Mike kirby baby boomers are booted in north attleboro columns thesunchronicle.com wd gaster website


The 2-to-1 margin of victory was fueled largely by parents who wanted to see more funding for the school system. Most are working parents who find the $400 tax hike for the average home a relatively small price to pay for a better education for their children. They simply overwhelmed the voting bloc that normally dominates local elections, senior citizens — in other words, Baby Boomers.

Just as importantly, the graybeards have been replaced in all of the key positions by digital natives. Gone are veteran selectmen like John Rhyno and Paul Belham, both Boomers. The two newest selectmen are Justin Pare, 38, and Patrick Sullivan, 32. A similar transformation has taken place on the school committee where only Chairman Jim McKenna remains among the Boomers.

I did not support the override of Proposition 2½ because I don’t believe town officials have ever explained why North Attleboro needs a permanent 13 percent increase in the levy and surrounding communities do not. I think it places too great a burden on low-income homeowners. And, while the town’s not legally required now to stick with a tax rate higher for business than for residential property, switching back to a single rate would be politically unfeasible. (A dual tax rate was part of the promise town officials made in selling the override). And it makes it almost impossible to ask for another override in the near future when, inevitably, the town will need to renovate the high school or replace aging elementary schools.

But I was pleased to see that the present leadership, at least on the board of selectmen, appears to be following through on their promise to spend the money as they said they would. Here are a few other promises I believe town officials should make with the funds and the power they acquired on April 3:

BASIC SERVICES — This money MUST be spent on basic services: improved public education, better response times for our first responders, improved roads. I think taxpayers also want to see the public library get the funding to maintain its accreditation. Taxpayers will be rightfully outraged if this somehow ends in higher wages or benefits for public employees or recreation programs that should be supported by user fees.

NO SCHOOL FEE CUTS — The school committee’s decision to promise to cut some fees if the override passed was not only outrageous for its blatant political bribery but is a waste of money. The sales pitch for the tax increase was that town services are slipping and need more money to restore them. The more than a quarter of a million dollars does not improve the education of a single student. It simply makes it cheaper for the people who most benefit from town services. I hope some of the wiser heads on the board of selectmen will give school committee members a lesson.

BETTER SCHOOL BUILDINGS — Taxpayers need to see a plan to renovate or replace North Attleboro High, now 45 years old, and replace most of the elementary schools, those built as the first of the Baby Boomers were born. And this will have to be done by coming up with more revenue sources — greater economic development is a must — because going back to the taxpayers for another tax increase any time in the near future is simply too much.

A NEW LIBRARY — I love Richards Memorial Library. But let’s face the truth: A tiny building built before most homes had electricity and when the town had about 5,000 residents is not suited for a community of 30,000 in the digital era. Funds must be raised, trust funds must be scoured and maybe a small tax increase could be considered. But the library is another example of a building North Attleboro has hung on to for too long.

A NEW GOVERNMENT — A year from now, North Attleboro voters will be asked to drastically reshape their government. It’s long overdue. It won’t be long before the town is a $100 million enterprise. Right now, the major decisions are made by dozens of part-time, unpaid volunteers. Instead, a small group of elected representatives would oversee the town and hire a full-time professional to do it. As I wrote last week, I think some voters would prefer to elect a mayor than have a town council appoint a town manager. But I’ve got a year to be swayed.