To the editor:
The Salem News editorial of Thursday, May 8, ("Vote no on Hamilton-Wenham school override") gives credence to the economic facts that have been articulated objectively by the override opponents.
Nine comparable towns in this region — Hamilton, Wenham, Topsfield, Boxford, Essex, Rowley, Ipswich, Newbury and Manchester — have a tax rate per thousand that spans from a low end of the spectrum with Manchester at $7.53 per thousand to Hamilton's $13.39 per thousand. The weighted average of these nine towns is $10.63 per thousand, which means that Hamilton is higher than the mean by $2.76 per thousand.
For a median house valued at $450,800, the premium — or competitive cost disadvantage of Hamilton's property tax structure — is $1,244.20 annually, or over $100 per month to the average homeowner.
If the override passes in 2008, Hamilton's tax rate would jump to $14.76 per thousand. Even if the weighted average of the nine towns increased to approximately $11.10 per thousand, the gap for Hamilton taxpayers would widen to approximately $3.66 per thousand. (This is based on a conservative estimate of a nine-town, average tax rate increase of 4.42 percent, with the Hamilton and Wenham overrides.) According to Hamilton's Finance Committee, the impact on a median-priced house of $450,800 would be $616 per year, not the $393 figure that has been sent all over town by advocates of the school override.
Therefore, if the override is adopted by the voters in Hamilton this Thursday (May 15), the premium paid by homeowners to live in this town will increase from $1,244.20 to about $1,650 per year or $137.50 per month. While proponents of the override will make global comparisons on how much Massachusetts spends on education compared to national trends, the nine-town comparison is much more relevant and germane to the pocketbook issues confronting Hamilton's homeowners.
Finally, it was highlighted by the School Department how many teachers would be lost if the override did not pass; however, they have not told the voters what the net increase in the number of teachers might be, over the 192 teachers that are currently reported in the school system by the Massachusetts Department of Education.
While an override of this magnitude was acknowledged by a town selectman to be unsustainable, the advocates of more school spending and the superintendent of schools have not subscribed to this philosophy or reality. The Salem News, to its credit, weighed both arguments carefully and opined editorially on the side of fiscal responsibility.
The voters in Hamilton and Wenham should heed this advice and send the override back to the drawing board for reconsideration.
Robert A. Baker