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Saugus Special Town Meeting to begin

SAUGUS – Paying the bills and balancing the budget has become a tough challenge for communities across the state, but Town Manager Andrew Bisignani says his unprecedented strategy could temporarily solve Saugus’ financial woes.A Special Town Meeting gets under way tonight at Town Hall, where members are expected to debate the merits of a proposed one-time property tax assessment to pay for the winter’s $1.2 million snow-and-ice removal bill.In order to make that assessment strategy a reality, Town Meeting must ask the state Legislature for permission to hold a special election on June 7, which would give residents opportunity to adopt or reject the idea.”This is not an override,” said Bisignani. “Unlike an override, it’s a one-time special assessment that does not stay on your tax bill.”While claiming every cost-saving measure was followed, Public Works Director Joseph Attubato said an extremely harsh winter drove up the cost of snow and ice removal. The severity of the weather and record-busting snowfalls dealt a blow to the town public works budget, he said.As town budget talks began in earnest last month, Bisignani unveiled several options for paying the snow-and-ice bill and balancing the fiscal 2012 budget, including a Proposition 2? override, instituting a trash fee and the more unusual concept of imposing a one-time property tax assessment.If adopted, the special assessment would cost the average single-family home in Saugus about $80, the town manager said.The success or failure of tonight’s vote is directly linked to the proposed fiscal 2012 budget, which already has caused controversy because it contains about $1 million less than the School Department has requested and slashes overtime for firefighters and police.According to Bisignani, without funds from the one-time special assessment, those budget cuts are a certainty, since other tax dollars must be found to pay the snow-and-ice bill.”The special assessment is only a temporary fix,” he said. “It’s not a long-term solution. It just gets us out of the snow-and-ice deficit so that we can maintain services.”If the strategy is rejected, the Essex Street firehouse will be closed and layoffs of teachers and other town employees will be inevitable, Bisignani warned.Town Clerk Joanne Rappa said the warrant for the Special Town Meeting contains two articles.The first article allows Town Meeting members to hear and take action on reports from various committees. The second enables members to vote on whether “to authorize the Board of Selectmen to petition the Legislature to enact legislation to authorize the town told a special election prior to June 30, for the purpose of requesting voter approval of a one-year real estate tax assessment to pay snow and ice removal costs incurred during fiscal 2011.”The article notes that if approved by majority vote, the total assessment must not exceed the total cost of the fiscal 2011 snow-and-ice removal costs, an amount which would be certified by the town accountant prior to the election.Bisignani is confident the measure will receive the necessary support from Town Meeting members. Selectman Chairman Donald Wong, who also serves as a state representative to Saugus, said he is encouraging House and Senate colleagues to fast-track the required legislative approval once the selectmen’s request for a special election arrives in Boston.”We can’t go on indefinitely like this,” said Bisignani. “We just don’t have enough money to cover this level of services. In fiscal 2013, if we have another bad winter, we are going to be faced with a similar problem. We have to find other sources of revenue.”

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