Sunderland’s vote to raise taxes or make cuts

Sunderland, Mass. is a bedroom community for University of Massachusetts Amherst students and a small town filled with farmers, crunchies, old people, families with young children, red-necks, and those devoted to town politics.

Like other communities, Sunderland is being faced with less money from the state and the decision to raise taxes or cut services.

According to The Greenfield Recorder, this is the first time a vote like this has occurred in 15 years.

Some residents may have received a detailed flier in the mail pushing for an override. Supporters of the override make the case for appropriate funding for the school, trash pick-up, police, and library services. 

If the increase does not go through, people will have to arrange for their own disposal of trash, teachers and school programs will be cut, police services will be reduced, and free library services will no longer be free or available.

I haven’t come across any arguments for why the override should be voted against, except that it is “too much” money.

WWLP reports the override is gaining support.

The override vote was also mentioned in the Sunderland Elementary School Sentinel.

None-the-less, both sides are putting up a good fight in the signage department. So check out the very unscientific poll I have compiled.

Registered voters can cast their ballot on July 18, 2009 at the Sunderland Elementary School. Here’s a specimen ballot. On Sunderland’s Web site, there is a chart showing the impact of the tax override.


*Make sure to check out some relating posts. Sunderland Comments: Yes, No. Sunderland’s signage continues. Sunderland: A whole lot of ‘Yes’. Sunderland: More Yes and No. Sunderland Override: Men Behind Signs.


*Bolded is an update in this post as of July 18, 2009.


Filed under Culture, documentary, Politic

21 responses to “Sunderland’s vote to raise taxes or make cuts

  1. concerned citizen

    It is too much money. I’m voting NO and I will tell you why.
    1. People are taking paycuts, facing layoffs and dealing with higher prices. If our state does not have funds for towns, do you honestly think the property owners in Sunderland can afford a 22% increase in taxes to offset the decline in state funds? Sorry but in this economic climate “maintaining existing services” is not an option.
    2. Government at all levels (federal, state and local) is way too big and spends way too much. Enough is enough. Cuts must be made. Will it be pleasant? No. Will everyone agree on what to cut? No. But sacrifices must be made.
    3. In the 25 yrs I’ve lived in Sunderland, my property value has soared more than 360% and the taxes I pay have increased from ~$700./yr to almost $4000./yr. The number of houses has soared also. This town collects a HUGE amount of money in tax revenues. Sunderland needs to learn to SPEND LESS. People need to face facts. Vote NO July 18.
    ps you missed my sign

    • Carol Devine

      I’m Voting YES

      I recently got laid off and am making half my previous salary with a part-time job, but I am voting YES for the override because I feel strongly that if it fails, we will all pay much more in the end – both in real costs (trash removal, drop in property values, loss of school choice revenue, tax dollars going out of Sunderland to educate our kids) and in the cost to our quality of life (no more 24/7 local police, trash pile ups around town, sub-par school, reduced highway and fire dept, library, etc).

      I disagree that this is a spending problem. We have traditionally been below the tax rates for surrounding towns, and will now be at or below many of our neighbors. Sunderland’s current level is $12.40 per $1,000 and the proposed rate is $14.70. Montague’s tax rate is $21.52, Greenfield is $17.50, Leverett is $15.40, Amherst is $15.82 and Whately is $14.49. Of course, Hadley is lower at $9.10… I don’t know about the NO voters, but I’d rather pay more in taxes than see a lot of strip malls and big-box stores sprawling around town to help pay our bills. Frankly, I think our town managers have done a good job in managing Sunderland’s finances we’ve gotten great bang for our bucks.

      I urge my neighbors to invest it in the future of our town, and vote Yes on the override on July 18. No one wants to pay more taxes, but we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think we’ll all pay more if the override fails.

