Belmont Festival Orchestra Performs Thursday, 7 PM at Beech Street

Photo: Cristina Basili and Nathaniel Meyer.

Start the holidays with great music made by young musicians.

The Belmont Festival Orchestra led by Belmont’s own Nathaniel Meyer (Belmont High ’09, Yale ’13) returns on Thursday, Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. to give another Winter Concert for the Belmont community.

Meyer will conduct a program includes Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet Fantasy-Overture and the Dvorak Cello Concerto, featuring the young Greek-Viennese cellist, Cristina Basili, who will be making her North American debut.

Born and raised in Vienna, Basili has performed as a soloist throughout Europe and is one of the most talented and charismatic rising stars in the international music scene.

Rehearsals are open to the public at 7 p.m. through Wednesday, Dec. 21.

The orchestra’s summer concert had more than 200 in attendance so come early. 

Cost is free but donations are accepted.

Sports: Calling Carly; Christofori Answers Scoring Need as Girls’ Hoops Wins Opener

Photo: Carly Christofori (3) heading up court.

With Belmont High Girls’ Basketball team having a collective hiccup on the offensive side of the court in the season and home opener with Melrose on Friday, Dec. 16 – a total of 26 points after three quarters – junior captain Carly Christofori decided the final eight minutes would be a good time to answer the scoring call.

The point guard who has played every varsity game in her three years on the Marauders scored 8 of her game-high 17 points in the final stanza to help Belmont pull away from the Red Raiders and leave the Wenner (Field House) with a less than beautiful 42-31 victory.

But a win is a win for the Marauders (1-0).

“Everyone was really nervous in the first game as everyone would be. I could see that everyone was jittery,” said Christofori who finished the game with 9 rebounds and 5 steals

“The game was a lot closer than we thought it would be we needed someone to step up and help control the game,” she said.

Christofori broke a 26-26 tie a minute into the fourth quarter on a fade away jumper then grabbed a defensive rebound and drove the length of the court before being fouled. After making one of two from the line (she would go 10 for 12 from the charity strip), she and backcourt partner sophomore Megan Tan (8 points) pressured Melrose to commit a turnover.

After a put back basket from sophomore forward Jane Mahon (3 points) and another offensive rebound hoop from junior forward Greta Propp (2 points), sophomore center Jess Giorgio (6 points) threw in a sweeping hook as the shot clock buzzer went off building Belmont’s lead up to 35-28 with 2:20 left in the game. A succession of trips to the foul line for Christofori put the game out of reach.

“After the third quarter, we said ‘we can beat this team. We just need to relax” That’s when everyone settled down, and people were stronger with the ball,” said Christofori.

If Belmont’s offense showed opening night nerves, the defense was in mid-season trim as the hands-up two-three zone was quite active with Giorgio swatting away three Red Raider shots. When Head Coach Melissa Hart partners Giorgio with either of the Haight twins – seniors Reagan and starter Riley (2 points) – Mahon and the athletic big forward sophomore Ella Gagnon (who played her first varsity game and put in 2 of 4 free throws), it is one of the tallest defensive back three around the Middlesex League.

“Defense will be our strong suit this season. We always talk in practice to work hard on defense and the offense will come by itself,” said Christofori.

“We’re a taller team and have stronger kids so focusing on rebounding, steals and anticipating passes will get us our points,” she said.

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Selectmen Considering Feb Special Town Meeting To Tackle Transfer Loophole

Photo: Alcohol transfer on the agenda.

The Belmont Board of Selectmen is considering calling a February Special Town Meeting to resolve the controversal inability of the town to control the transfer of alcohol and liquor licenses.

“We want to tackle the non-transferability of [alcohol] licenses sooner than later,” Mark Paolillo, selectmen chair told the Belmontonian at the end of the board’s meeting on Monday, Dec. 19.

“There’s a lot of folks in town that are concerned about … these licenses,” he said. “And there is unanimity on the board to follow that recommendation,” said Paolillo.

When asked when the meeting could be held, Paolillo said: “it would be in the February time frame.”

The proposed action comes on the heels of a controversial 2-1 vote by the Selectmen approving the transfer in October of a full-retail alcohol license from the Loading Dock to Star Market for a $400,000 fee. It was discovered during the public hearings that legislation from 2013 increasing the number of liquor licenses in town did not have the same limiting language on transferring licenses as in the first retail liquor licenses approved in 2006. 

