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Northfield override vote ends in a tie

NORTHFIELD — A tie vote leaves the town headed for a recount and the Pioneer Valley Regional School District budget uncertain after a Proposition 2 1/ 2 override election Tuesday.

The vote stands tied at 262, after 495 residents voted in person and 29 took out absentee ballots, accounting for 24.5 percent of the town’s 2,135 registered voters.

“The outcome will probably have to be determined by some type of recount,” said Interim Town Clerk Joseph Powers.

“Clearly, as we’ve seen before, every vote counts,” Powers continued. “That is never more obvious than what we’ve seen tonight.”

Powers said 504 ballots were counted mechanically, and 20 were counted by hand. None of the ballots were fouled or left blank, he said.

Powers said he will consult state law and other sources to determine how to proceed, and he expects to have more information today. Until then, ballots and voter rolls have been secured.

The fate of the four-town school district rests on the eventual results of the override.

Voters were asked whether to exempt a 12.7 percent increase to the town’s share of the district budget from the limits of Proposition 2 1/ 2, which sets a limit for the amount property taxes can increase year to year. After town meeting, Northfield’s budget and capital expenses were just $250 shy of that limit.

May’s annual town meeting had approved the town’s $4.167 million share, contingent on the override vote. If the override were to fail, the town’s approved share would default to the $3.87 million budgeted by the Finance Committee and Selectboard.

A failed override would result in the town paying at least $126,000 more than the $3.87 budgeted.

The school budget is portioned out to towns by a percentage determined by a state formula. It takes three of the four towns to approve a total budget, and the full amount requested by the district was approved in Leyden and Warwick.

Bernardston, however, approved a lesser amount than requested, though it is proportionately more than the amount for which Northfield budgeted.

A budget based on Bernardston’s numbers would leave the district up to $749,657 short. That number could come down to about $450,000 if an expected $300,000 increase to transportation reimbursement is approved by the governor.

The district still has a chance to ask towns to approve more funds, though.

If the override ultimately fails, the regional School Committee will have 30 days to propose a new budget. A new proposal would be subject to special town meeting approval in Northfield and Bernardston.

Without the override’s protection from Proposition 2 1/ 2 tax limits, Northfield would need to fund the difference by either reducing other budgeted items, putting less toward capital projects, using money from the general stabilization account or “free cash,” all of which would require town meeting approval.

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

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