Monday, February 13, 2017

The Cost Of Unbridled Optimism

Amherst has 16,569 active voters so 18% is 2,983

The venerable Amherst Select Board will place the $67 million Mega School on the ballot for the annual town election scheduled for March 28.  This will make the 4th time it has been voted on by Town Meeting and The People.

Although, since it's a  rare special "Referendum" election to overturn a Town Meeting action, it has to be decided in a "Special Town Election" separate from the annual town election.  But it can still be held at the same time as the regular 3/28 election, so it will cost taxpayers "only" an extra $8,000 for poll workers and printing additional ballots.

In order for the Referendum to succeed a two-thirds super majority to overturn Town Meeting is required and the election must have a minimum 18% turnout.  Over the past 30 years only three such Referendum votes have taken place and none of them have been successful overturning Town Meeting.

In fact even the requirement for an 18% turnout will be hard to meet as Amherst local elections over the past ten years have averaged only a 15% turnout.

Although a stand alone $2.5 million Override for the schools on May 1, 2007 attracted a 31.5% turnout and was defeated by a narrow margin.  Interestingly the regular annual town election held four days earlier attracted a 21% turnout.

And in 2003 and 2005 the annual local elections garnered over a 30% turnout due to the controversy sparked by the Charter question to change our current Select Board/Town Meeting government to a Mayor/Council/Manager.

In 1998 the Parking Garage Referendum vote to overturn Town Meeting's hard won approval for the tiny $4 million Boltwood Parking Garage garnered a 22% turnout and failed by less than 1%.

At the time Town Attorney Alan Seewald had interpreted the law to say 18% of the voters had to vote to overturn in order for the question to count.

 Click to enlarge/read

As a result the pro-garage Town Meeting defenders did little campaigning, since getting 18% of the electorate in a local election to vote to overturn anything is all but impossible.

But the Mega School issue has generated plenty of passion from both camps, so plenty of private money will be spent over the next six weeks targeting voters.  Good money after bad.


Anonymous said...

A better threshold would be 95% of eligible voters. An even better one would be 100%. Then it would be like a voluntary purchase vs. a force taking of critical family resources to benefit another family.

If there is not enough passion to convince most people, then drop the BS. No need to rock everyone's financial boat constantly to provide excessive financial assistance for a relatively small portion of the town that for the most part is not in financial need anyway.

Passionate parents always have the option to donate more when it is really needed.

What a waste of time and money. Next.

Anonymous said...

Safe to assume that students living in dorms that are registered voters can vote on this issue. If that's the case and I don't know, can we forward them tax bills so they can pay their fair share when they move on. While voting is a basic right and I understand this, I also feel students voting on town issues is troubling given they move on and those of us who live here half to pay the bills. I appreciate their zeal but I don't think they fully understand what they are doing to those who live here and are not leaving upon completion of their education.

I know I'll take some heat for this but I am ticked off this is even going to a vote. If it fails what other obscure tact will be taken to shove it down our throat again.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, and few people will ever have a house fire, so why not eliminate the fire department.

Anonymous said...

Most kids living in dorms are still registered in their hometowns.

Anonymous said...

The interesting point could be, if a lot of students registered for last November's Presidential Election, our election rolls may be bloated and it will be harder to get 18% participation unless the pro-school group provides buses to the polls and a free Beer/Pizza party afterwards to those students who voted.

Larry Kelley said...

Or a keg of beer.

Anonymous said...

18% seems wicked low. If the college students paid their fair share to Amherst, it would involve locals paying them. I am sure the students are ready to be paid, it is the locals that hesitate to even things out. That is what most town votes are about, absolutely making it so things dont even out. When the town is not involved, things instantly even out. People do not understand the role, miss it by 180°.

Anonymous said...

I can't comment until I hear what Dr ed thinks!

Anonymous said...

Paying the fire department is like buying insurance- You have it if and when it is needed.

How many days and hours have the schools missed this month due to weather?
More to be missed next week...
Time to get rid of February vacation!

Anonymous said...

It's 18% of "active registered voters" which doesn't mean total voters. That getss rid a lot of the umass students who register once and never vote again.

If previous elections used the 18% one way you can't just change that, it has to be the same interpretation!!! The town bosses can't just change it back and forth whenever they want a different result.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 404-
With students registering in the Fall of 2017 and then voting in November- wouldn't they be "active registered voters" until they prove otherwise?

Anonymous said...

yeah the fall 2016 student registered voters are probably "active registered voters". someone could look through the voter polls to figure it out.

Anonymous said...

overheard at a restaurant:

"People talk about that school like they're getting something great for $67 million, but they're not even. I was at that presentation at Crocker Farm, and nobody liked it. It was chilly, and cavernous, and awful. The little kids hated it too. I don't think that firm has even done something for little kids -- all their pictures were of colleges."

Anonymous said...

A banana is like a ladder if we are using this logic, you start at one end and end up at the other. But like your poor analogy of fire departments being insurance, it makes no difference when you need to use it.

It is often brought up to make the fire or EMS a private service with insurance....and people flip out, because it is not the same. With insurance, you will eventually pay your own way, if you participate long enough. With fire or say the schools, this is never the case, someone else is assigned your expense. It is more like insurance where the bill is sent to a random person. In order for it to work, it has to be someone who does not need the service as much as you, it has to be someone forced to pay more than their fair share.

The fire department, like the schools, is welfare for both the users and the employees. It is there because those involved on both ends could not hack it in the private sector footing their own bill....or they would and have it better on both ends. Real skills produce income and security in the private sector. Those without them avoid the private sector, just like T-ball players avoid the big leagues, they are just not skilled enough.

This is all about making sure things are anything but fair or responsible. This is economics in a blender, which is operated by the unskilled by design, and accepted because folks think poor is the best they can get. Voting is an elegant method of crowd control and it works really well, specifically to keep the losers from getting violent or acting up. It works really well most of the time (democrats are not liking the last presidential election, but there is still relatively limited violence as folks do benign protests). You will likely take no action whatsoever if 19% of the registered voters say to do something....well you will do one thing, open your wallet, and you will not resist, even if you complain mildly.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:17 is a sociopath with poor skills in logic!

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:17 went to Amherst that makes sense.