Fake News

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As we’ve noted, Belmont voters face a big choice this April 6: whether to vote YES or NO on Question 1, a Proposition 2 1/2 Override. This is critical vote for the future of Belmont, including our public schools, library, roads, senior services, public safety and recreation. Having the right information in hand before you cast your ballot is key.

Unfortunately, in recent weeks the No Override Now Campaign has been circulating inaccurate or distorted information in an effort trying to scare voters. This post is an effort to set the record straight. You can also download a PDF version of this by clicking here or on the Download button below.

The NO Campaign says…The Facts are…
“Now is not the time for an override.”Now is the least expensive time. If the override does not pass on April 6, we will have to pass a more expensive override in the future, which will burden
taxpayers more.
“Belmont has the 7th highest tax bill in
the state for an average single-family
home.”
Belmont relies on its residential property tax base for much of its operating budget. In 1992, Belmont had the 7th highest tax bill in the state for an average single-family home. This fact has not changed much in 30 years.
“Belmont has the highest tax rate of
any neighboring town.”
Belmont has some of the most expensive residential real estate in the Commonwealth. When looking at our property tax rate compared with other towns, therefore, you need to do an apples-to-apples comparison based on $1,000 in assessed property value. In 2021, Belmont’s property tax rate per $1,000 in assessed property value ranks near the bottom: 284th of 345 towns in Massachusetts. In other words, 283 Bay State communities pay higher property taxes on that $1,000 in home value than Belmont home owners and home owners in just 61 towns pay a lower tax rate than Belmont homeowners.
“Your taxes will permanently increase
an average of $1200 a year.”
This is just not true and an example of fear mongering by the NO campaign. The Financial Task Force II estimates that the tax increase attributable to the override will be approximately $888, not $1200, for the average single family home in Belmont worth $1.33m. The tax levy is reset once when an override passes, after which taxes can only be raised by 2.5% per year plus new growth each year. That total levy is divided up among property owners by virtue of the assessed value of their properties.
“Tax liens and late payments have
increased by 450% in 2020.”
Belmont currently has a total of 31 liens on houses, out of approximately ~8,700 households. While liens are expected to increase at the end of FY21, and may even double to 60 or 70 homes, on a percentage basis this
still would represent fewer than 1% of homes under a lien. There are also 292 households – fewer than 4% of households – on payment plans. Belmont is working with these households to support them, and the
American Rescue Plan Act includes assistance for qualifying homeowners struggling to make mortgages, insurance, tax, and utility bills. There are also many state and local plans for abatements, exemptions, and deferrals for homeowners needing assistance. Homeowners should contact the Assessor’s office to learn more.
“The proposed $6.4m override is a
permanent increase to our tax bills
and rents.”
Landlords set rents based on what the local rental market will bear. The market, in turn, is driven by the supply of rental stock and demand for those rentals. Landlords may or may not be able to pass on increases in property taxes to their tenants, depending on the rental market. Belmont has passed only 1 Proposition 2 1/2 override in the last 18 years. Despite that, rents have increased steadily in Belmont and neighboring towns, independent of overrides or debt exclusions.
“Our taxes have increased 4 times
since 2015, including the 30 year debt
exclusion to fund the $295m new
school.”
In the past six years, voters have approved one override for operating expenses by 55% of voters, and one debt exclusion for the 7-12 School by 76% of voters. Belmont’s share of the $295m is approximately $213m after reimbursements from the state. This plan was the least expensive option to address Belmont’s historic enrollment surge and aging infrastructure.
“President Biden’s American Rescue Plan has
passed, providing Belmont with $8.6m, a
portion of which will be used to address
revenue shortfalls and expenses related to the
pandemic.”
The town administrator has estimated that Belmont’s revenue shortfall due to COVID is approximately $700,000. The rest of the American Rescue Plan Act funding is either restricted to certain programs – like water, sewer or broadband infrastructure – or earmarked for COVID expenditures that were not budgeted for 2022 because town and school officials were counting on federal aid. The good news is this funding can be used to provide assistance to Belmont small businesses, renters, and qualified homeowners having trouble meeting housing-related bills. While we
don’t know how much federal aid Belmont can use for operating expenses, if any, we do know this: our three year structural deficit of ~$20m can not be solved by one-time funds and can only be solved by passing the override on April 6.
“The override will have a negative impact on
those least able to afford it.”
If the override fails it will disproportionately impact our most vulnerable residents. For example, we will no longer be able to add math coaches to our schools and will have to cut 40% of the budget for athletics, music and theater. Some residents will be able to afford to make up for those cuts by going to private programs and tutors. But that’s not an option for residents on fixed incomes. Russian School of Math costs $2K per year, School of Rock music lessons cost $250 per month, private clubs for sports like soccer and hockey can cost in the 1000s of dollars. It is important to keep in mind that if the override fails, there will be an impact on residents who do not have the means to obtain from the private sector what our town is no longer able to provide.
“Taxes on the average Belmont home
increased 58% in the last ten years and 40%
in just the past three years.”
The average single family tax bill in 2021 is 25.5% higher than the average bill four years ago – not 40%. Much of this is due to the debt exclusion to fund the new 7-12 School that was passed by 76% of voters and that represented the most economical way to cope with our school overcrowding problem.
“There are 355 fewer students enrolled in
school than was projected.”
There are currently 280 fewer students enrolled than last year. Of those, 40% were pre-K and Kindergarten, grades for which school is not mandated. Kindergarten enrollment for next year has already begun, and Belmont is on track to have at least the same level of
enrollment as it did pre-pandemic
“The Structural Change Impact Group has yet
to make any recommendations on cost
savings nor new revenue potential. These
other sources of funds could be tapped for our
town’s needs, rather than impose another tax
increase on the Belmont resident.”
Over 50 of the suggestions made to the town for structural change have been implemented. Other efficiencies will continue to be pursued aggressively. But as a town that relies on property taxes for about 80% of its budget, there simply is no way for small
changes to add up to enough money to fund our multi-year structural deficit, which is caused primarily by a historic school enrollment surge and rising healthcare costs.
Vote YES on Question 1 on April 6! Download the Fact Sheet (PDF)

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