Metro, Newton

Zhang: Proposed Tax Increase Raises Questions About Budget Management

Since Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller announced the proposal for a $15 million tax increase on Oct. 17, the city has done a good job informing the community on what it plans to do with the extra tax dollars. Showing what the money will do makes only half of the case, however. 

The city must show why the extra dollars out of the taxpayers’ pockets are necessary in the first place.

The proposed projects are promising. For example, three quarters of the funds from the proposed increase will go to the Newton Public Schools, and city officials correctly pointed out the unsavory states of the Franklin, Countryside, and Horace Mann Elementary Schools, as well as other needs for the students. 

And indeed, school renovations cannot wait. Every year of inaction means one fewer class of students will benefit.

Still, tax increases are not isolated events. Rather, they are a result of the city’s existing budget being already pushed to its limit, which raises the question of improper budgeting in the first place. 

To raise an analogy: As a kid, I spent my allowance on both school supplies and candy. When I overspent and needed a few extra yuan on my hand, I would ask for extra money for school supplies—not candy. Of course, my wise parents would ask me where the rest of the money went.

The same applies to the City of Newton. This is not to insinuate that the city mismanaged its budget—although I did see some Newtonians raising this question in person or on online forums. Thus far, city administrators are doing a great job at showing the proposed projects, but they must also address the concerns on whether they managed the existing money well.

The city already put some of the answers on the override’s landing page. It cited increasing operational costs due to inflation and other price spikes and said that, every year, city departments build their budgets from scratch to ensure efficiency. Nevertheless, the words remain vague, and the city must increase its engagement with the community on this aspect as much as it does the budget proposals.

After all, as the mayor acknowledged, the times are demanding for individual households and businesses alike. The increase is not much—a mere few hundreds of dollars for a house valued at Newton’s $1.2 million median. 

Yet, the moral obligation to give Newton kids what they deserve does not give the city a free pass, and every bit of scrutiny is welcome and well-placed.

November 6, 2022