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Balancing Act: What you need to know about this year’s proposed tax override

When Moderator Bill Barton calls for a vote on the $33.5 million fiscal 2021 town budget next Saturday, attendees will decide not only how much the town and schools can spend next fiscal year, but, implicitly, whether to raise Harvard property taxes by enough to cover a projected $317,239 deficit.

The state’s Proposition 2½ limits the amount by which Harvard can raise its taxes in any given year. But if expenditures and revenues come in as expected, the town will have an operating deficit in fiscal 2021 of $317,239. To pay for it, the town will need additional tax dollars. Without the extra money, cuts will be required.

To raise the money, voters will be asked to approve an override of the Proposition 2½ levy limit, as permitted by state law, at Town Election. Proposition 2½ limits tax increases to 2½% of the prior year’s levy, plus an allowance for new construction. But once enacted, the override amount becomes part of the base on which future property taxes are calculated. Harvard voters last approved an override for fiscal 2008.

Although there is no mention of a deficit or an override in Article 3 (Omnibus Budget) on page 34 of this year’s warrant booklet, the budget is based on the override’s passage and will not be balanced without it.

The vote on the override itself will come at the June 23 Town Election. Question 1 on this year’s ballot asks that the town “be allowed to assess an additional $320,000 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purpose of funding the operating budgets of the public schools and the town” for the fiscal year 2021. Its passage requires a majority vote. In a twist of timing, this year’s COVID-19-driven early balloting means that many town residents could already be casting their votes as this week’s paper goes to press.

If the override passes, the owner of a median-priced, $563,100 home can expect to pay an additional $147 next year, according to town officials. If the override fails, the Select Board and Finance Committee have agreed to $320,000 in cuts, $96,000 from the town budget and $224,000 from the schools budget. The cuts would be consequential, and our reporters explore the consequences in a series of stories that appear in this week's Press.

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