Wanted: A Resident To Join The School Committee

Photo: The committee oversees the Belmont public schools

With the resignation of Susan Burgess-Cox in the past two weeks, the Belmont School Committee is seeking a resident to join the group during these ‘interesting’ times.

Under Belmont bylaws, the School Committee must give public notice of the vacancy followed by a joint meeting with the Select Board which will make the selection. The appointee must be a registered voter of Belmont, 18 years or older, according to Ellen Cushman, Belmont Town Clerk.

Those interested in the position can fill out a town’s volunteer opportunities form at this address:


Other than that general requirement, Andrea Prestwich, the newly-appointed chair of the committee, said “these kind of boards often work best when you have a variety of backgrounds, so I wouldn’t exclude anybody.”

While there isn’t a specific timeline on when the board and committee will meet to make their joint selection, “I would say we would like to fill the position as soon as possible because the school committee has a lot of work to do in the next few weeks,” said Select Board Chair Roy Epstein at its “Zoom” meeting on Monday, April 27.

While time is of the essence, “I also want to make sure that we take the appropriate amount of time to let all the corners of the community hear about the vacancy … so we have a widest possible variety of applicants,” said the School Committee’s Tara Donner.

The newly appointed School Committee Member will serve until the annual Town Election in April 2021, at which the voters will elect the two members of the School Committee who will serve three-year terms, expiring April 2024. Burgess-Cox original term of office expired in 2021.

Belmont Joins State’s Contact Tracing Effort As Town, School Nurses To Lead Effort

Photo: The Massachusetts Community Tracing Collaborative (mass.gov)

One method Massachusetts is using to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 viral pandemic is by deploying “contact tracers,” medical detectives who track down and warn people who have been exposed to the coronavirus. 

And Belmont has joined that effort as Wesley Chin, director of the Belmont Health Department, told the Belmont Board of Health on Monday, April 27, the town has “signed up for the state’s contact tracing program.”

Gov. Charlie Baker started the first in the nation program early this month which began making calls on April 11.

Belmont Town Nurse David Neylon “has been busy working recruiting school nurses from Belmont public schools to help with patient follow up and contact tracing efforts,” said Chin.

The tracers role is to talk to those infected and discover who they have been in contract with. The tracers track down those individuals and help them isolate in an effort to slow the spread of the disease.

The need for tracers is critical as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said, in an NPR interview, that “very aggressive” contact tracing would be necessary before the country could start to return to any sort of pre-pandemic normalcy.

Neylon said the nurses are being trained on the state’s Department of Public Health’s patient confidentiality regulations. “None of the information is shared any more than it needs to be and it’s on an as-needed basis so that’s certainly something we take very seriously,” said Neylon.

Good News! Belmont Farmers Market To Open In June With Social Distancing

Photo: Belmont Farmers Market is readying for the 2020 season.

With so many of Belmont’s annual events postponed and popular stores are closed, it will no doubt that residents will be happy to hear the Belmont Farmers Market is scheduled to open for the 2020 season on time in early June after a unanimous vote of the Select Board on Monday, April 27.

“The governor has farmers markets on the list of essential businesses and an important part of the local food system especially now,” said Hal Shubin, the chairman of the farmers market located in Belmont Center which is part of the Belmont Food Collaborative.

But there will be some significant changes to the way shoppers and vendors will be doing business as the COVID-19 pandemic will alter the relaxed meandering zeitgeist of past market days in Belmont.

“[Town officials] have developed a list of criteria that the farmers market will observe in their operations to make it safe, but the whole operation … will be subject to over oversight by the Board of Health,” said Shubin. “My goal is always to understand what the rules are so that we can make sure that they’re enforced.”

The first change is the market will be located on a larger footprint in the rear of the Claflin Street parking lot, allowing greater spacing between vendors, Shubin told the board.

