NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) - Northampton's trying to figure out how to make up for a $2.4 million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year.
On Thursday, Mayor David Narkewicz asked the city council to consider a proposition 2 ½ override vote on the June ballot.
If Northampton voters approve the proposal to raise taxes, it will be the city's third override in the last four years.
"Oh, I think we've been asked probably four or five times since I've lived here at least," said Greg Sandlers who's lived in Northampton for 25 years.
Last month, the city's mayor announced a $2.4 million budget gap which threatens 22 city positions. 17 of those layoffs will come from the school department where art programs could be cut.
One former Northampton school committee member says the cuts could hurt students.
"The arts are one important thing we can do to be sure that these are going to be entrepreneurs. That these are going to be creative thinkers. All these decisions are really hard, but I just think that schools have to come first," said Ginny Sullivan.
But some voters say raising taxes is not the answer, especially because of Northampton's history. Since 1994 there have been six override elections, five have passed. The most recent one, in 2010, helped pay for a new police station.
"Government keeps looking for other ways to increase taxes or fees, in Northampton we are seeing yet again another year where water and sewer prices are going up because that's not regulated by prop 2 ½," said Sandlers in Northampton on Friday.
Sandlers owns two properties in Northampton and says he pays over $5,000 a year in property taxes.
Mayor Narkewicz says he understands his constituents' concerns but he's just trying to maintain the same level of services every year; and revenue keeps shrinking.
In the last six years, the city has lost over $10.3 million in state funding. Currently, the property tax rate is $14.26 per thousand. And according to city budget data, compared to neighboring communities, like Amherst and Easthampton, the rate is cheaper.
A levy is the total amount of tax revenue a city can raise. In Northampton, the collection of property taxes, motor vehicle excise taxes, hotel/motel taxes, interest on taxes and tax titles make up 61% of the general fund.
"[It's all about] what it costs to run a city. If you've got costs like health care that are going up six, seven, ten percent a year, and your budget can only grow by 2 ½ percent, you're going to have a gap nearly every year," said Narkewicz inside his City Hall office Friday.
Expenditures for city employee benefits have also gone up, almost $1 million in the last year. Narkewicz says a solution to maintaining the budget could be local cities and towns having more freedom over their revenue sources. One suggestion is having more control over local excise meals taxes.
Mayor Narkewicz plans to present the proposal during the next city council meeting on April 18 th.