The town of Hamilton has committed to financially backing a lawsuit that is set to challenge the state government on its education funding method.
Hamilton selectmen earlier this week authorized spending $10,000 to go towards the suit, .
The money will come from the town’s legal budget, said Town Manager Michael Lombardo.
“We have it in our budget to accommodate this barring any other unforeseen lawsuits,” he said.
Selectmen backed it in a 5-0 vote.
The non-profit group Tax Reform for Education is hoping to collect $300,000 from 30 different communities to fund the lawsuit. The suit, which has yet to be filed, is designed to force the state Legislature to change the existing school funding law.
“The idea is to challenge the constitutionality of Chapter 70,” said Selectmen chairman Jennifer Scuteri.
The lawsuit centers on the principle that property taxes are in fact a state tax collected to fund a state responsibility – education – but are collected unequally. For example, similarly assessed properties in two different towns could have tax bills that vary by as much as 600 percent.
“I think this is a huge first step in moving the legislature into action,” said Selectman Jeff Stinson.
Right now, the receives less than half of the state average in state aid towards education, according to Lynette Fallon, one of the members of Tax Reform for Education.
Scuteri said she will work to calculate the impact the existing state aid level is having on the town’s tax rate, which is $17.19 per $1,000 assessed value – one of the highest rates on the North Shore.
“It would be nice to quantify it and say which piece of the tax rate we are trying to address,” she said.
Lombardo told the board that there was not yet a formal agreement between Tax Reform for Education and the town government but that all the details were be worked out and outlined in a formal memo. Monday’s vote gave the town “general approval,” Lombardo said, to fund its share of the suit.
“It’s an intriguing case,” Lombardo said. “I think at this point something has to give.”
The plaintiffs in the case will be taxpayers and not the town governments that fund the suit.
“The town of Hamilton is not a named party,” said Scuteri, herself an attorney.
Tracy Mayor, another member Tax Reform for Education, said that sparked a “cross-town discussion” with someone from Reading who liked the lawsuit’s principle.
“There’s some people who have enough time to read other Patches,” Mayor said jokingly, referring to the Patch.com network of local news websites.
In all, the group is looking for a total of 30 towns to join in, each with a $10,000 contribution. The group plans to meet with Boards of Selectmen, Town Managers, Finance Committee, residents and other rallying support from other communities in a similar situation to Hamilton.
In response to a suggestion that the group make a presentation at the Massachusetts Municipal Association conference in January, Mayor said the group plans to have its coalition in place by then.