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Prop. 2-1/2 fashion statement; Woman dresses in tatters to warn about override.

Byline: Kevin Keenan

SHREWSBURY - The battle over a $5 million Proposition 2-1/2 override question has become a Celebrity Death Match pitting the Easter Bunny against an unidentified Bag Lady.

Last Tuesday, a group of citizens opposed to the override stood in front of the CVS on Route 9, with a stark message for residents: "Yes on 2 and this could be you." A woman was dressed as a bag lady and had a shopping cart.

The same anti-override group gathered again on the Town Common Friday afternoon, with Benjamin W. Tartaglia, a candidate for selectman, and the mysterious bag lady. She declined to identify herself to a Telegram & Gazette photographer, saying she fears retaliation from the town for her views.

While standing on the Common, a young woman in a vehicle passing by shouted at the demonstrators that she deserved an education.

Chris Juetten, an override supporter, said dressing up as a bag lady or a bum trivializes homelessness, a serious issue.

"I think trying to connect supporting your community with becoming homeless is about as farfetched as anyone could be," Ms. Juetten. "Trying to frighten and scare the population is not an effective way to communicate with the electorate."

The override would permanently increase the town's tax base, and would cost property owners an additional 97 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. That translates to $360 more per year for the owner of a single-family home with the median assessment of $371,400.

Two ballot question committees - one for and one against - have registered with the town clerk's office. YES4Shrewsbury supports an override, while the Committee Against the Proposition 2-1/2 Override is opposed to it.

George Burns, an override supporter, also wore a costume to highlight his position. His was the cute and cuddly Easter Bunny. He held a sign near some schools on certain occasions last week with the address for the Web site of YES4Shrewsbury. Mr. Burns was surprised by the stir caused by his costume and the pugnacious tone the override debate has taken.

"Oh, it had nothing to do with Easter. Just a way to attract attention to our cause. My intention was to get people to learn more about the issue. Many people hear `override' and immediately run away. I believe the www.yes4shrewsbury.org Web site does a great job of presenting facts without getting emotional or vitriolic," Mr. Burns said in an e-mail.

Mr. Burns is not a member of YES4Shrewsbury, though he said he supports the override.

Resident Joy Buck is against the override and believes the message sent by the Bag Lady tells the true story - which is emotional for many longtime residents of the town who feel rising taxes threaten their ability to keep their homes.

"A lot of people who have lived here 40 to 50 years are going to be pushed out of their homes," she said. "Many seniors and others will be forced to sell their homes, and many may become homeless because of this tax increase ... and many are veterans."

Opinions on the override are clearly divided, with both sides at odds over what to do. Ms. Buck said the issue exposes an old fault line between two groups, the haves and have-nots.

"Those for the override say they don't want the town to be divided ... but it always has been divided. Shrewsbury is a town of haves and have-nots, period, and the haves usually get their way," she said.

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: A woman in a bag lady costume makes her point against the override at Main Street and Route 140 Friday. Next to her is Nicholas Gatzios, a Shrewsbury resident.

PHOTOG: T&G Staff/PAUL KAPTEYN
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 9, 2007
Words:617
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