NEWBURYPORT — City councilors Allison Heartquist and Meghan Kinsey have introduced a formal request calling for state lawmakers to create a new mechanism to hike property taxes in order to increase school spending.
The petition was introduced at last night’s council meeting, but no final action was taken. It contains one key difference from current property tax law — in effect, voters would give city leaders blanket permission to annually increase taxes above the limits set by state law. Under current law, city leaders have to ask voters each time they seek to increase taxes beyond the state’s limits.
“This is like launching a lifeboat,” said Kinsey. “We don’t know if we’ll need it, but we’d like (access to funds) to be there if we need it.”
The two councilors, who have children in public schools, have been leaders in the Port Pride movement in recent months, a group that took a leading role in the successful campaign to pass a property tax increase to pay for the new Bresnahan school, as well as upgrades to the Nock/Molin school and the new senior center.
They have called for the council to approve a home rule petition to the state Legislature “to pass an act for the city of Newburyport relative” to broaden state regulations regarding “overrides.” Overrides are tax hikes that exceed the limits set by Proposition 21/2, a state law that says the property tax burden can increase no more than 2.5 percent each year, unless citizens vote to increase taxes.
The petition seeks permission to “assess in total taxes in excess of the amounts allowed under (existing rules) for the sole purpose of supplementing the education budget from the time of the passage of the override until such time as an underride vote is taken in accordance with the procedures set forth” in government regulations. An “underride” is a citywide vote taken to reduce the amount of property taxes that the city can collect.