“Right now the stores in the center are closed and that’s obviously really unfortunate, but while they’re closed, there’s a lot of room in the parking would like to expand … the market so we can allow proper social distancing,” said Shubin.

“When social distancing rules are relaxed, the stores will reopen and at that point, we should be able to return to our usual area,” he said.

In addition:

  • There will be markings on the pavement before each booth where customers will stand in line to allow for social distancing.
  • Shoppers will trek through the market in a “one-way” direction to minimize accidental contact with others.
  • The number of patrons within the market area will be capped at 40 to prevent any crowding that could make social distancing difficult.
  • There will also be hand washing facilities and sanitizers in the market’s confines.

What will be missing this year are the events and entertainment the market hosted each season; from children reading by Belmont Public Library librarians, a wide array of musicians, samples by local restaurants as well as visits by magicians and balloon artists.

“We are focusing on getting people in and out,” said Shubin. “We’re going to encourage people to come alone and to leave their children [at home].”

Prestwich Named Belmont School Committee Chair, Bowen As Secretary

Photo: Andrea Prestwich

It was as simple as removing the word “acting” from her title as the Belmont School Committee unanimously voted to elevate Andrea Prestwich to Chair of the committee at its virtual meeting held on Tuesday, April 28.

“I’m honored to be selected as chair and I will do my best and serve the community in that capacity,” said the Alexander Avenue resident. In her second three-year term on the committee, Prestwich is an astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory at Harvard.

Her term continues until the next reorganization meeting a week after the town election in April 2021.

Member Catherine Bowen was elected secretary.

Prestwich replaces Susan Burgess-Cox who resigned from the board earlier in the month in a dispute over the committee’s policy on reorganizing the board’s leadership.

Town Requires Facemasks In Belmont Businesses; Fines Could Come After Review

Photo: Masks are now required shopping in Belmont

The Belmont Board of Health and Select Board separately approved an emergency order on Monday, April 27, requiring customers to wear facemasks or coverings when entering “essential” businesses in town. The regulation also mandates employees to be masked.

The regulation goes into effect immediately and will continue until the Board of Health deems it unnecessary or the state ends the essential business designation.

The order targets businesses and services, not outdoor activities in public spaces such as running, biking, walking or walking the dog.

The order requires signs be posted storefronts informing the public of the regulations. Stores should limit the number of customers in the establishment in an effort to “enhance social distancing” while also offering the option of home delivery or online purchases and payment.

Business will also need to step up employee illness surveillance by asking if the worker has been ill as well as take their temperature before their shift.

While the new regulation does not have penalties for violating the emergency order, they could be added by the boards in the near future if they feel it is warranted.

The regulation comes as many communities – including Brookline, Salem, Beverly – are requiring residents to wear masks when entering a store or in public spaces. Somerville, for example, will issue a $300 ticket to those violating its regulations in any public indoor or outdoor space.

According to Wesley Chin, Belmont’s Health Department director, the order is to provide an extra level of safety for employees of supermarkets, take out eateries and stores such as CVS Pharmacy who deal with the public during the pandemic. This week an employee of the Star Market on Trapelo Road died of the coronavirus.

A Star Market manager told Chin and Assistant Director Diana Ekman last week that passing an order requiring masks even without a fine against violators, their employees “would feel more empowered to walk up to a customer and ask them to ‘please put on face covering before entering the store’.”

“I don’t see a reason to wait to help supermarket workers,” said Julie Lemay of the Board of Health.

While the Board of Health does have the authority to enforce the new order, Chin said his small and very busy department doesn’t have the ability to issue tickets or fines to scofflaws.

Despite that challenge, Select Board’s Adam Dash and newly-appointed Board of Health Chair Stephen Fiore believe the new regs should have designated fines for those who break the order. They are hoping to amend the emergency decree within the next two weeks.

