New Model Predicts Belmont Budget Heading For Financial Cliff in Fiscal 2021

Photo: Members of the boards and committees discussing the new budget 

A budgetary roadmap provided by a UMass Boston-based advisory group shows Belmont falling off a steep fiscal cliff in two years time unless the town comes up with a new strategy to soften the landing.

At a joint meeting with the Board of Selectmen, School Committee and Warrant Committee on Monday, July 30 at Town Hall, consultants for the Edward J. Collins Center is forecasting a $2.3 million deficit in fiscal year 2021 which begins on July 1, 2020, due to what many municipalities are facing, a systemic structural deficit in which town expenditures are outpacing non-recurring revenue including money from the last Proposition 2 1/2 override.

“You basically have two years to resolve this matter,” said Stephen Cirillo, who with Anthony Torrisi presented a detailed forecasting model software program to the town as part of the state’s effort to provide communities with financial management best practices in the areas of fiscal forecasting, capital improvement planning and policies.

But rather than debate how best to resolve the deficit on the horizon, Selectmen Chair Adam Dash said “tonight is to ask questions about the model and the assumptions … Clearly, this is the beginning of a much longer conversation.”

In her first week on the job in January, Belmont Town Administrator Patrice Garvin obtained a $30,000 Community Compact Grant from the state to create the forecasting program – think of it as a massive spreadsheet which permits  –  that Cirillo called a “powerful tool” that allows cities and towns “to look over the horizon to see what budgetary conditions will be in the future.”

Belmont’s budget planners in Town Hall, on the School Committee and with the fiscal watchdog Warrant Committee can now conduct “what if” analysis to see the effect of a policy decision – for instance, how a change to the amount employees  contribute to their health insurance – will affect the “gap” between revenue and appropriations, said Cirillo, who was director of finance for the Town of Brookline and Newton’s chief budget officer.

In the view of Warrant Committee Chair Roy Epstein, the forecasting model “is the most sophisticated effort to get our overall budget in a structure where it can analyze.” 

In addition to presenting this new financial toolkit, the consultants gave their assumptions on Belmont’s budget in the near future. Both Cirillo and Torrisi were impressed with how the town “stretched” the $4.5 million operational override (that was placed into an account called the general stabilization fund) past in 2015 providing funds until fiscal year 2020, two years longer than anticipated.

But the consultants could not see past the looming gap facing the town in 2020. While there will be some “unused capacity” in open receipts in years to come, “it will not solve all your problems.”And the largest problem will be the $2.3 million “hole” in the budget, said Cirillo.

Belmont’s school budget is saddled with three “budget busters” whose inflation rate is “unsustainable” moving forward. Collective bargaining, health insurance, and special education are growing at annual rates of 2.5 percent, 8 percent, and 7 percent respectively requiring a rethinking on controlling their increases, said Cirillo.

“Clearly there is a large implied deficit at about the time we had expected it,” said Epstein.

The most striking recommendation from the pair was for the town to no longer use free cash to either fill in budget gaps or to support the operating budget. Free cash has been a favorite stop gap in filling several “needs” from paying for the Belmont Center traffic and parking project and modular classrooms at the Chenery Middle and Burbank Elementary schools. 

Rather, they suggest that annually free cash be placed in a “new” general stabilization fund to maintain Belmont’s outstanding bond rating, currently at an AAA rate. They point to a number of capital projects in the pipeline including the new high school which will benefit from lower interest rates.  

BREAKING: Beech Street Center, Belmont Media Open As Cooling Centers Until 7 PM Tuesday

Due to high heat and humidity today, Tuesday, Aug. 7, the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St., is being used as a Cooling Center until 7 p.m.

Belmont Media Center, at 9 Lexington St. in Waverley Square, is also being used as a center today until 7 p.m. 

The National Weather Service has issued a Heat Advisory for Belmont and most of eastern Massachusetts that will remain in effect until 8 p.m.

“We encourage everyone to stay cool and hydrated and to check on elderly friends/neighbors,” said a press release on the town’s website.

Belmont To Honor Purple Heart Recipients Tuesday, Aug. 7

Photo: Saluting the flag from the 2016 observation.

The Town of Belmont will honor and observe National Purple Heart Day on Tuesday, August 7 at 10 a.m. at the main entrance of the Belmont Public Library, 336 Concord Ave.

Residents of Belmont, veterans and their family members and in particular all of those who are Purple Heart recipients are invited to attend this special event. 

The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the United States armed forces who are wounded by an enemy and posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those who are killed in action or die of wounds received in action.

