Don’t Be Fooled, Westford Voters: That ‘fee’ is a Tax
Article VIII on Saturday’s annual Town Meeting warrant proposes an “enterprise account” to fund new federal and state mandates related to stormwater management. Proponents say the fund will support needed infrastructure improvements that if ignored could invoke the wrath of some formidable federal and state agencies. However, no specific actions against the town are pending or anticipated. Efforts are also being made on Beacon Hill to obtain funding for cities and towns to meet these costs through state tax revenues.
More significantly, Article VIIl raises questions about taxation without representation. The measure would delegate to the Board of Selectmen the right to determine one of two methods for sustaining the fund. One method would levy a fee on all property owners, charging them for the total square footage of any roofs or hardtop on their property. A minimum unit value has been developed, along with a three-tiered fee system, to be allocated based upon the amount of impervious surface at a particular property. The other method would be a Proposition 2 1/2 override, which would levy the amount needed through a broad-based property tax increase. What’s the difference?
Do not be fooled by the term “fee.” The fee is compulsory, hence it is a tax. Everyone needs a roof. Because this involves property, the town should follow the law. Town Meeting and the voters should approve tax policy, not the Board of Selectmen. By approving the enterprise fund, selectmen would be authorized to decide whether funding should come through a fee, or an override. If they were to adopt the fee, they would have sole authority to set the rates.
Money taken in by fees could also free revenue encumbered by the town’s current commitment to stormwater upgrades and maintenance for allocation to other budget accounts. This would be, in effect, a backdoor override. Vote no on Article VIII. Let the proponents come back with a front-door override proposal, and let the voters make the decision.
Dennis J. Galvin