Letter to the Editor: Ruban’s Call To End Solar Tariff Wrong For Belmont

To the editor: 

Belmont is on track to have the most successful solarization campaign in Massachusetts. This is the result of the solar tariff and buyback policy adopted unanimously last year by the Board of Selectmen, acting as the Light Board. The policy has been highly praised by some of the most committed solar energy advocates in town.

The hallmark of the new tariff, after years of debate, is fairness. It provides a large incentive to install solar panels. The return on this investment is likely to be in the 14 percent to 18 percent range, and is virtually risk-free. Try to match that anywhere else in the world today. At the same time, it is equitable to the other Belmont residents who cannot or wish not to install solar, for whatever reason. It is equitable because the tariff will result in a modest payment to Belmont Light to help cover the cost of the local distribution system that is still needed by every solar host. This system is only paid for by local residents and other Belmont Light customers.

As the chair of Belmont’s Temporary Net Metering Task Force, I helped design the tariff.  I am proud that it resolved a very divisive policy problem efficiently and fairly and has already led to more than 120 new solar hosts. I am in fact one of those new solar users. 

So I was very surprised to hear Alexandra Ruban state in the League of Women Voters’ Candidate Forum last night [Wednesday, March 30] that she wishes to end the solar tariff. Instead, she wants to impose a different policy called “full retail net metering” that is not fair to Belmont as whole at all.  Her proposal would give an even larger payment to the solar hosts, even though it is obviously not necessary because they have already chosen to install solar under the current plan. Her policy would also drastically reduce or even eliminate the modest contribution by solar hosts to cover the cost of the local distribution system.  

This is all the more surprising because Ruban also said last night that she wants to save money for the town. Then why pay a windfall to the new and existing solar hosts?  That windfall just has to be made up by other residents. That is unfair and brings us back to the divisive debate that we were able to end last year.

Roy Epstein

Cushing Avenue

New Phone Scam Targeting Belmont Light Customers

Photo: Beware of the new way people are attempting to scam Belmont residents.

Belmont Light customers should be on guard against a telephone scam that involves callers impersonating Belmont Light staff. As part of the recent scam, several Belmont residents received a phone call with a pre-recorded message urging Belmont Light customers to schedule an appointment for a meter upgrade to help avoid increases in electric rates.

Ed Crisafi, Belmont Light operations manager, asks customers to be extra cautious when setting up meter-related appointments or granting anyone access to their homes. Crisafi confirmed that Belmont Light employees always carry identification when visiting customers in-person, so residents and business owners should not engage with anyone who cannot show credible identification.

The caller specifically mentions “Belmont Light customers,” but does not provide any identifying information, such as his or her name or employer information. The tone of the calls can be construed as pushy, or even threatening. This recent scam alert is separate from those issued by Belmont Light in 2014 and 2015 about scammers calling customers to demand payments and money orders. 

Residents or business owners who encounter a suspicious phone call should hang up and report the incident to Belmont Light at 617-993-2800 or customerservice@belmontlight.com

Customers should be aware that Belmont Light has spent the past few years upgrading all of its customers’ electric meters for its nearly complete Smart Grid Project. However, Belmont Light always provides written notice prior to performing meter work and will never utilize pre-recorded phone messages to arrange appointments with customers.

Any calls initiated by Belmont Light to customers will originate directly from Belmont Light’s customer service or meter departments, rather than from a blocked or “1-800” number. Belmont Light staff members also clearly identify themselves during phone calls. 

Regarding phone calls, Crisafi added that customers should not hesitate in ending calls if they feel suspicious.

“If you aren’t absolutely convinced that it is Belmont Light calling when you did not initiate the call yourself, please do not be afraid to hang up and dial us directly. We want our customers to be safe, and if it is actually Belmont Light calling because of a billing or meter-related matter, we will not be offended if you need to restart the call to feel comfortable,” he said.

Crisafi also explained that as Belmont Light has already replaced 99.8 percent of the meters in town, customers who have had their meters converted recently should be immediately tipped off that requests for additional meter work are probably fraudulent. 

Letter to the Editor: In His Work On Override, Paolillo Deserves Our Vote

Correction: In my letter, I mistakenly attributed statements from supporters who are campaigning for Ruban to “the Ruban campaign.” Ms. Ruban did not make these claims. 

