SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

May 9, 2014

Letter: Ipswich override reduces access to housing


The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

One of the main concerns with the Ipswich override is the impact on those least able to afford continued increases in costs above their growth in earnings. We have wide income diversity in Ipswich, unlike many of the single-income group suburbs of Boston. While there are many commuters that have high-paying jobs outside of Ipswich, there are many who live and work in Ipswich, including many with low to moderate incomes who cannot afford large increases in costs. We need to maintain the future affordability of our housing for our children and those who both work and live in Ipswich. I can throw out all the stats in the world, including those that show how the median household income is well below that of the majority of our neighboring towns, but numbers don’t express the personal nature of this issue.

The overall costs of taxes, utilities, food and other expenses add up for both homeowners no longer being able to afford their houses, as well as landlords driving up rents. The Salem News recently had an article with real-life stories of how people are being forced out of our communities as the increased costs are rising well above their wage growth. These are not made-up realities; these are real things happening in our community — in a county already deemed the “least affordable in the U.S.” in one national report a few years back.

Whether you are for or against all or part of the override, just be aware there is an impact beyond just the schools, that some homeowners in our town live paycheck to paycheck with little extra spending money (some have had to get food from food banks to fill that gap).

This isn’t the black-and-white argument of “I’m for kids, or “I’m not,” as some folks have been painting the override, but can just as well be painted as “I’m for driving poor people out of town” or “I’m for letting them stay” — if we want to go with negative polarizing politics. This is especially important as the largest growth in income has been going to those who make the most in our communities, while the wages of those of lower income have remained flat or have even decreased in real purchasing power. Rarely do contentious items such as the override have only one side of the story to them. Just because some of us live in a bubble of friends seemingly without those concerns does not mean that is the case for our entire community. Have some empathy for those around you — so that no matter your vote — at least be aware there is a serious case on both sides of the issue.

The requested override for Ipswich is quite high. At $2.75 million, it is almost twice the last override requested. Of that $2.75 million, only $1.3 million of the first year is to fund critical requests, while $600,000 is for additional spending. The final $875,000 is not being spent the first year; in fact, a four-year average of $1 million of tax money is being withheld from the local economy by being placed into a so-called “contingency fund,” a fund that the five-year school plan leaves depleted by the final year of the five-year school budget. Many studies have shown the positive impact of extra dollars flowing through our economy, so it seems a bad plan to take funds away from our local economy and hold them in a bank for four years. What is worse about the current plan is that the use of this “contingency fund” papers over the real increase in spending over this time, which will create an estimated $1.5 million shortfall in the year-six budget, requiring yet another contentious override and corresponding large tax increase five years from now. Good fiscal planning would fix the long-term issue instead of just kicking the can down the road to the next override in five years.

With the override being such a large amount, yet the pro-override cry predicting a dramatic loss of teachers and classes if it does not pass, it would seem more practical for the override to be broken into two separate overrides: one to maintain the schools we have, another to fund the additional spending, with neither including the large contingency fund. This would allow for the citizens of Ipswich to have a choice on maintaining the schools and allow them an option toward spending more on additional services, while not taking money out of the economy. The current override has these separate items bundled together, forcing citizens to have to swallow the extra funding requests and “contingency” funds.

The affordability of our town should always be a factor when spending increases are considered. The economy has had a dramatic impact on many of our people over the past six years, an impact from which many are still struggling to recover. Consideration should always be given toward those least able to pay, in an effort to keep our town one where many can still continue to both live and work, despite being in one of the least affordable counties in America.

Al Boynton

Ipswich