The Charles River Regional Chamber recommends that residents vote no on question one and yes on questions two and three during the override vote on March 14, according to Greg Reibman, the chamber’s president.
“We’re asking the mayor—we’re asking the city—to hold the line on expenses right now,” Reibman said. “There aren’t just two sides—there’s a middle and we want to make sure everybody understands that.”
Newton residents will vote on three override questions regarding a proposed $15 million tax increase during a special election on March 14. The ballot will include one operating override question, which—if it passes—will permanently increase Newton’s taxes by $9.175 million a year for general operating and capital expenses. The other two ballot questions deal with debt overrides, which would temporarily raise taxes by $2.3 million and $3.5 million to cover the reconstruction of Countryside Elementary School and Franklin Elementary School, respectively.
The chamber released a statement explaining how it came to endorse this position, which said that voting yes on question one—which would allow a permanent tax increase in the city—is a step too far.
“Ultimately, we’ve concluded that while the city’s need for revenue is genuine, we cannot fully endorse the mayor’s requests because of the financially devastating impact a tax increase could have on many of our businesses and commercial property owners,” the statement reads.
John Rufo, the chair of the chamber’s Board of Directors, said the process of reaching this conclusion was challenging, but the board members reached the correct position.
“I thought the action that we took was really correct,” Rufo said. “There’s a really good reason to support the two school votes, and at the same time it’s so critical that we balance out what our small businesses are doing.”
Rufo said speaking with business owners gave crucial insight on how to approach the ballot questions.
“I think we made it really clear that it’s not an easy decision, or an easy thing by any means to figure out how to do this,” he said. “We listened to our small businesses and, boy, they are really challenged—especially the restaurant owners—but we also see this incredible connectivity between a good school system and a really vibrant, healthy business community.”
When Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller announced the override election, Reibman cited broad economic issues affecting the city and the country—like inflation—as deterrents of supporting question one.
“We recognize that the city has been facing some of the same economic challenges that residents have—inflation, wage pressure, utility bills, all these many other factors have made it more difficult to run the city,” Reibman said. “So we weighed that with our, you know, responsibility to our members, responsibility to the business community.”
Rufo said the chamber aimed to have a position that was balanced and took into consideration a variety of factors.
“So, again, I think we really tried to balance it … and come up with an approach that advocates for our businesses, as well as acknowledges the community needs.