To the editor:

I care deeply about the Belmont schools. I rely on our town services. I feel strongly that we need to fix our crumbling infrastructure; roads, sidewalks, buildings, playgrounds, etc. 

The 2015 successful override advanced all of these priorities and provided greater financial security for our town.

We owe that to Mark Paolillo.

For me, it is a clear choice:

  • Choose a selectman with 22 years of experience on the Board of Selectmen, Warrant Committee, and Town Meeting.
  • Or choose a selectman in Alexandra Ruban whose only Belmont experience is voting in one town election.

This institutional knowledge that Paolillo brings to the Board of Selectmen is irreplaceable. 

Let’s take the override as an example of Mark’s knowledge and leadership. Most people only saw the seven-week campaign. We celebrated and congratulated each other for making it happen.

But I know, it wouldn’t have happened without Mark’s multi-year preparation, advocacy, and leadership.

How did the override come to be?

  • Mark did his homework. He determined that a key reason for the failure of the 2010 override was that we didn’t adequately show the voters why we were asking for more money.
  • He laid the groundwork. He and the selectmen upgraded the town’s administrative and financial staff so we could properly do the analysis.
  • He made the case. He created and led the financial task force which exhaustively evaluated all avenues to address the town’s financial challenges. 
  • He got it on the ballot. Many obstacles could have prevented putting the override on the April ballot, but Mark made it happen.
  • He advocated for the override. Mark made presentation after presentation explaining why the town needed an infusion of new revenue.
  • And in the last seven weeks, we – the community as a whole – launched a vigorous campaign. I don’t underestimate the importance of the campaign. But I won’t overestimate it either.

Passing an override is hard work. No one wants to pay more taxes. Residents will not pass an override without believing that everything else has been tried. And that requires hard work, experience, knowledge and leadership.

Experience means you know how to get things done. You know who has the skills to solve complex problems. You know what has been tried in the past, why it worked, or why it failed. You are ready to act. In other words, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

It is not enough for our leaders to vote for our priorities. They need the experience to do the hard work that makes the vote possible.

I have only had one meeting with Ruban. I believe that she is smart and well-intentioned. But I also believe that she needs experience in Belmont town government before she is qualified to serve as a selectman.

I began my learning curve five years ago. After two years on the Warrant Committee, five years on Town Meeting, three years on the Underwood Pool Building Committee, and numerous other Belmont leadership roles (YES for Belmont, Joey’s Park, Winn Brook PTA, Belmont KidSpace), I am still on a learning curve. I do not believe it is possible to be the kind of selectman that Belmont deserves without prior experience.

Belmont has important challenges ahead: the high school project, continued enrollment growth, budgetary pressures, and quality of life projects that require Mark’s collaborative approach to complete. 

The future of Belmont’s children and seniors and everyone in between will be better served by retaining Mark Paolillo’s institutional knowledge, leadership and experience on the Board of Selectmen.

It is a clear choice.

Please join me in voting for Mark Paolillo on April 5.

Ellen Schreiber

Sandrick Road

PHOTOS: Unregistered Voters Get The Word Out For Their Candidates

Photo: Getting out the vote.

Below is evidence that unregistered residents are supporting certain candidates for town-wide office in the upcoming Belmont Town Election on April 5. It should be noted that three are too young to vote and the other is a dog, but still … . Wait until Donald Trump learns about this!

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It should be noted that Kimberly O’Mahony not only has three girls, each has different hair colors – from left to right; Claire, redhead; Sheila, blonde and Maeve, brunette. What are the odds?


Registration for Belmont Jr. Marauder Football Now Open ‘Til April 30

Photo: Belmont Junior Marauder Football players who played on Harris Field.

The Belmont Junior Marauder Football Program is holding its registration period for the fall 2016 season. The registration period ends April 30, and the program will not accept players after that date.

The Belmont Junior Marauders were created to provide Belmont’s 7th and 8th graders with the opportunity to play grade-based NO weight limit football. The team participates in the Eastern Massachusetts Middle School Football League and will play teams from Winchester, Arlington, Bedford, Melrose and Saugus among other regional middle school teams.

Preseason will begin on Aug. 22 and games are played on Wednesday afternoons. Practice will be held on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Bus transportation to and from away games will be provided. There will be a mandatory parent informational meeting April 14 at 7 p.m. at the Belmont Lions Club, 1 Common St.

