Guest columnist Ruth Leuenberger: Should we continue to accept the unacceptable?

Downtown Northampton over Main Street.

Downtown Northampton over Main Street. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By RUTH LEUENBERGER

Published: 06-04-2024 6:53 PM

 

I have been interested in the Northampton budget discussions for fiscal year 2025. I have no practical knowledge of how the finances of our city work, but I have felt the impact of the financial decisions made.

Over the years, I have had the parental anxiety of proposed cuts to the school district year after year. I have gladly supported the Proposition 2½ overrides to help the schools and to build the police and fire stations. My property taxes have more than quadrupled since I bought my home. I live on a street that has not been resurfaced or repaved in over 30 years — the potholes that are patched, after many complaints, reopen after a heavy rain. Our sidewalks are difficult to walk on and in disrepair.

We are not the only neighborhood to have these problems. I would expect that our taxes would be carefully managed to support our schools and care for our streets and sidewalks. My limited understanding of the problem is that Proposition 2½ has limited towns’ and municipalities’ budgets and created the problems we face every year.

In other states, communities can access alternative revenue through other forms of taxes that are not allowed in Massachusetts. One other factor affecting school budgets is the state formula for schools. For more than 20 years I have heard this needs to be revised. That said, Easthampton recently passed a budget that allowed for level spending in the school district and did this “through wise fiscal strategies that kept their reserves robust.”

Is Northampton using wise fiscal strategies? Is our problem a combination of unwise fiscal management and constraints on revenue due to Proposition 2½? I don’t know the answer to this, and there are probably many more complex issues involved. However, after watching the same discussion for over 30 years and having no solution but to continue to cut services and do overrides, it seems we must figure out other ways to solve this problem.

The recent Chapter 90 Municipal Empowerment Act by Gov. Maura Healy has given towns and municipalities money for roads, schools, bridges, and municipal services in the 2025 budget. This plan also frees up ways for towns and municipalities to increase tax revenue. This should offer some relief to our city and the school district, and I wonder if it was taken into consideration in the recent school budget.

Northampton is facing many post-COVID challenges as well as long-standing fiscal issues. Some of our residential streets and sidewalks are in disrepair and dangerous for bicycles and walkers. We have multiple empty storefronts, the budget for our schools is unacceptable, and downtown merchants are scared about the impact and loss of business that the downtown Main Street redesign will have on their already struggling businesses.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Music in the sky: Summit House Sunset Concert Series returns to its 173-year-old home
Knitters’ paradise: Webs, ‘America’s Yarn Store’ and a mainstay for Valley crafters for generations, turns 50
Easthampton to lose Pepin school gymnasium as public recreation space
Easthampton’s 11 Ferry St. project promises affordable five-story, 96-unit complex
Taylor Haas takes the reins as new executive director at Three County Fairgrounds
Sunderland receives $195K grant to study, design multi-use trail from Whately to Amherst

I have heard many times from people that, when friends and family come from out of town to visit, they comment on the roads and sidewalks and the empty storefronts and wonder about the fiscal health of the city. There must be better solutions than continually being asked to accept the unacceptable.

Ruth Leuenberger lives in Northampton.