Westborough – The Board of Selectmen discussed the possible ramifications of a $4 million Proposition 2-1/2 “underride” at its March 1 meeting at the request of one local resident. But that discussion was curtailed for a few minutes when the proponent of that proposal, Len Mead, got into a heated argument with the board and was escorted out of the room by Police Chief Alan Gordon.
Mead appeared before the selectmen to ask them to place an article on the May 14 Town Meeting warrant that would ask voters to approve a $4 million underride.
Citing the results of a recent Advisory Finance Committee survey, Mead told the board that many residents feel “taxes are too high. They feel that this is the time to make our feelings known.”
In response, Town Manager Jim Malloy presented a PowerPoint presentation of just what a $4 million underride might entail. An underride, Malloy explained, allows a community to reduce its levy limit. To be placed on the ballot at Town Meeting, it must first be approved by a majority of the selectmen. It must also state a specific dollar amount and be passed by a majority of the voters. When an underride is passed, that amount is then subtracted from the levy limit for that year, as well as ensuing years.
Malloy noted that there have only been 17 underrides passed in the commonwealth since 1983. The largest one was in Plymouth, for $2 million.
A $4 million underride in Westborough would have a “fairly significant impact on the town and, in my opinion, on the services we provide,” he said.
Assuming that the town and school district would each reduce their expenses by $2 million, a third of the Town Hall and Forbes staff would be laid off, as well as half of the Senior Center staff, a third of the library staff, and the three most junior police, fire and DPW employees, he said. The Division of Family and Youth Services and Historical Commission would also have to close.
In all, approximately 42 percent of the town's discretionary expenses would need to be cut to meet the $2 million figure. He did not know, he said, where the school might reduce their $2 million share.
After Malloy's presentation, Chair Rod Jané opened the discussion up to the board. When Mead tried to interject a response to one comment, Jané stopped him and asked him to wait until the board had finished its discussion. Mead refused and continued talking in spite of several entreaties from Jané to stop. Jané then asked Gordon to escort Mead from the room. Mead at first refused, but then finally went with Gordon.
“This is not just a process,” Selectman Leigh Emory said of the proposal to put the underride question onto the ballot. “The Board of Selectmen should have a very clear idea of what would happen if it passed. The ramifications would be extraordinary.”
Selectman Timothy Dodd agreed.
“The thing that is the most concerning is that it would double the highest override that has ever happened in the state,” he said.
He urged citizens who approved of the underride to contact the selectmen's office and tell them, “What would you like to see changed? What services can you live without?
“People should know where underride monies will come from,” Jané said. “If you don's know where something is being cut, do you just want to cut taxes? It's disingenuous and an irresponsible way to cut the budget.”
The board agreed to continue the discussion at its March 22 meeting.