Registration forms are available on or website and in the main office at the Chenery Middle School. You can also request a registration form by sending an email to jrmarauderfootball@gmail.com

All Registration Forms  are due on or before April 30, 2016.

Why I’m Running: Ellen O’Brien Cushman for Town Clerk

Photo: At work with Ellen Cushman.

I am proud to be Belmont ‘s Town Clerk for the last six years and look forward to serving for another three years, following in the footsteps of some extraordinarily dedicated women and men.  April 5 I run unopposed for re-election but I want to provide a quick summary of some of accomplishments and changes in the Town Clerk’s office over the past couple of years to let you know how we’re doing. The two main goals for the Town Clerk’s office are simplifying transactions so we can continue to handle  growing demands  and accessibility of records and: 

Here are some transaction statistics that may startle you. During the calendar year 2015:   

  • 15, 029 people entered the Town Clerk’s office per our electronic door counters.  No, that’s not a typo, it’s 15,029 people who came into the office looking for information, help, documents!
  • The Town Clerk’s staff of four sent and received more than 31,800 emails
  • There is no system to record the number of incoming phone calls but that’s one of the most popular modes of communication so we can only guess at that number.
  • Daily, we issue residency verification for Belmont families to register children in our schools, that’s every single day we’re open, in 2015 totaling  814 children from  521 families.
  • Licensed 2400 pets, more than 20 percent renewed their pet licenses by paying online.
  • Posted 634 separate meetings from 53 separate governmental bodies, all compliant with the Commonwealth’s Open Meeting Law, and received the related minutes. 
  • Our revenues for Town Clerk activities totaled $100,500 in FY15, up 4 percent from FY14, and the average fee we collect is just $20;  so the total number of fee-based  transactions 5611. 
  • Introduced electronic voting at Town Meeting, getting accurate, fast results and high levels of satisfaction.
  • We issued 195 free Yard Sale Permits online using our self-serve software, up from 13 in its inception year 2014.
  • We distribute materials to Town Meeting Members via email and the Town’s website; at this point, all but six of the 294 Town Meeting Members receive  their documents by email, cutting cost and getting documents in the hands of Town Meeting Members sooner.
  • In FY15, we issued 1774 absentee ballots to qualified Belmont voters and processed 7,650 individual family census forms. 
  • Have had 105 fully trained election workers in 2015, and have just recruited and trained an additional 48, ready to deploy in 2016, an exceedingly busy election year. We’ve standardized our training, provided election worker manuals and re-educated our long-term workers.
  • During the school year, we benefited from 300 volunteer hours from Belmont High School students and another 380 hours over the summer of 2015 to help us with filing and organizing.  We love our volunteers and count on them.

Accessibility of Records: 

  • Pet Licensing System: We maintain all records electronically, in real-time and allow online payments for renewals. We make our data system available to the Animal Control Officer and Belmont Police.
  • Business licensing System: For licenses issued by the Board of Selectmen, we created an online licensing system that allows departments to review, share information and approve or deny a license online, cutting significantly the time from application to approval. In fall 2016 we will allow businesses to apply and pay online and the application processing fee will be waived for businesses do so.
  • Town Meeting Votes: The Town Clerk’s office is daily asked for information about votes by Town Meeting on an array of topics, often from decades ago. We have created an electronic index of the Town Meeting votes to show the result and allow us to locate the transcript of the specific Town Meeting article. At this time, the index covers 3,200 votes from 1955 to 2016; we continue to add votes every chance we get with the goal to have ALL votes back to 1859 indexed and available.
  • Public Records Requests: Under the Massachusetts Public Records law, we receive hundreds of these requests each year, some requiring quick responses, some require extensive research. We’ve formalized the process to keep track of the requests and responses with the goal of never missing a deadline. 
  • Archiving: One way to make records more accessible is to know what you have and where it is before you’re asked to produce it. We have created an online data system to help us keep track of all of our archive items.
  • Our project under the Community Preservation Act has allowed us to digitize Belmont’s more than 70,000 vital records of birth, death and marriage to preserve them, index them and allow us to issue images of these records upon demand. In addition, we are preserving the bound books of these original documents to assure they’ll be around for future generations of Belmontians.

I hope you’re happy with the service the Town Clerk’s office provides for Belmont. Feel free to send me your comments, good and bad. That’s how improvement happens. I would appreciate your vote on Tuesday, April 5. 