Paolillo said a memo to the board from Town Counsel George Hall recommended moving forward with a special home rule petition that would request the Massachusetts legislature to approve a Town Meeting article creating “an umbrella” bylaw covering regulations including transfer limitation overall alcohol licenses including full, pour, retail, and wine and beer.

A home rule petition would be required as the town is taking action that will effect liquor licenses which are granted by the state to municipalities.

The Selectmen can call a Special Town Meeting at any of its public meetings with the agenda posted with minimum 48 hours notice to the public.

Selectmen must then sign and or post the warrant with at least 14 calendar days notice to the public before the Special Town Meeting. For instance, if it signs the order on a Monday, Tuesday is day 1 of 14. There is no requirement that the warrant stays open for any amount of time – it can open it and close it right away – and it does not have to accept another article a resident or Town Meeting member may want to add to the warrant.

The estimated cost of a three hour, one night Special Town Meeting would cost approximately $2,776, according to the Town Clerk’s Office.

Paolillo acknowledged the expense of holding a meeting but deemed the issue important enough to push for an early resolution.

“We certainly appreciate the cost of having a Special Town Meeting, and we will take that into consideration,” said Paolillo. “We have to weigh that against the expense of a possibility of another transfer happening before the [annual Town Meeting which begins in May 2017].”

“Lots of folks have expressed concern that legislation in 2013 didn’t have a non-transferability provision within it and they want to see that reinstated,” said Paolillo.

Smaller Real Estate Tax Bill Jump in ’17 as Property Values Cool

Photo: Belmont’s Assessors’ (from left) Charles R. Laverty, III, Robert P. Reardon, Martin B. Millane, Jr.

Real estate taxes on the average-valued home in Belmont will increase by the least amount in the past four years after the Belmont Board of Selectmen approved at its Monday, Dec. 19 meeting the recommendation of the town’s Board of Assessors’ to up the town’s property tax rate 14 cents in 2017.

The annual tax bill for the average assessed valued property – currently $941,700 – would increase by $311 to $11,960, less than half of last year’s hike of $717 under the new tax rate of $12.70 per $1,000 of assessed value. The current rate is $12.56 per $1,000.

Under the new rate, the annual tax for a property assessed at $750,000 will be $9,525, or $2,381.25 per quarterly tax bill.

The increase in the tax rate “is a result of a slight increase in real property values with an increase in the tax levy capacity,” wrote Assessors’ Chair Robert P. Reardon in the board’s yearly report to the Selectmen.

Reardon told the Belmontonian the town data showed a significant cooling in real estate values in Belmont this year. After increases of $55,300 ($782,600 to $847,900) from 2014 to 2015 and $79,500 between 2016-15 ($847,900 to $927,400), assessed values increased just $14,300 in 2017 compared to 2016.

After years of five percent increases in average assessed values, “[y]ou expect it to pull back, and it did this year,” said Reardon, who predicts home values will continue to level off in 2017 with two interest rate hikes anticipated by the Federal Reserve.

Under the new rate, Belmont will collect $85.6 million from residential, commercial, open land and personal properties. Last fiscal year, the town raised $82.9 million in real estate taxes.

Reardon noted a healthy increase in new property growth totaling $788,000 from the construction of the Belmont Uplands and the sale of prime properties on Woodland Road provided a “nice” bump into the town’s coffers.

As with past years, the assessors’ recommended, and the selectmen agreed to a single tax classification for all properties and no real estate exemptions.

Reardon said Belmont does not have anywhere near the amount of commercial and industrial space – at a minimum 20 percent – to creating separate tax rates for residential and commercial properties. Belmont’s commercial base is 4.24 percent of the total real estate.

“People always assumes there’s money if you go with the split rate and that’s not true,” Reardon told the Belmontonian.

School District Shuts Off Nine Faucets Due to Elevated Lead Levels

Photo: Faucets at issue.

Nine faucets used for drinking by students and staff were shut off last week after tests showed the taps exceeding “action limits” for lead exposure, according to the Belmont School District.

District Superintendent John Phelan said in a Friday, Dec. 16 email sent to parents, six of the faucets were located at the Butler Elementary School with one each at the Wellington Elementary, Chenery Middle, and Belmont High schools.

Additionally, the State Department of Environmental Protection informed Phelan that as of Friday, Dec. 16, several samples from Belmont schools still are awaiting results.

When that information is provided to the school department, a full set of data will be placed on the department’s website. “I plan on sending out all the testing data on Monday [Dec. 19] as some late samples have to be added,” he said.

