the schools of needed funds just to slap the current administration on the wrist. A better place to start would be the school committee seats on the same ballot.
Without an override, we’ll limp forward. Our gleaming new high school will still open — and face staffing problems as soon as the ribbon is cut. Our library will re-emerge as a buzzing community hub — and find itself teetering on the edge of losing its membership in the regional Minuteman network, a vital extension of its services. The fact is, even though override opponents want you to see “no” as the fiscally responsible choice, it’s really a vote for raiding our reserves, kicking the can down the road, and then having this same argument again in a year, only with more drastic cuts — or more expensive tax hikes — on the table.
For now, the pandemic grinds on; local businesses continue to suffer; and we grow ever more worried about the mental health of screen-addled kids, isolated seniors, and, if we’re being honest, ourselves. But even if you’re hopping mad about the choices local officials have made, please be skeptical of the convenient notion that simply trimming some fat from the budget would be sufficient — it won’t. I know how cathartic a “no” vote might feel after a year of seemingly endless restrictions. Please resist that urge. Instead, let’s keep our wits about us and put enough gas in the proverbial tank to get our schools and services across the COVID-19 divide and into 2022 and beyond. Vote “yes” on the override on April 6.
Justin Hardy, Beech Street