  2. Sue

    Eleven years ago we moved to western MA. My husband had gotten a job a Franklin Medical Center. We rented for a year while looking for a house and a home. In July 1998 we decided after much thought and energy that Sunderland with all its wonderful attributes, was where we wanted to start and raise a family. The most driving factor I will admit was the Sunderland School system. I know that I am not alone in my decision to come here for the “Sunderland” education. Many Sunderland families with children will tell you the same and are as devastated as me at the prospect of losing this quality education. I also know that times are very tough. But please, think back about your own school memories. Did you have art class? Did you play in the band? Were you in a class of 30?? Were there people at school that could give you extra help if you needed it?
    Yes times are tough. I know. My husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor last Spring and is now on disability for who knows how long. Things ARE TOUGH. But.. I will still Vote YES. Because 1. I care about the education my and other kids receive and 2. I want to be proud to say, “I’m from Sunderland.”

  3. Sunderland Resident

    It is true that Sunderland has some good services, and that we have low tax rates compared to our neighbors, but just because our neighbors have higher rates is not justification to raise our rates. We do have serious waste in our budget still. Not only do we have waste, we have unnecessary services. I wish I could have made it to the meetings, but when you are forced to trim your budget, you need to become more efficient. Government has a problem with efficiency, mostly that they get money from the residents and get addicted to spending it. Why is it that New Hampshire is doing just fine, yet they have no income tax, no sales tax, and yet thier property taxes are on the order of 20-21 dollars/ 1000? Where all our state grabbed money going?

    When all around us people are losing thier jobs, taking pay cuts, etc, the public (as in paid by local residents) teachers are getting a pay raise because of the union? Not that I am against paying teachers, because I think they work hard and don’t always make what they desereve, but this is a hold up, caused by our retarded state government and the union. We have to give them a pay raise just to maintain school services, and as a result, we have to cut trash service, or cut police, or fire… whatever. In all honesty, I feel the union and the school made thier bed with the locked in wage increases, so if we say “you only get this much money” and thier answer is to fire some teachers just to give others a pay increase, maybe I DO want to send my little girl to Amherst.

    As for Police, I don’t feel I need 24/7 coverage. Maybe the towns (especially the ones near each other) should look into shared resources. Why do we need so many police for all these little towns?

    Trash Pickup – We just started this pay per bag thing… so where is that money going? What fraction of the total bill is it? How about adjusting the per bag fee to more accurately reflect the actual cost per bag? 2 dollars? 3? What is the real cost. 52 weeks, 3 bags of trash, per week, 3 dollars per bag = 468 dollars per year. I have a two year old kid and I only make one or two bags per week. I’ll pay the real cost of it, and if it is cheaper to get a contract, I’ll do that.

    Fire Service- We have 1 full time fire fighter… what can 1 firefighter do? Nothing. If there is a fire, nothing happens until the volunteer force and the nearby towns come anyway. So no real loss there.

    What really chaps my hide is that the state is taking more and more from us (new sales tax on alcohol, increased sales tax, increase fees, etc) yet they continue to cut the money that is supposed to come back to us. Maybe we should stand up and vote those money grubbing politicians out of office!

    • Chris B.

      1 Firefighter does the required inspections for the town.
      1 Firefighter responds immedietly to medical emergencies to provide care in minutes saving lives.
      1 Firefighter teaches fire drills at school and provides education programs and materials to kids and their parents.
      1 firefighter can prevent huge dollar losses when a sprinkler pipe breaks…. Read More
      “no real loss” you’ll never know until YOU need the fire department or ambulance

      24/7 police…
      Ever been the victim of a house break?
      Ever own a business and arrive at your place to find it was burglarized overnight and your livelyhood is gone?
      Ever get run off the road at night by a drunk driver?
      Ever have your spouse or partner beat you and choke the life out of you while you pray for help?
      Ever wake up in the morning to find your car misssing from the driveway?
      Ever work at a 24hr store and smile when you see the police car rolling through at 3am because he might have scared off the armed robber who might have shot you for the $27 in the till?
      Ever get a flat tire on the roadside at 2am?
      Ever have that suspicious hang up call in the night, or hear a car pull into your driveway?