The next step is for the School Department to meet with the town’s Board of Health, Facilities and the Water Department to identify whether the same issues exist in the faucets themselves or the pipes, Phelan said.

Belmont joins a long list of school districts facing the same issue. Last month, 164 of 300 public school buildings in the state reported at least one sample with lead levels above regulatory limits, according to the DEP.

With water quality regarding lead contamination – the most prominent being the crisis in Flint, Michigan – making headlines across the country, the Belmont school department in the Spring 2016 requested the town’s Facilities Department test the water at Belmont’s six school buildings.

Fifty faucets were randomly tested throughout the school buildings, with all coming back below “action levels.”

Around the same time, the DEP sponsored $2 million in grants for municipalities to have their water levels tested. Belmont applied for and received this grant, said Phelan.

The second sampling was conducted this fall testing all 180 drinking water and food preparation faucets in Belmont schools using more detailed DEP guidelines. On Wednesday, Dec. 14, nine were found to have results exceeding “action levels” for lead.

“In an abundance of caution, these results were communicated to the BPS community as soon as they were received by the district,” said Phelan.

Despite the shut down and concerned calls from parents, Phelan referred to a Belmont Board of Health advisory that “the water in all of our schools has a good and clean source.”

For families concerned about the water in Belmont, Director of the Belmont Health Department Angela Braun has provided information listed below.

Director of BPS Nurses Mary Conant-Cantor remind parents they are encouraged to speak with their pediatrician regarding questions and concerns.

“Providing a safe environment in our school buildings each day for students and staff is our primary concern,” said Phelan.

“Moving forward we will continue to meet with the respective town departments to secure an action plan,” he said.

For additional information on lead and drinking water, please see the following links:

Letter from Angela Braun, director of Health Department

Center for Disease Control (CDC):

Massachusetts Department of Public Health:

With Pot Legal, Selectmen Consider Curbs on Retail Sale of Marijuana

Photo: What could be coming to Belmont in 13 months.

A head shop on every street corner in Belmont?

While not the most likely business scenario for the “Town of Homes,” unless the Belmont Board of Selectmen and Town Meeting gets together to place allowable restrictions on the retail sale of marijuana, stores much like those in Colorado, dubbed “recreational dispensaries,” could spring up in Belmont’s commercial districts with no prohibition on numbers.

And the clock is ticking.

“If Belmont wants to control [marajuna sales], it has a shorter timetable than it realizes,” said Board of Health Chair Dr. David Alper who meet the Selectmen with fellow board member Julie LeMay on Monday, Dec. 12.

The possession, use, and home-growing of marijuana became legal under state law for adults 21 and older on Thursday, Dec. 15 when the Governor’s Council certified the ballot question 4 which passed on Nov. 8. Adults can hold up to 10 oz. and grow six plants with a maximum of 12 per household.

While municipalities can adopt an outright moratorium on “smoke” shops – Ashland has gone that route – that sell smokable and eatable marijuana, Alper noted Belmont residents voted 53 percent to 47 percent for legalizing pot. Also, prohibiting pot sales would preclude Belmont from receiving up to 2 percent local tax on purchases.

Rather than a ban, Alper advised following the state’s goal of treating marijuana like alcohol, such as placing a cap on the number of establishments in town. The only current restriction on pot shops is they can not be within 500 feet of a school zone.

But Alper said the town must have any limitations in the town’s bylaws by January 2018 when the new law permits the first head shops to open for business.

“[The selectmen] must have an article before Town Meeting [in May 2017] so the town can vote in September,” he said.

“You are driving [future restrictions],” Alper told the selectmen, who advised creating a committee with representatives from the Zoning Board of Appeals, Planning, and Health boards to create guidelines for the Selectmen to follow.

“If we do nothing, there could be as many stores … [located] anywhere,” said Alper.

How Much? Early Hints on Cost, Reimbursement for New High School

Photo: A new school will be behind this sign within the next decade

So Belmont, are you ready to pay $140 million for a new 9-12 grade High School?

How about $175 million for a structure housing 8-12 grades?

And a whopping $211 million for 7-12 grades?

Now before residents begin forming pitchfork and torch brigades to march on the School Administration building, the proposed price tags are very rough and early estimates which were created by the 16-person Belmont High School Building Committee as part of the committee’s next step in a protracted journey to a new building, according to town and committee officials.

After successfully completing the initial eligability period in November – known as Module 1 – the Building Committee proceeds to Module 2 where they begin forming the school’s project team including a owner’s project manager and a designer.

