Saugus group seeks yes vote on one-time property tax assessment

SAUGUS – A group of about 40 Saugus residents gathered Wednesday to share ideas on how to reach voters before the town election on June 7, when a single ballot question will determine if $1.1 million in snow and ice removal costs from last winter can be funded with a one-time special property tax assessment.According to Town Moderator Robert Long, who spearheaded the meeting at the Kowloon restaurant, a no vote translates to drastic cuts in the School Department and additional budget trimming for police and firefighters.”Passage of that article is so important for the town,” said Long. “People don’t seem to understand that unless this article passes, we will have $1.1 million less revenue available as we begin the new fiscal year. We need to cover the deficit.”Long told the others they must act quickly because the window of opportunity is closing. “We need to devise a system that allows people to check their property assessment and find out exactly how much this will cost them,” he said.Peter Manoogian suggested a tech-savvy person be appointed for each of the 10 precincts to field questions from residents, look up their assessments and provide the answer.Edward Boesel said talks with neighbors reveal “there is an ill will out there to anything even smelling like an override.”Rumors are also wreaking havoc with the dissemination of factual information. According to Manoogian, word has spread the federal government will reimburse Saugus $175,000 for one of the winter storm’s snow-removal costs. He asked, “Do we know if this is true? If it is, then is this a double dip?”Long noted if voters supported the $1.1 million special assessment, the town budget would still experience cuts.”People out there are thinking we’re out there to sham them,” said Patricia Johnson, emphasizing she had also heard the rumors of a partial federal reimbursement.Deputy Assessor Ronald Keohan informed the group the town is at its tax levy limit under Proposition 21/2.”It’s not a pretty picture. And we haven’t seen much enthusiasm for a trash fee,” said Long, referring to an article in the annual Town Meeting to impose a trash collection fee on each home.Town Manager Andrew Bisignani, who was not at Wednesday’s unofficial meeting, has said he submitted the trash fee article as a backup plan in case the vote for the one-time property tax assessment fails.”If you itemize on your tax return, you can use the tax assessment as a deduction. You can’t do that with a trash fee, which is treated like a service, like water and sewer,” Long said.Sean Maltais said resident voters should urge their senior citizen parents to vote for the assessment because it affects schools and public safety. “It’s more than the schools. When you talk to people, they’re surprised to find out it’s affecting fire and police, too,” he said.Selectman Scott Crabtree said he knows people who have moved out of Saugus because the school system is inadequate. “Public safety and schools are the first things people look at when they think about moving here,” he said.Laura Groark suggested distributing a flyer with concise bullet points. “We need to show what will happen if this doesn’t pass,” she said. “People need to see it simple and to the point.”Joyce Rodenhiser said it’s important to note the children being schooled in Saugus may become the next generation of nurses and home health professionals to care for those now voting on the issue.Ellen Faiella, among the group’s key organizers, said nobody will benefit if the measure fails.”What I hear from people is that there’s a real lack of trust for town government,” said Boesel. “That they’re going to spend the money on some other thing.”Keohan, the assessor, said, “Like it or not, people believe we have a drawer full of cash at Town Hall that we are going to pull out at the 11th hour.”According to Manoogian, the average bill for the one-time assessment would be less than $80 per home. The average Saugus home is assessed at about $320,000. To

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