Metro, Top Story, Newton

UPDATE: Newton Voters Cast Split Decision in Special Override Election

Newton residents voted against question one and in favor of questions two and three during the override vote regarding a proposed $15 million tax increase on Tuesday, according to unofficial election results announced by Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller.

Fifty-three percent of voters, or 10,566 people, voted no on question one—which if passed would have enacted a permanent tax increase in the city—while 47 percent of voters, or 9,428 people, voted yes, according to an email from Fuller. 

Questions two and three—which proposed temporary tax increases to fund $5.8 million of renovations to Countryside Elementary School and Franklin Elementary School—passed 52 percent to 48 percent and 53 percent to 47 percent, respectively. 10,430 people voted yes and 9,452 people voted no on question two and 10,461 people voted yes and 9,427 people voted no on question three.

Just under 20,000 residents cast ballots during the special election, a nearly 15,000-voter decrease from the turnout at November’s general election, according to the city’s election results. Voters faced a harsh forecast of rain and snow when casting their ballots in the special election, which Fuller scheduled last October.

In the city’s last override special election, which took place on March 12, 2013, just under 18,000 residents turned out at the polls. 

Five days of early voting preceded election day, where voters could cast their ballots in Newton City Hall prior to Tuesday’s election. 

Some residents who argued to vote down the override said the tax increase would have been premature, and that the city should resort to unused funds instead of asking for a hike in taxes. 

Many supporters of the override cited concern over the funding of Newton Public Schools (NPS) as their motivation to vote yes. 

At a Newton School Committee meeting in January, officials said that a failed vote on question one would result in NPS facing a $6 to $8 million dollar gap in its budget. With a failed override, there is a potential for significant reductions and changes in NPS services, including increased fees, charter maintenance reduction, additional risk assumption, and a higher teacher-classroom ratio, then-superintendent Kathleen Smith said at the meeting.

Peter Gittleman, a Newton resident for more than 30 years, said passing school funding in the override motivated him to vote yes.  

“I believe in the city’s ability to be the best that it can possibly be,” Gittleman said. “We need this, we need the teachers, we need the facilities, and without it, Newton just falls a little bit.” 

Another Newton voter, Pete Leis, said the need to fund important programs in the city is a worthy trade-off for paying more in taxes.

“I am voting today because I think it is important that Newton infrastructure and schools and seniors get the support that we need,” Leis said. “No, I don’t want to pay more in taxes, but I will. I am a property owner here, this directly affects my wallet. But for the greater good, I think we need to support our folks. So, I decided to show up and vote.”

Richard Lipof, vice president of the Newton City Council and Ward 8 councilor-at-large, said the results of the override vote were slightly disappointing, though not surprising.

“I’m saddened that the operating override did not pass,” Lipof said. “I am not surprised that it didn’t pass. There are times when it’s easier to ask the citizens of Newton for more money and on the heels of a millionaire’s tax hike, during a time of increasing interest rates and inflation, it’s difficult to ask for more.”

Lipof said there was misinformation among some who opposed the override.

“There was an element of misinformation out there as to how our finances work,” he said. “The biggest misinformation was the ARPA money that could have been used for such a thing, which really, to use one-time money for operating expenses is just kicking the can down the road and making the problem bigger next year.”

Alison Lobron, founder of the Newton Parent/Educator Collaborative and member of the Vote Yes for Newton campaign, said the override results brought her mixed feelings.

“I’m really glad that the two questions passed because if they hadn’t that really would have set back building in Newton for 10 years,” Lobron said. “So I’m glad that that message came across and that people supported those two.” 

But, she said, the failure of the first question was disappointing.

“It kind of came down to how people think about money and finances and for those of us who are on the Yes campaign, we look at our neighboring communities, and we see that they’ve had many more overrides than Newton has had,” she said. “So we did feel like putting an override in front of voters was a very real thing to do, but I hear the other side of the argument.”

Fuller thanked city employees for their work on election day in her email announcement.

“I thank City Clerk Carol Moore, our election staff, poll workers, IT staff and police officers who worked from very early morning into the night to process and count ballots,” Fuller said. “I also thank our DPW and Parks, Recreation and Culture crews who stood by to make sure streets could be plowed and that sidewalks, parking lots and walkways at every polling location stayed clear for voters.”

Update (3/17/22\3, 9:15): This article was updated to include quotes from Lipof and Lobron.

March 15, 2023