“Now we’re off and running,” said Building Committee Chair William Lovallo as the project will begin to take shape with the first significant hirings.

But as the committee discovered during the initial module, working in partnership with the MSBA – which will – can be laborious. Hiring a project manager isn’t as simple as placing an ad and waiting for firms to respond. Rather, the MSBA requires a 25 step, five-month long process (Step 16: School Committee evaluates responses and prepares a short list of 3 to 5 firms) to select the person who’ll shepherd the project for what could be close to a decade until completion.

Not that Belmont will find it difficult to secure a big time manager Lovallo said since the district’s project is considered a plum assignment for most firms.

And part of the process is for the committee to come up with a very early idea of the possible cost of the structure when advertising for the manager post.

“The reality is the only reason [for the estimates for the three building types] is we had to put something [in the advertisement],” said Lovallo who put together a chart using the project costs from 13 new and one addition/renovation building projects financed by the MSBA.

Inputting number of students, square-footage of new schools, project budget with additional data, Lovallo came up with $95,053 for each student in the school in 2020. With an estimated enrollment of 1,470 (9-12) to 2,215 (7-12), the cost of the schools being designed will be impressive.

But Lovallo reiterated that “while these numbers are significant [in price], they are just numbers.”

“Until we know the programs, we have no real hard data just estimates,” he said.

While the Building Committee were estimating costs, the MSBA has preliminary results of its own – again early and rough – on the percentage the state would reimburse the town on construction costs.

Under a rate that will apply throughout the feasibility study process, Belmont will see a nearly 37 percent (actually 36.89 percent) of construction costs compensated. The rate was determined using a chart that included factors – such as income and property wealth – and incentives including energy efficiency and maintenance.

Only after the study is complete will the state determine Belmont’s final allowance.

In a rough estimate, the price tag of $140 million for a 9-12 school would be reduced by $52 million with the town paying $88 million.

While the meeting was dominated by charts and numbers, the committee began discussing the need for community outreach in promoting its work and keeping residents informed where in the process the project currently stands. A professional webpage and video presentations were two items that topped the list of public relations needs.

Celebrate the Winter Solstice With Belmont Light, Thursday 3PM-7PM

Photo: Poster announcing this year’s Winter Solstice celebration

Belmont Light will be celebrating the Winter Solstice with its customers at the 40 Prince St. office on Thursday, Dec. 15.

The event will be held from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and is open to all Belmont Light customers. Attendees are encouraged to bring a new or very gently used blanket, bedspread, comforter, or quilt with them to the event to help share the warmth with others in need.

Customers will have an opportunity to share a mug of hot cider or hot chocolate and say hello to special guest, Frosty the Snowman.

Belmont Light customers will be able to pick up a free CFL light bulb and an LED nightlight.

“Celebrating the Winter Solstice is always a fun event for the community and we encourage our customers to stop by our 40 Prince Street office to celebrate the beginning of the winter season,” Belmont Light General Manager Jim Palmer said.

“At the same time, it’s a great way to help others in need by donating bedding to Mission of Deeds.” 

For more information about Celebrating the Winter Solstice, please visit the Belmont Light website or call 617-993-2800.

Small Change to Start As Town Prepares for “Hands Around the Pond”

Photo: All hands on deck!

Due to the expected wet weather on Saturday, Dec. 17, “Hands Around the Pond” has moved the start location to the Belmont High School cafeteria which is located off Concord Avenue.  
Participants can park in the high school parking lot and enter through the side entrance.     
There will be a short program, and then an assessment to either brave the elements to stand by the pond, or simply do a “virtual pond” in the cafeteria.  
A strong turn out is still needed from every corner of Belmont. Come for the community and free cocoa.

Celebrate The Season at the Holiday Coffeehouse Friday at BHS

Photo: The poster for the Holiday Coffeehouse Fundraiser

Join the Belmont High School Performing Arts Company for its annual Holiday Coffeehouse Fundraiser taking place on Friday, Dec. 16 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Belmont High School  cafeteria.

The Holiday Coffeehouse has become an yearly favorite PAC tradition. Students transform the cafeteria into a cozy performance hall for an evening of songs, good food and festive celebration. Food and drink from local restaurants, along with home-made desserts complement the musical talents of BHS Students, who will perform a wide variety of songs including pop hits, original songs and the always-popular “Big Brass Band.”

Refreshements (dinner, drinks and desserts) will be sold.

Admission: $5 for Students, $10 Adults. Tickets sold at the door.

All proceeds go to scholarships for the PAC New York trip later in the school year.