On June 11th, voters will be asked to address a budget shortfall for Arlington that could begin within two years. Why does Arlington need an operating override? The financial answer is that costs for municipalities in Massachusetts increase more rapidly than the 2 ½ percent tax increase allowed under Proposition 2 ½, the state law that limits annual increases in local property taxes. Any community that is built out and lacking a large commercial tax base, like Arlington, must request that voters approve overrides from time to time. The practical answer is more detailed.
Without an override, Arlington will need to make cuts starting as soon as next year. Many of us will remember the significant cuts the town had to make before we passed our last override in 2011. Others may not remember those cuts or didn’t live here at the time. It is sometimes difficult to recognize all the programs the Town provides our citizens until they are missing. The following are some examples of how town services touch our lives.
The Department of Public Works oversees Arlington’s complex infrastructure. The DPW manages 100 miles of public roadways, 250 miles of water and sewer pipes, and 3,500 storm drains that extend over 75 miles. It maintains Arlington’s open spaces, which include 19 athletic fields, 26 playgrounds, the Reservoir Beach, and Menotomy Rocks Park. The DPW is responsible for clearing the snow and ice from our roads, maintaining our public cemeteries, and overseeing trash and recycling collections.
The Health and Human Services Department works to protect the public health of our residents and to assist residents in accessing health and wellness programming. HHS conducts inspections and issues permits for restaurants and outdoor food vendors. It leads the fight against communicable diseases through vaccination programs and education, particularly for children and the elderly. HHS also coordinates the town’s rodent control program to address what has become an increasing challenge for Arlington and surrounding communities. The Department also supports groups focused on helping veterans, youth, and seniors.
Veterans’ Services helps veterans and their families navigate the Veteran’s Administration system to receive Federal benefits. It also administers the state’s program to provide direct assistance to veterans. The Arlington Youth Counseling Center provides mental health services to Arlington’s youth and their families. AYCC also runs support groups to identified at-risk populations within our community. The Arlington Youth Health and Safety Coalition has representatives from town departments, private agencies and the community who work together to prevent substance abuse and other at risk behaviors that negatively impact our town’s youth.
The Council on Aging is the primary organization within HHS that focuses on the needs of senior citizens. Its social work staff deals with medical issues, food and nutrition support, and mental health concerns. The COA runs health clinics, educational programming, social events, as well as helps residents enroll in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). The COA also coordinates transportation services for seniors, including services for medical appointments and errand-running. The Disability Commission, the Widows Trust, and the Heating Assistance Program are also part of Health and Human Services.
Arlington’s Police Department covers areas that most people know – criminal investigations, traffic and parking, and animal control. In addition, the department has received recognition for its innovative approach to combating the opioid epidemic, dealing with members of the public who struggle with mental health issues, and community policing.
Our firefighters are not only first responders for fire and medical emergencies, but also responsible for education, outreach and inspection services to prevent fires.
The Robbins Library and the Fox Branch Library are important community resources that support all citizens. The Libraries contain over 200,000 items in their physical collections and provide access to over 90,000 titles in a digital library shared by the Minuteman Library Network, as well as resources exclusively available to Arlington patrons. The librarians are a source of advice and assistance for users with wide ranging questions..
Funding for Arlington’s schools is also covered by the operating override, and this tax increase is essential to them. Enrollment in Arlington’s schools is on the rise. In the past ten years, the number of students has grown by 27%. We currently have over 6,000 students and are projected to keep growing.
Arlington has gone through many changes since I grew up here. Throughout all those years, one constant has been the pride that Arlington feels in taking care of its own. Collectively, the services described above, as well as those not specifically referenced, support every citizen – regardless of age or income – so they can live full lives as part of this community. Now is the time to pass this operating override so we can avoid difficult cuts, maintain our town and school services, and continue to care for all our citizens.
Steve DeCourcey is a member of the Arlington Select Board