When I saw the news out of Plainville I immediately thought of Norton. Uh-oh, I said to myself.
Plainville had just rejected a hefty tax increase to restore numerous municipal jobs in the schools, public safety departments and at town hall.
Norton was looking ahead to its own plebiscite on a tax increase. Plainville’s fate bode ill for Norton’s proposal, I thought.
That concerned me because I’m generally in favor of supporting government services which requires more revenue which comes down to taxes. I fully recognize that many others have an opposing view.
Plainville’s rejection of a Proposition 2 1/2 override came on April 5. Norton voters actually approved a “debt exclusion,” a form of override, but it must also go before an open town meeting where it can be killed.
Veteran town reporter Stephen Peterson wrote about the events in both towns on Page 1 April 12. Former editor Mike Kirby wrote a column on the City & Town page April 10 providing perspective on the Plainville vote which came the Monday before.
Columnist Bill Gouveia, a former Norton town official, has written several columns on a separate ballot question about changing the form of municipal government in his town. (The charter change was defeated at Norton’s town election April 10.)
Plus, there are other sources of information and politicking on these and other local issues including town websites, social media and friends and neighbors, so voters had plenty of opportunity to become informed.
I like to think there’s a higher level of community activism today, but the reality seems to be that there’s mostly more open expression of divergent opinions, not more involvement in town government or even turnout at elections and town meeting.
However, there is more communication among people on the same side of an issue, thanks to the ease of such communication today, where anyone can reach an untold number of the like-minded.
I also trace this back to the last presidential administration and the barely suppressed warfare between national media on the left and right.
But, hey, we live in one little corner of one state, and while we may have strong feelings on cultural issues and the role of the federal government we send our kids to local schools, rely on police and fire departments and want town services to be efficiently provided.
For that we pay our taxes, not happily, but we understand that services have a cost and nobody else (the state or federal government) is going to take over that responsibility.
While Plainville and Norton are their own unique communities there is some irony in the recent election outcomes.
Faced with old elementary schools and a dilapidated town hall, a previous Plainville board of selectmen undertook a large-scale project, construction of a municipal complex.
They figured the time was right with new revenue coming in from Plainridge Park, the quasi-casino on Route 1.
But that revenue didn’t live up to expectations. Real casinos opened elsewhere, for one thing. Then came heavy layoffs in town to balance the budget.
To try to rectify that, current town officials put forth a $3.25 million override proposal. It was decisively defeated last June.
Even though the margin was 61-39 percent they came back with a another override proposal of $1.95 million this year. It was defeated by the same margin though the turnout was smaller, probably because of the coronavirus.
For the time being, at least, the lost municipal positions won’t be restored which translates into lost services for Plainville residents. We’ll see what that presages for the town.
Norton is now in the position Plainville was in until the new municipal complex opened two years ago.
Norton has a very old and undersized town hall and senior center. It also wants to replace its outmoded athletic facilities at the high school and construct a sports complex elsewhere in town.
The total package would cost $41 million, the cost being covered over 30 years by designated funds from the Prop. 2 1/2 debt exclusion.
The debt exclusion passed by less than 100 votes, 1,665 to 1,568. Now it will go before town meeting on May 8.
With the margin so close and so much at stake Norton town meeting turnout ought to be relatively good.
Converting from open town meeting to a town council form of government is dead for now in Norton, having been defeated by a mere 307 votes. Wonder what will happen with that proposal in coming years.