If a debt exclusion ballot question does not specify a dollar amount, what determines its size?
June 29, 2003
A: Voter approval of a referendum question simply permits the community to increase its annual levy limit in order to fund the specified expenditure, according to the Division of Local Services. Even if a referendum is approved, a two-thirds vote of town meeting is needed to approve the issuance of any debt for a project identified in a debt exclusion question.
Exclusion questions are designed to fund specific capital projects. The purpose of the borrowing must be specified in the ballot question. The DLS limits the scope of a debt exclusion to the debt authorized or contemplated when the voters approved the exclusion, as well as any modest and reasonably foreseeable increases intended to account for inflation, regulatory requirements, or minor project changes. Significant increases in borrowing must be funded within the levy limit unless a second debt exclusion is approved to cover them. It is also important to note that an election may be held before or after the appropriating body has acted on the matter.
For more information see the DLS booklet “Proposition 2 1/2 Ballot Questions: Requirements and Procedures,” available online (www.dls.state.ma.us/publics.htm).