Ellen O’Brien Cushman, Town Clerk

Scott Road

Windy Day Too Much for Pine Street Tree; Vehicle Now Worse for Wear

Photo: Ouch!

Trash containers and recycling bins were not the only things tossed about by the windy conditions: a tree was uprooted, falling on a parked Honda Fit on the first block of Pine Street off of Trapelo Road today, Thursday, March 31.

While many town streets are lined with smaller branches, it is not an unusual event for trees to come down when gusts reach 40 mph as they have during most of the day. According to the Department of Public Works, there are 10,000 or so public shade trees with many thousands on private land.

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Water/Sewer Rates Going Up Nearly 5 Percent in Fiscal 2017

Photo: Water and sewage bills are going up.

Residential and commercial rate payers will see their combined water and sewer bill increase by nearly five percent in the coming fiscal year, as the as the Belmont Board of Selectmen approved the recommendations from the Belmont Department of Public Works for a rate increase on Monday, March 28.

The average Belmont homeowner who uses 3,000 cubic feet of water will see their quarterly bill jump by $19 – from the current $400 to $419 – pushing $1,700 for fiscal 2017 that begins July 1, 2016, according to Jay Marcotte, Belmont’s DPW director.

Those households and businesses the DPW dubbed as “heavy users” will see their bill increase by $38 per quarter.

The fiscal 2017 increase of 4.7 percent is nearly double last year’s 2.6 percent 

Marcotte said “the largest chunk” of Belmont’s rate increases is from the annual assessment from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which supplies the town with water and takes its sewage. And a significant percentage of the MWRA pricing – 57.7 percent in fiscal 2017 – is influenced by “the large amount of debt it holds.” 

And it is those large increases in scheduled debt payments is causing Belmont’s assessment to spike higher this coming fiscal year. 

The rate increases come as Belmont residents have steadily reduced their consumption of water usage over the past two decades. From a high of 1.05 billion gallons consumed in 1995, households and businesses have decreased their water usage to 767 million gallons in 2015.

But while households’ have become more efficient and consumption trends point downward, rates will need to increase to maintain and serve the public, said Marcotte as fixed costs of capital projects and operation costs continued to rise. 

A part of consumer’s bills is also directed towards Belmont’s largest capital reinvestment program – which began in 1995 – of replacing every water main installed before 1928 (which are unlined cast iron pipes) or about 38 miles. As of today, 25.6 miles – or 66 percent – of the work is complete. 

Learn the Social Host Laws at BHS Presentation Wednesday Night

Photo: Know the law.

Prom, graduation and warm spring nights are just around the corner. And with them will come requests from many teens to host a party. It is up to parents to know what’s legal and what isn’t when it comes to having a social event at your house.

Middlesex District Attorney (and Belmont resident) Marian Ryan, in conjunction with the Belmont Police Department and the Belmont Public Schools, is hosting a presentation for parents on the state’s strict Social Host Law on Wednesday, March 30. 

The goal of the presentation is to educate parents on the laws related to furnishing alcohol to minors as well as the effects that drugs and alcohol have on underage children. The event will take place in the Little Theatre at Belmont High School beginning at 6:30 p.m.

League of Women Voters’ Candidate’s Night Starts at 6:30PM Wednesday

Photo: Belmont League of Women Voters’ is sponsoring Candidate’s Night.

The Belmont League of Women Voters’ annual Candidates’ Night – being held tonight, Wednesday, March 30, at 6:30 p.m. in the Chenery Middle School auditorium – will give residents the opportunity to hear directly from the candidates seeking seats on the Belmont Board of Selectmen, School Committee and the contested seat on the Housing Authority.

Tonight’s schedule is:

  • 6:30 p.m. – 7 p.m.: Meet incumbent and new Town Meeting candidates in the lobby of the auditorium. 
  • 7 p.m.: Town Meeting Members will introduce themselves in order of precinct number. No speeches just a quick greeting.
  • 7:45  p.m.: Candidates for town-wide office will speak and answer questions from a moderator on the stage.
  • Selectmen: Incumbent Mark Paolillo and challenger Alexandra Ruban.
  • School Committee: Each are first-time candidates for two seats; Sabri Murat Bicer, Kimberly O’Mahony and Andrea Prestwich.
  • Housing Authority: Tomi Olson and Paul Rickter are vying for the one three-year seat.

The night’s events will be broadcast by the Belmont Media Center.