Editorial: Talking override in Nahant

If there is one word elected officials in Nahant should be leery about letting slip past their lips, it is override.

But override appears to be the chief remedy proposed to date to pay for a town fire chief. Chief Michael Feinberg’s employment contract is set to expire on June 30 and Town Administrator Antonio Barletta last week said Feinberg will “likely be departing” his job and leaving the full-time position of fire chief unfilled and unfunded due to budget constraints.

Overrides are the chief mechanism under Proposition 2 1/2, the state property tax limitation law, for cities and towns to raise additional money from taxes to cover municipal expenses.

Even before the plan to leave the chief’s job unfilled surfaced, the talk around town about municipal finances has been ugly. People are worried about the town’s debt load and costs related to repairs on the pipe carrying sewage from the town to the Lynn Water and Sewer Commission treatment plant on the Lynnway.

Any town without a commercial tax base faces daunting challenges when it comes to raising revenue and balancing the municipal budget. But Nahant residents have a history, to put it mildly, of looking askance at override proposals.

Town Meeting and town elections are traditionally held on the same day in Nahant and that double-barreled exercise in democracy proved fatal for a 2011 override proposal to provide $260,000 for the Johnson School.

Town Meeting passed the measure 184-43 only to see town voters reject the override 417-365.

Determined override supporters convinced the Board of Selectmen to schedule a second override vote that saw the proposal defeated, 979-590. One override opponent summarized the vote by observing, “They really said no this time.”

Town Meeting and town election are scheduled for April 27 this year and two candidates are already taking aim at the seat now occupied by Board Chairman Chesley Taylor, who has yet to state if he plans to run for reelection.

Should talk of a 2019 override coalesce into a concrete proposal with a number attached to it, someone in a town leadership position will have to saddle up and sell the override to voters. The 2011 vote suggests it might be hard to find an elected official with the cast-iron stomach required to talk about property tax increases with neighbors and friends.

But if an override is on the horizon, it’s time for selectmen to talk in public about town finances and frame the fiscal problem facing the town in clear, concise language. Only then can real talk about an override begin.

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