Every tax is a pay cut.  Every tax cut is a pay raise.
Citizens for Limited Taxation

Fiscal concerns prompt taxpayers association Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Jenn Abelson Boston Globe
FRAMINGHAM: Group's primary goal is avoiding tax cap overrides

Tired of what they view as wasteful government spending and a lack of accountability, residents have launched the Framingham Taxpayers Association to serve as a fiscal watchdog over the town's budget and prevent future overrides.

The group, made up of Town Meeting members and other residents, was spurred by last year's slim victory to increase property taxes and was officially launched this summer.

"We want to see the government clean up its act and improve its effectiveness before coming to the taxpayers to get more dollars," said Steve Kruger, a Town Meeting member and spokesman for the taxpayer association.

The Framingham Taxpayers Association is one of a number of groups that has emerged in the face of attempts to override Proposition 2 1/2, the state law that caps how much municipalities can increase property taxes, said Chip Faulkner, associate director of Peabody-based Citizens for Limited Taxation, the largest taxpayers association in the state.

Town Manager George P. King Jr. said he welcomes input from new groups and suggestions for how to more efficiently operate the municipality.

"There's always room for improvement," King said.

Still, he took exception to characterizations that the town is not managed well.  King noted the savings of $700,000 from renegotiating agreements last year for street lights and waste disposal.  Moreover, he said Framingham has settled contracts with all of its unions that include no cost-of-living adjustment for one year.

"I think we've made some substantial moves that would indicate we do operate quite efficiently," King said.

Despite these efforts, members of the Framingham Taxpayers Association contend that the town lacks adequate fiscal discipline -- from offering health benefits that are far too generous to insufficiently measuring its operational performance against other municipalities.

After the town confronted significant revenue gaps for the second year in a row, some residents grew more concerned that taxpayers would shoulder the burden for what they viewed as the municipality's poor budget planning.  According to Kruger, Framingham has already endured more than a decade of fiscal irresponsibility, where spending rose far above inflation and population increases to the tune of $50 million to $60 million dollars.

The Framingham Taxpayers Association said it aims to ensure that the interests of taxpayers are strongly represented in policy deliberations, union contract negotiations, and other activities that affect the property tax burden in town.

Steve Orr, a member of Town Meeting and the taxpayers association, said the primary function of the group is to prevent overrides.

"If we can't make do with the money we've got, then what the hell are we doing?" he said.  The organization, which has between 20 to 30 members, is hoping to attract hundreds of residents and influence the way the town conducts its business.

Although the group has yet to map out any concrete plans, it has already met with officials from North Andover's tax association, which helped trounce a $4 million override in April 2002.

In North Andover, there have been 34 override questions on the ballot since 1986, but last year, 67 percent of voters rejected a proposal, according to Ted Tripp, president of the North Andover Taxpayers Association.  The group, which started with four members, now has about 200 members and is growing.

"These associations are important to watch over spending and to make sure the town doesn't tax beyond the capacity of their residents," Faulkner said.

Send comments to: hjw2001@gmail.com