Most years, Plainville Town Clerk Ellen Robertson says, just 12 percent of voters turn out for the annual town election.
Put another way, seven out of eight voters usually don’t bother going to the polls to choose the municipal leaders who oversee such services as public education, public safety and road maintenance.
On Monday, three times that number took part in Plainville’s election, despite the dangers imposed by the coronavirus pandemic and the relatively low profile the vote received against the global health crisis and a national debate over racial equality.
The reason? A lot of people had a lot at stake with that vote.
Facing a budget deficit, Plainville town officials asked voters to approve a $3.25 million tax increase by permanently overriding the tax limits imposed by the state law known as Proposition 2½.
Without the override, town officials say, three dozen school employees, six firefighters and five police officers could be laid off. Hours would be reduced at town hall, the public library and the senior center.
Parents and public employees staged a rally and planted hundreds of red-and-white signs around town urging voters to “Save Our Service.”
A sign covering the side of a downtown building outlined the jobs at stake.
But taxpayers also had a lot at stake.
Approval would cost the owner of an average $391,000 home $744 a year or just over $2 a day.
That price was just too high.
By a margin of 1,479 to 1,030 — 59 to 41 percent or nearly three to two — voters defeated the override.
The election, however, was a victory for the town.
We commend town officials for the way they handled the defeat.
Selectmen Chairman Jeff Johnson and Town Administrator Jennifer Thompson both acknowledged that the tax increase was too large and that town officials failed to make a case for increased spending.
“I think the people spoke pretty clearly,” Johnson said. “We were asking for too much money, did not have enough justification. We have to show we can handle the town’s assets responsibly, and we need to respect the situation residents are in in the pandemic.”
Plainville faces the same challenge as the other 350 cities and towns in Massachusetts and in municipalities across America.
They must somehow provide services while revenue drops dramatically from the economic shutdown brought on by the pandemic.
We’re confident that the honest, upbeat leadership that has been on display will help the town avoid a financial crisis.
Voters also earned a victory on Monday.
Plainville citizens on both sides of the question turned out in big numbers in challenging conditions to tell their municipal leaders what direction they should take on an issue important to them.
It was a great example of democracy in action, something seldom seen in an era when seven out of eight voters don’t bother to cast a ballot.