Tax levy limit override vote

We are going through financial difficult times and it will just get worse from here on. Watching the selectboard meetings leading up to Super Tuesday, the Election Day on February 5, I realized that the selectboard tried to confuse the unassuming voters and that they would get their way as usual to the detriment of the majority. Earl Johnson made the following statement during the selectboard meeting of January 30, 2008: “You have up to now given us a lot of trust and you have ... basically when you go to town meetings you listen to us and you usually vote the way we ask you to vote.” The few people I talked to did not know about the upcoming vote about the tax levy override nor had a clue what it would do to their purse.

I knew that I needed to do something; I had to take it on myself to inform the community as our leaders had no interest to do so. I contacted former select man Jim Foley and we decided to mail a flyer to all registered voters that participated in the previous elections. We met on January 26, at 9 AM and discussed how we would put our plan into motion. Jim Foley would create the text, while I was responsible for the logistics. Did you ever stick 997 stickers onto 997 folded flyers so they can not unfold; then stick 997 stamps and finally 997 address labels onto flyers? It feels like it never ends. But first we had to create the text, print the flyer, fold the flyer, and organize the 997 address labels of the voters we were going to send a copy. Jim e-mailed me his draft of the flyer on Tuesday, January 29, and I forwarded it to a professional proof reader to streamline the content of the flyer. I finally changed a few things myself and emailed it back to Jim for his approval as the flyer would bear his name. By Wednesday morning after two more failed attempts to get a hold of Jim, I still had not heard back form him. I could not wait any longer and I was off to the printer. Wednesday evening Jim finally cut up with me and the rest of the group who helped putting the stamps and address labels onto the flyers. He was not happy with the final version of the flyer. Jim was not pleased with the fact that the final version did not contain the phrase: “To increase the tax levy limit and your property taxes vote YES on either amount.” Jim felt that we should have given the voters a choice and let them decide for themselves whether to vote YES or NO. I offered to change it and start form scratch or stop the whole project at all. Jim did not want to start all over again and agreed to mail it out as it was. We steamed ahead after eating take-out pizza for everybody. Thursday morning I drove to the United States Postal Service distribution center at 192 Main Street in Shrewsbury to drop of the 997 flyers.

That Thursday evening January 31, 2008, the selectboard had scheduled a special public meeting to discuss the upcoming tax levy override vote. A copy of the flyer got somehow into the hands of the selectboard the day before. Realizing that the flyer left no question unanswered and spelled out in plain English how it would affect the purses of Holland residents, James Wettlaufer and Earl Johnson addressed the flyer in a last ditch effort to rescue their plan with the flowing statement during the televised meeting:

“Don’t listen to the rumor mills; this Board has never misled you. I give this (the flyer) about all the time it’s due. There are two inaccuracies in this that are in violation of state law, and Kristin Grant, your town clerk and myself have both filed criminal complaints against the author of this paper. It is illegal to make misstatements of law and then pass it out when there is a ballot question on the ballot because what you are doing is deceiving the voter and defrauding the town. It is only a misdemeanor unfortunately but that’s o.k., we deal with that. They allude that ah.. in the final ahh… paragraph in the thing that they send out that the law fully allowed 2½ % increase instead of the 7.8% proposed by the Board of Selectmen. There is no such law. Proposition 2½ regulates the amount of levy-limit and capacity the town has. The town can spend 25% year over year if it had enough funding available that didn’t include the tax rate, it does not regulate that. And they [notice the plural form, he refers to Jim Foley and I, Peter Frei] also indicate that there’r plans to have the voter give the permission to raise the levy-limit as the selectman see fit. There is no such thing in the law that allows that nor does any regulation in this town or former government permit that. Only the town meeting sets how much money they wonna spend and where they wonna spend it. And that’s all the time we gone give this garbage.”