      Just because YOU don’t feel the need… yeah let’s axe the Police and Fire service… When YOU do need them, chances are at some point you will… where will they be?

      • Sunderland Resident

        Required inspections – building inspector
        Medical Emergencies – Please… What life saving can one firefighter do that others can not? Volunteer FD can provide much of the same coverage, and contracting with nearby towns can solve the 24 hr on call coverage (if it is needed)
        School – Volunteer fire fighters can do the same thing. I used to do it.
        Many sprinkler systems are dry pipe. Even if it goes off inadvertantly, and causes damage, that is why a business owner carries insurance. Let the business owner pay for the risk mitigation, not the town residents.

        House break – yes. My house is alarmed and I am armed. How long would it take the PD to get here after a call were made at 2 am? 5 minutes? 10? In 5-10 minutes, I could accomplish whatever I intended to do to someone at night. Police are in place to control crime, but most of the time, they can’t save you, only prevent the attacker from harming others, even then, it depends on timing.
        Business – If you arrive in the morning, the police are not needed at night.
        Drunk Driver – No, but then again, even if you are run off the road, an on call officer, or a state trooper would respond just as fast.
        Spouse Abuse – Sadly, again, the police arrive and break up the fight, but if it were choking to death, the police would most likely not get there in time.
        Car missing from driveway – again, 24/7 coverage won’t stop this crime, you just have to fill out the report when the police arrive (either on call State Trooper, or morning shift police)
        24 Hour Store – How many of these do we have? I can’t think of any… but even so, people need to take responsibility for thier lives and not rely on others to always be there.
        Flat Tire – Yes, so has my wife, and a call to police would bring a state trooper, a sheriff, or an on call officer. But even still, the odds of having someone attack you are slim, even with those odds, if someone does attack you, the police won’t be able to help. They probably won’t even know until a body turns up, the car is found, or a loved one calls. Take responsibility for your own safety.

        You get MY point. I believe in traditional american values. Look out for yourself, your family, and your friends. Don’t rely on the government (Local, State, or Federal) to come to your rescue. They can not save everyone, even if we had 10 officers 24/7, a full Fire House 24/7. Those who survive, did it on thier own.

        Besides, it is moot now, I just heard the override was defeated.

  4. KME

    This madness NEEDS to stop! If the override doesn’t pass, Sunderland will become unrecognizable! We all came here for it’s smalltown, USA charm….and if we lose on this override, we lose that charm we all fell in love with at first sight!

    I get that people don’t like that tax hike, but think of all the things we will be losing if you don’t have to have your tax hike. Police, Fire, street lights, library funding, school funding….I can’t even begin to imagine the depression this town as a whole will go through.

    PLEASE…consider what happens to our beloved town as a whole…not just individually! Our kids deserve a complete school opportunity, not just a partial experience!

    I’ll be voting YES…thank you very much!

  5. Pam

    NO vote from me!

    I am a single mother of 4, own my own home, and have 1 income. My taxes are already $5000, I can not afford the $1400 per year or so increase that voting yes requires. The schools will make do, and I don’t believe that they will stop all the programs. I have seen this scare tactic elsewhere, and the schools/parents always find a way to overcome it. As far as the trash service, having it privately picked up is much cheaper than $1400! As for the police, fire dept, well, we are all facing cuts, raising sales tax, fuel taxes, etc. Let’s make do and give up some of the luxuries that we have so become accustomed to, just like those of us on a fixed income have to do. A tax increase is one thing, but this 21.9% increase is absurd!

    The bottom line here, is I can not afford the extra $120 a month that this vote requires!

    • Mike

      Wow, a $1,400 per year increase? So, you must live in a house/property valued at over $600,000? And you own it (i.e., no mortgage)? You must be doing pretty well!

      You do realize the increase in your tax rate will only be $2.35 per $1,000 of property valuation, right? That’s about $700 per year (not each tax bill) for an average ($300,000) home. That’s $58 per month extra. That’s the cost of one family dinner out at a restaurant.

