Municipalities saw fewer override successes in 2013

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Just 38.5 percent of communities that had one or more Proposition 2½ override questions on the ballot in 2013 had at least one success, according to an MMA review of data collected by the Division of Local Services and the MMA.

Out of 26 communities that had ballot questions on overrides, 10 communities had one that passed. This is down significantly from 2012, when 19 of the 37 municipalities that had override questions were able to pass one, a success rate of 51 percent.

In 2011, 19 of the 43 communities that had at least one override question had a success (44 percent).

While the percentage of municipalities with an override success decreased, the number of override attempts by municipalities is also decreasing. With the exception of 2008, the number of override questions on municipal ballots has decreased every year since 2005, when 170 questions were on the ballot. Only 52 override questions were on ballots in 2012.

Overrides were successful in 2013 in Aquinnah, Chilmark, Dennis, Lakeville, Newton, Northampton, Spencer, Templeton, Truro and Yarmouth.

Sometimes, it took more than one attempt to pass an override. Templeton was able to pass an override in October for regional schools and the municipal budget after failed attempts in May and June. Truro asked four individual override questions on May 14 and had two questions pass and two fail.

The most common purpose for a successful override this year was education, specifically to fund regional schools. Out of 14 successful overrides in 10 communities, four funded regional schools and two funded town school departments. Several overrides also were for public safety, including ambulance service in Spencer and police and fire department staffing in Dennis and Truro.

Failed overrides this year also largely concerned education, specifically regional school funding. Overrides failed in communities that would help fund the Wachusett Regional School District, Ashburnham Westminster Regional School District, Spencer East Brookfield Regional School District, Whitman Hanson Regional School District, and Narragansett Regional School District.

The data indicate that it is particularly difficult to pass an override in the fall, and municipalities generally have a far better chance in the spring. Seven municipalities put at least one override on the ballot in September, October and November of 2013, but only one of these communities passed an override (Templeton).

By contrast, 60 percent of communities with an override question in May had success. In June, however, only one out of nine communities that had an override on the ballot had any success.

According to the Division of Local Services, votes have been taken on 4,176 override ballot questions since 1989 and 39 percent of the questions have passed.

The DLS also lists a number of stabilization fund overrides that have been put to a vote since 2006. The town of Orleans passed two stabilization fund overrides in 2011 for a pavement management program and drainage infrastructure program. The towns of Royalston and Westport also put stabilization fund overrides on the ballot, in 2013 and 2012, respectively, which would have funded special-purpose capital projects and a capital stabilization fund, but they failed to pass.

Municipalities have had more luck with debt exclusions and capital expenditure exclusions.

Since 1982, residents have voted on 3,811 debt exclusion questions and 3,407 (89 percent) have passed.

Voters have passed 58 percent of the 1,304 capital expenditure exclusion questions, according to the DOR.

In 2013, so far, 72 communities have taken at least one vote on an override, stabilization fund override, debt exclusion or capital expenditure exclusion question, and 51 communities (71 percent) have passed at least one. Out of the 127 individual votes taken so far, 81 (64 percent) have passed. Of 76 debt exclusions, 60 have passed.

In 2012, 106 communities took at least one vote on an override, stabilization fund override, debt exclusion or capital expenditure exclusion question, and 88 communities (83 percent) passed at least one. Out of the 209 individual votes taken, 136 (65 percent) passed, including 102 debt exclusion questions.

In 2011, voters in 117 communities took at least one vote on an override, stabilization fund override, debt exclusion or capital expenditure exclusion question, and 94 communities (80 percent) passed at least one. Out of 226 total questions, 146 (65 percent) passed, including 114 debt exclusions.

Though fewer overrides were passed this year, there were a number of successes when looking at the total number of individual question that passed, particularly if the questions were debt exclusions or capital expenditure exclusions.

Before placing a question before voters, communities are advised to consider what type of questions to ask, the purpose, and the time of year to hold the vote.
Written by MMA Legislative Analyst Victoria Sclafani