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In recount, Northfield override passes

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School Committee Chairwoman Patricia Shearer watches as Jeremy Gillis, town clerk of Easton, breaks the seal on the last 50-ballot envelope at a recount of the votes from a July 8 Proposition 2 1/2 override in Northfield Thursday.<br/>Recorder/David Rainville

    Pioneer Valley Regional School Committee Chairwoman Patricia Shearer watches as Jeremy Gillis, town clerk of Easton, breaks the seal on the last 50-ballot envelope at a recount of the votes from a July 8 Proposition 2 1/2 override in Northfield Thursday.
    Recorder/David Rainville Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jeremy Gillis, town clerk of Easton, speedily checks ballots during a recount in Northfield Thursday, as School Committe Chairwoman Patricia Shearer watches and Norton Town Clerk Danielle Sicard tallies the votes.<br/>Recorder/David Rainville

    Jeremy Gillis, town clerk of Easton, speedily checks ballots during a recount in Northfield Thursday, as School Committe Chairwoman Patricia Shearer watches and Norton Town Clerk Danielle Sicard tallies the votes.
    Recorder/David Rainville Purchase photo reprints »

  • Northfield's registrars, town clerk, constable and secretary sit at the center of the Thursday recount of a July 8 proposition 2 1/2 override vote. At the sides, two teams of  made up of volunteering clerks of other towns count ballots as they are watched by official observers in the Town Hall auditorium.<br/>Recorder/David Rainville

    Northfield's registrars, town clerk, constable and secretary sit at the center of the Thursday recount of a July 8 proposition 2 1/2 override vote. At the sides, two teams of made up of volunteering clerks of other towns count ballots as they are watched by official observers in the Town Hall auditorium.
    Recorder/David Rainville Purchase photo reprints »

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School Committee Chairwoman Patricia Shearer watches as Jeremy Gillis, town clerk of Easton, breaks the seal on the last 50-ballot envelope at a recount of the votes from a July 8 Proposition 2 1/2 override in Northfield Thursday.<br/>Recorder/David Rainville
  • Jeremy Gillis, town clerk of Easton, speedily checks ballots during a recount in Northfield Thursday, as School Committe Chairwoman Patricia Shearer watches and Norton Town Clerk Danielle Sicard tallies the votes.<br/>Recorder/David Rainville
  • Northfield's registrars, town clerk, constable and secretary sit at the center of the Thursday recount of a July 8 proposition 2 1/2 override vote. At the sides, two teams of  made up of volunteering clerks of other towns count ballots as they are watched by official observers in the Town Hall auditorium.<br/>Recorder/David Rainville

NORTHFIELD — The Pioneer Valley School District budget is set after a Proposition 21/2 override passed by four votes after a recount Thursday afternoon.

Those four votes mean the town’s property taxes will increase beyond the levy limit to come up with the difference between the $3.87 million share of the school budget and the $4.12 million share approved by the override.

The override passed 265-261, a close vote but not as close as the 262-262 tie tallied in the July 8 election.

Though the poll documents showed that 526 people voted and this was confirmed during the recount, only 524 ballots were counted on election night.

Interim Town Clerk Joseph Powers said the error in the original count was likely due to a jammed voting machine.

“Our assumption is that two of the ballots were possibly fed in with others,” Powers said.

On election night, 504 ballots were counted by machine and another 20 by hand. Powers said the hand count was done because the machine had difficulty accepting some of the ballots. He had blamed this on humidity, and said the ballots could have swelled as they absorbed moisture from the air.

It has some wondering about the reliability of vote-counting machines.

“This has been very interesting. I’m beginning to think maybe we can’t trust the machines,” said Linda Raymond, a registrar and Finance Committee member for Bernardston who came to watch the recount.

The recount was performed by two teams of two people each. A reader read each vote aloud, and a recorder kept a tally. The teams were comprised of the town clerks of Orange, Holliston, Norton and Easton.

While there is not requirement for town clerks to perform the recount, Powers said it was done to avoid any appearances of a conflict of interest.

Ballots were divided into 11 envelopes, 10 containing 50 ballots and one with 26. The envelopes were divided among the two counting teams, and when each folder was finished, Town Secretary Sandra Wood marked its total and recorded the final tally.

Thursday’s recount was brought by citizen petition, and was not triggered by the discrepancy between voter rolls and the ballot tally.

Northfield resident and Pioneer Valley Regional School math teacher Paula Brault championed the petition, and sat by Thursday to watch the recount.

“I’m amazed,” said Brault. “I teach a statistics class. What a lesson this will make for my students.”

She said her colleagues also plan to use the override as an example for their American studies, democracy and civics classes.

If the tie stood, the override would have failed, meaning the school district would have to make severe cuts or come up with a new budget proposal, which would have required special town meeting approval in Northfield and Bernardston.

Northfield’s share of the $14.12 million budget is $4.12 million, about $51,000 less than the annual town meeting approved contingent on the override.

A lesser amount of $3.87 million was recommended at town meeting by the Finance Committee and Selectboard. Using that figure, along with the articles and budgets approved at town meeting, the 2015 tax rate would have been $15.85 per $1,000 property value.

The original assessment requests to the district’s four towns was lowered earlier this month when the district discovered it would receive about $100,000 more than expected in state transportation aid and school choice revenue.

Finance Committee Chairwoman Lois Stearns said the override’s passage will result in an estimated increase of 66 cents per $1,000 to the tax rate, for $16.51.

The override vote doesn’t only effect Northfield’s taxes.

Leyden and Warwick had approved their full budget requests at their annual town meetings, but Bernardston voters had approved less than the school district requested. Under the district agreement, the school budget must be passed by three of the four towns.

Now that Northfield has approved its full share, Bernardston must pay its full $2.58 million share instead of the $2.45 million approved at town meeting.

That will take a special town meeting, according to Bernardston Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Dutcher.

Dutcher said the town should be able to cover the $130,530 difference without exceeding Bernardston’s levy limit and triggering an override. She said she will suggest that the town be asked to raise taxes to come up with the difference rather than tapping into stabilization accounts, but the Finance Committee and Board of Selectmen will make that decision.

You can reach David Rainville at: drainville@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 279 On Twitter, follow @RecorderRain

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