      Monthly trash pickup could indeed eat up most of that $58 per month. And, you wouldn’t have overnight town police covereage, the streets would be darker, and the roads would’nt be plowed or maintained as well. And while you don’t believe that the elementary school would be cutting the programs, the reality is, those programs are on the chopping block now pending this override. Music, art, technology, languages – gone. Gym and onsite nurse – the bare minimum to meet state requirements. Reduced classroom staff and larger classroom sizes. Check out the town website – these are not scare tactics – they are the harsh reality of what will have to be implemented starting July 19th if the override does not pass on the 18th.

      Look, a lot of folks have been talking about these consequences as mere scare tactics coming from the YES side. It might be scary, but it’s not a tactic – it’s reality.

      Please, read up on the issue, and make an informed (and hopefully YES) vote tomorrow.

      • Pam

        Just to reply, first of all, my home and financial situation is none of your business.
        I don’t own my home, I pay monthly for it just like most people. And it is not a $600,000 house. I wish it was though, cause I would sell it and do very well for myself!
        But I have done my homework, you don’t know that I haven’t. We are all entitled to our own opinions, and that is what I have, an opinion, just like you. You can’t force yourself on others, neither one of us is right or wrong, but doing for my family is what I must do. The bottom line here, is I can’t afford the tax increase in this job market.
        If I could afford the tax increase, then you better believe, I would be first in line to vote YES.
        I would think your energy is better spent trying to spread the word of the importance of your yes vote, not to criticize mine. I am only one person….

  6. Pam

    I am sorry I posted my opinion here. I never thought doing so would cause an attack on me as a resident of this town just because I didn’t agree with the others.
    You won’t be hearing any more from me.

    • HRS

      So Pam, either you own your home and pay huge taxes, or you don’t own it and pay no real estate taxes at all. Which is it? Because clearly you can’t have it both ways. Only homeowners have to pay property taxes, not renters. Why don’t YOU get your story straight?

  7. Mike

    Pam – my apologies – I didn’t mean to attack. It’s a difficult issue for all of us. It’s a lot of money no matter how you look at it. This is a very hard decision for all of us to make.

    Best wishes to you and your family, and I’m happy you’re voting (even if it might be a no).

  8. shades of gray

    A yes/no vote sounds so black and white. What the voters aren’t being told is there are shades of gray, namely alternative budgets. If this override doesn’t pass, you will be asked for a smaller override. If that doesn’t pass you will be asked for an even smaller override.

    Only if all of them fail will you lose all the services you are afraid of. My question is, can you live with a compromise? A few less services and a smaller override? I can and that is why I am voting NO.

  9. Sunderland Resident

    If you think renters won’t see an increase from this you are wrong. If an owner gets a 58 dollar per month (or whatever) increase, that increase is going to be passed on to the tenant… if think otherwise, you are a business fool. Owners of rentals will treat it as another expense and adjust rents to return the profit margin.

    I might consider voting for a smaller increase, but the one that is proposed and the reasons for it I disagree with. I gre up without police, an all volunteer fire department, no trash service, no teachers aids in school, no art class, no technology class, no big sports. I am now doing quite well as an engineer. I got her on my own, with my own loans, my own work. I didn’t take handouts, and I am sick of government demanding I pay more to support people who refuse to support themselves. I donate my money to charities I feel deserve it, and any increase any government takes from me reduces the amount I get to choose to allocate. Like everyone else, we have a budget. We need to be more creative with the use of our money to achieve what we need, not demand the citizens pay more.

  10. jj

    Off the taxes subject….

    I have a question to Sunderlanders about their electric bills (WMECO). My bill is out of sight, at 18 cents per kilowatt hour. A friend in So Hadley pays 11 cents per kh. My bill is twice hers! and she keeps everything on all the time…dryer every day, all kinds of appliances, etc that I never use…same number of people in household.

    It’s apparent that different cities and towns in our area are getting charged at different k/h rates. Is anyone else’s WMECO bill 18 cents per k/w?

    Should we be looking into this and demanding some kind of investigation???

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