Chartered by Congress in 1958, the Military Order of the Purple Heart is composed of military men and women who received the Purple Heart Medal for wounds suffered in combat. Although membership is restricted to the combat wounded, the organization supports all veterans and their families with a myriad of nation-wide programs by Chapters and National Service Officers.

Town’s HR Director To Fill In For Vacationing Town Administrator

Photo: Jessica Porter in action before the Board of Selectmen.

Jessica Porter, who spent six years as Bedford’s assistant town manager before coming to lead Belmont’s human resources department in 2015, will be taking the helm of town government as she was named “acting” town administrator by the Belmont Board of Selectmen on Monday, July 30, when the town’s administrator Patrice Garvin is out on vacation from Aug. 4 to 11.

Porter will consult with Selectmen Chair Adam Dash on all other than routine actions.

A native of upstate New York, Porter has a Master in Public Administration from Suffolk and a BA from Vermont. In Bedford, Porter worked closely with elected officials, appointed citizen committees, and town staff.  She was involved in the development of a long-term capital budget program, the town’s community preservation programs, and affordable housing programs.

Belmont High Girls Rugby To Be Honored By Red Sox Aug. 20: Get Your Tickets

Photo: Belmont High’s Girls’ Rugby team.

The Boston Red Sox organization will honor the Belmont High School 2018 Girls Varsity Rugby Team after winning the 2018 MIAA Division 1 State Championship in a pre-game ceremony at Fenway Park before its game against the Cleveland Indians on Monday, Aug. 20

The Marauders won its second consecutive state championship defeating Lincoln-Sudbury Regional, 20-10, on June 23.

The Red Sox has made available for the Belmont community to purchase tickets and support the team and school. Please go to the website listed below to purchase tickets:

Belmont Manor Seeks Assisted Living Facility On Pleasant Street, First In Town

Photo: A draft design of a proposed assisted living facility in Belmont.

In the first step of the commercial redevelopment of South Pleasant Street, the owner of Belmont Manor Nursing Home is proposing a 75,000 sq.-ft., 85-unit assisted living facility at 1000 Pleasant St. adjacent to the Star Market parking lot and the Belmont Car Wash.

The three-story building with 30 parking spaces would be the town’s first assisted living facility.

The proposal presented before the Planning Board on July 31 by Steward Karger, Belmont Manor’s full-time administrator, would meet the pent-up demand from aging residents “who would rather stay in Belmont” when they need more help with everyday tasks. Today, assisted living facilities in nearby towns are running at 95 percent capacity with a current need for 400 additional units. 

“It’s a use that’s needed in Belmont with minimal impact on schools and traffic,” said Karger.

The preliminary design calls for the 32-foot tall building to be constructed where a two-story office building owned by the Tocci family currently stands, said Andy Rojas, the project’s architect.

The plans call for three floors occupying between 23,400 and 26,100 sq.-ft. with units averaging from 400 to 600 sq.-ft. The first floor will have a reception area along with units with the second floor mainly apartments. The third floor will be dedicated to residents with dementia and memory loss. A basement will include mechanical space, staff break rooms, laundry area and resident services.

Rojas said the design is in draft form as the land will need to be rezoned – the site lies in an LB-2 zone – to allow for a third floor and a change in use without seeking a Special Permit. Rather than alter the town’s zoning map, Rojas suggested the creation of an overlay district, in which a special zoning area is placed over the existing base zone. The town has created overlay districts in Cushing Square to assist in building the Bradford complex, in the Oakley neighborhood and for the placement of medical marijuana facilities. 

Rojas said the best solution would be to overlay the town’s LB-1 zone on the site and extend it over the neighboring property owned by the Tocci family to Citywide Subaru at 790 Pleasant St. Rojas said with the overlay in place, “you’re going to see that this will be a catalyst for other things” along Pleasant. Rojas predicts the future redevelopment of the Tocci-owned Belmont Car Wash on Trapelo Road and its property further down the street “would be mixed use with retail [on the ground floor] and residential above.”

Despite available land adjacent to the proposed facility, Karger said there are “absolutely no plans” to move Belmont Manor from its current Agassiz Avenue location. He also said he is talking with the Tocci family on the purchase of the land. 

Reaction from the Planning Board was mostly positive with Chair Charles Clark saying it was a “very interesting proposal and a very positive development” in light of the recently passed Housing Production Plan which called for additional housing for the elderly.

The proposal is the second new development set to be built in the South Pleasant Street/Waverley Square. In June, the Zoning Board of Appeals approved the construction of a pair of retail/residential structures on Trapelo Road and White Street by local developer Joseph Destefano.