Frequently Asked Questions About the 2019 Debt Exclusion and Operating Override


How can I find out more about the Arlington High School Building Project?

The Arlington High School Building Committee has documented the project in detail since 2016 and has an extensive FAQ section at ahsbuilding.org. Back to top

What is Proposition 2 ½ ?

Proposition 2 ½ is a state law passed in 1980 that controls how local property taxes may be raised. Under the law known as Prop 2 ½, the town can raise property taxes up to 2 ½ percent town-wide over the previous year, leaving aside new construction. Any increase beyond this levy limit must be approved directly by the majority of voters. Back to top

What is a debt exclusion?

A debt exclusion is a temporary increase in taxes to pay for specific capital projects. Debt exclusions allow tax revenue to be temporarily increased to pay the debt service on the projects. A debt exclusion must be approved by a majority of voters. The authorization to increase revenue beyond the levy limit lasts only for the life of the debt. In this case, the debt will last about 30 years. Back to top

What is an operating override?

When the cost of town services exceeds the limits of Proposition 2 ½, communities may ask voters to consider a ballot initiative for an operating override. An override permits a property tax increase greater than the 2 ½ percent limit, though rate increases are limited to 2 ½ percent in subsequent years. The ballot initiative must specify exactly how much additional revenue is being sought. Back to top

How will the debt exclusion and operating override affect my taxes?

The AHS Debt Exclusion (Question 1) will cost $107 a year for every $100,000 of assessed home value for the 30-year duration of the debt. The change will not appear immediately on tax bills. Borrowing will be phased in conjunction with school construction, with the full amount appearing over 2-3 years.

The $5.5 million operating override (Question 2) will cost $50 a year for every $100,000 of assessed home value. The change will appear on tax bills early next year and is a permanent increase. The Select Board commits to not request another Proposition 2 ½ override for at least four years if this question passes. Back to top

Are options available for residents who can’t afford the tax increases?

Yes. Several state and local programs offer tax relief to qualifying property owners and renters in the form of exemptions or deferrals. Senior citizens, people in low-income households, veterans, and others who meet the income and asset requirements may be eligible for up to $1,300 off their property tax bill. For more information, see the summary of programs and qualifications at Tax Exemption Programs Chart or contact the Assessor's Office (781-316-3050). The state also offers a Senior Circuit Breaker Tax Credit of up to $1,100.

Residents of Arlington Housing Authority properties will not be affected by the tax increase.

In 2017, Arlington’s Town Meeting passed tax work-off programs for income-eligible seniors and residents with disabilities, as well as veterans, or their respective designees. A tax-relief fund for seniors was also created, along with a mechanism to receive donations from residents when they pay their tax bills. For more information about these programs, contact the Council on Aging (781-316-3400). Back to top

What has Arlington done to expand tax relief programs?

This spring, Town Meeting will consider adding a municipal Senior Circuit Breaker program (Article 43 in the 2019 Town Meeting Warrant) and will also consider increasing the income limits for the tax deferral program (Article 38), a direct result of Home Rule legislation they passed last year.

The Select Board and Town Meeting have taken several actions to introduce and expand tax-relief options in recent years, including:

  • In 2012 under Article 29 they lowered the interest rate for property-tax deferrals for eligible seniors.
  • In 2012 under Article 30 they increased the annual income limit for seniors to qualify for property-tax deferrals.
  • In 2017 under Article 22 they introduced a property-tax work-off program for residents age 60 and over.
  • In 2017 under Article 23 they introduced the veteran's property-tax work-off program.
  • In 2017 under Article 24 they established an Elderly and Disabled Taxation Aid Fund in Arlington.
  • In 2017 under Article 25 they allowed the income and asset limit requirements to be adjusted annually according to the Consumer Price Index. Given the rising costs of many goods and services, as well as the real estate landscape in Arlington, such an adjustment better reflects income and assets relative to the cost of living. This change is expected to allow more Arlington seniors to be eligible for property-tax exemptions.

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When did Arlington last approve an override?

In June 2011, the voters approved an override in conjunction with a three-year plan that was created by town leaders. At the time, the Board of Selectmen promised not to come back to the town for another override for three years. Due largely to the shift of town employees’ health insurance into the State Group Insurance Commission (GIC), along with above-average revenue growth, the town has not needed to ask for an override for eight years. Back to top

When will Arlington be asked for another override?

If this override passes, the Select Board has committed not to ask for another override for at least 4 years. If this override passes, the spring of 2023 would be the earliest another override would be put on the ballot. Back to top

Why has my tax bill gone up more than 2 ½ percent some years with no override?

The 2 ½ percent limit applies to the total tax revenue on all existing property in town. If your property’s assessed value increased at an above-average rate, your tax bill would have gone up more than the town-wide average. If you think your assessment is too high, there is a process to appeal it. For more information, contact the Assessor’s Office (781-316-3050). Back to top

As our property values go up, doesn’t the Town get more money in taxes?

No. The total amount in property taxes that the Town can collect is limited to a 2.5% increase each year, excluding new growth. Property values in Arlington have been rising faster than 2.5% each year, so the Town's expenditures cannot keep pace due to the 2.5% limit imposed by Proposition 2 ½. When property values increase, the tax rate actually decreases. The tax rate (per $1,000 of assessed value) in Arlington has dropped from $13.79 to $11.26 over the last 5 years. Back to top

If the override is successful, how will the $5.5 million be distributed in the Town budget?

$4.7M of the override plan will be deposited in the override stabilization fund in the first year. This fund is drawn down in the later years when costs, which increase faster than the 2.5% annual cap on revenue growth, outstrip revenues. The purpose of the stabilization fund is to allow one override vote to last for multiple years.

Most of the funds raised from the override will not be earmarked for any specific program or town department. Rather, they will ensure that the town has sufficient funds to pay for all budgeted expenditures. The override plan contains additional funding for education and improved mobility for all residents. The plan phases in additional funding for the School Department’s five-year plan, with $600,000 added in FY (Fiscal Year) 2020 and FY2021 and $800,000 added in FY2022 and FY2023. These funds will be used to address enrollment growth, narrow the achievement gap, improve instruction, and attract, retain, and develop staff. The Town will also add $250,000 to the existing budget in FY2020 to support the Complete Streets and Age-Friendly Community initiatives.

The $5.5 million override plan is shown in the following table. Back to top

How can I help?

Let us know you’re voting YES on both questions. This will allow volunteers to spend time reaching other voters instead of knocking on your door. Please also consider volunteering and donating. Arlington needs your help! Back to top

How can I stay informed?

Sign up for our email list or follow us on Facebook. Back to top

Who is involved in this campaign?

Build Arlington’s Future is a volunteer-driven campaign. Please sign up to volunteer! The campaign chairs are Select Board member Dan Dunn, School Committee member Len Kardon, and Finance Committee member Dean Carman. Back to top