Wettlaufer was not telling the truth when he claimed “Kristin Grant, your town clerk and myself [Wettlaufer] have both filed criminal complaints against the author of this paper.” At that time he made that statement neither Kristin Grant nor James Wettlaufer had filed any complaints, neither did they at any time thereafter file any complaints. Grant is the maiden name of Kristin Laplante. We have a term in the English language for somebody that is not telling the truth, the term is “liar.” As a matter of fact, hypocrite Wettlaufer’s statements made in his “last ditch effort” were false statements, statements made to mislead the voters in order to manipulate the outcome of the vote. Wettlaufer’s own actions were criminal as they are in violation of provisions of the Election Laws under M.G.L., c.56, s.36, which provides: “No person in the service of the commonwealth or of any county, city or town shall use his official authority or influence to coerce the political action of any person or body, or to interfere with any election. Violation of any provision of this section shall be punished by a fine of not less than one hundred nor more than one thousand dollars.” As Wettlaufer had no way of knowing if the flyers had been mailed at that point in time, it is reasonable to assume that his statement was also a threat and/or intended to intimidate, a clear violation of M.G.L., c.265, s.37, which provides: “No person, whether or not acting under color of law, shall by force or threat of force, willfully injure, intimidate or interfere with, or attempt to injure, intimidate or interfere with, or oppress or threaten any other person in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the constitution or laws of the commonwealth or by the constitution or laws of the United States. Any person convicted of violating this provision shall be fined not more than one thousand dollars or imprisoned not more than one year or both; and if bodily injury results, shall be punished by a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars or by imprisonment for not more than ten years, or both.” It is clear that the flyer Jim Foley and I created and distributed is an expression protected under the 1st Amendmend to the U.S. Constitution.

There was nothing in the newspapers to inform the voters. What was in the newspapers was not really helpful; here is what the chairman of the Holland Finance Committee Patrick Lacaire offered in the Sturbridge Villager the following day, Friday February 1, 2008, as “an illustration [that] will help if this [tax levy override vote] is still unclear:”

“Suppose you have an 8-once glass of water filled to the brim, and three people need 3 ounces each to survive (I know, a little dramatic!). Well, you are 1 ounce short. But a 4-once override will get you to a 12-ounce glass. However, that glass will only need to be filled with 9 ounces. The extra 3 ounces are neither filled nor drunk. That empty space in the glass between the water and the glass brim is exess capacity. Now, based on projections, in three years you will need 15 ounces to quench the town’s thirst. Without the override in the first year, the annual 2 ½ % increase would only get you to about a 14-ounce glass, filled to the brim, by the third year. Someone has to go thirsty.”

It is obvious that parents of school-age children would support the tax levy override ballot questions on the ballot Considering the fact that the community carries a total expenditure of $ 9,755 per pupil (fiscal year 2007), it is obvious that any parent would vote in favor of the override. This seemed to be the right target group of people to be informed by town officials. The town handed each student a flyer with the following content:

************************************* ************************************

Holland PTO Inc.
28 Sturbridge Road
Holland, Massachusetts 01521

Informational meetings on 1/29 at 7:00PM at HES, and 1/31, at 7:00PM at Town Hall

Dear Parents:

As many of you are aware, our town is facing a Proposition 2 ½ override vote on February 5, 2008. Some of you may have reservations, which is to be expected.

The Holland PTO would like to give you as much information as possible, so that you may make your decision.

It seems that the biggest taxpayer's concern is that our property taxes will be raised if the over ride goes through. Our taxes getting raised are inevitable, as the assessment of our homes vary from year to year.

All of our home upkeep prices have gone up, and we have been forced to pay higher rates for our basic necessities, the Town of Holland is no exception to the growing cost of living.

If the proposition 2 ½ override is not voted in for the Town of Holland, we are at risk of losing the following important services:

Holland Elementary School
1. Transportation within 1.5 miles of our school. (this includes ¾ of our day care providers)
2. Staff cuts/at least 1 classroom Teacher and Support Staff
3. Instrumental Music
4. Supplies/text books

Town of Holland
1. Police Department coverage
2. Fire Department coverage
3. Maintenance of our Private Roads. (more then 60% of Holland Roads are Private.)
4. Plowing/sanding of our public/private town roads

The majority of us taxpayers moved to Holland to better our quality of life, and to provide a better education for our children.

We hope the meetings this week will help you make the best decision you can for the integrity of our town.

Please attend the following meetings:1/29 @ 7:00 PM at HES; 1/31 @ 7:00PM at Town Hall

************************************** ***********************************

It is also a fact that most of the residents that spend the winters in Florida and other places with a warm climate had not returned by the time this important question was on the ballot.

The flyer Jim Foley and I mailed out worked; according to Kristin LaPlante the turnout was higher than she’s ever seen. “Roughly 50 percent (827) of our voters came out,” she said, “It’s unbelievable. I have never seen anything like it.” The $ 475,000 override was defeated by a vote of 578-237, and the $ 565,000 by a vote of 639-155.

The conduct of our selectboard shows a disconnect we all know just too well. As long as some of the town officials deny some of the members of this community their fundamental rights, and once the victims file suit, the town wastes tens of thousands of taxpayers dollars frivolously defending these legitimate lawsuits, I am not convinced that the town is in need of more funds.

Peter Frei

Posted on 15 Feb 2008, 14:22 - Category: Town Politics
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