Hopeful Signs On COVID-19 At Belmont Manor, But Still A ‘Trying’ Month As Death Rise To 53

Photo: Belmont Manor where infections and deaths have slowed down

While saying April has been a ‘trying’ month, Wesley Chin, director of the Belmont Health Department, said the most significant COVID-19 hot spot in town has begun to stabilize.

Chin told the Health Board on Monday, April 27 the number of deaths related to COVID-19 has risen to 53 with 51 being residents of “a long term care facility” in town. Belmont Manor is the largest nursing home and rehabilitation center in the community and has been tied to the deaths in local and national news reports.

Since early March, Belmont has 159 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with the vast majority being residents and staff of Belmont Manor.

“It’s been really hard,” said Chin, noting the facility has “a lot of elderly with pre-existing health conditions, and they’re what you would generally think of as being the most vulnerable right now to the COVID-19.”

But recently it appears the epidemic that spread through the 130-bed eldercare facility has lessened.

“It seems like that situation is starting to get a little bit better. Fingers crossed. The rate of fatalities appears to be slowing down quite significantly so that’s really positive,” said Chin.

Chin said his department has regular check-ins with the facility’s staff and administrator while receiving daily updates with the Belmont Emergency Management Agency and the Belmont Fire Department.

At Monday’s Select Board meeting, Chair Roy Epstein said in a statement despite actions taken by the town to assist Belmont Manor, “COVID-19 is an unprecedented deadly and evolving threat to the town as a whole. Our first responders and town departments will work tirelessly against this danger.”

While no one knows when the COVID-19 emergency will be over, “your town government and grassroot organizations like the Belmont Food Pantry and Belmont Helps stand ready,” said Epstein.

Letter To The Editor: Postal Service Asks For Help With Social Distancing

Photo: The USPS logo (USPS photo)

To the editor:

During these challenging times, postal employees are working hard to ensure residents stay connected with their world through the mail. Whether it’s medications, a package, a paycheck, benefits or pension check, a bill or letter from a family member, postal workers understand that every piece of mail is important. While service like this is nothing new to us, we need our communities’ help with social distancing.

For everyone’s safety, our employees are following the social distancing precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health officials. We are asking people to not approach our carriers to accept delivery. Let the carrier leave the mailbox before collecting the mail. With schools not in session, children should also be encouraged to not approach a postal vehicle or carrier.

If a delivery requires a signature, carriers will knock on the door rather than touching the bell. They will maintain a safe distance, and instead of asking for a signature on their mobile device, they’ll ask for the resident’s name. The carrier will leave the mail or package in a safe place for retrieval.

We are proud of the role all our employees play in processing, transporting, and delivering mail and packages for the American public. The CDC, World Health Organization, as well as the Surgeon General indicate there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail.

With social distancing, we can keep the mail moving while keeping our employees, and the public, safe. 

Erick Scholl, manager

U.S. Postal Service, Belmont Post Office

Historical Society Seeking Residents To Share Experiences In A Time Of Pandemic

Photo: Sharing your experiences during this pandemic.

The Belmont Historical Society is asking residents to be part of history by sharing their experiences during this extraordinary time of pandemic.

The Society is reaching out to the local community to help document how covid-19 is affecting everyday life in relation to families, homes and lifestyles in an invaluable first-hand account for future generations.

“We are reminded that we who live today are making tomorrow’s history,” said Viktoria Hasse, president of the Historical Society, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2020.

Similar efforts in other towns have included collecting photographs, home videos, short written accounts and other creative expressions that capture the now circumstances.   

Examples of ideas the Historical Society is looking for include:

  • turning kitchen tables into a home office so they can work from the house,
  • waiting in long lines at the grocery store,
  • leaving food on the doorstep of a parent or relative,
  • keeping their distance from others by staying within the taped marks on floors of local businesses,
  • remembering to wear a mask in public, and
  • being prevented from visiting family members who are in the hospital or skilled care facilities.

“I am sure that you have experienced some of the above as well some specific and more personal ways the current lifestyle restrictions are affecting you, your family and your community,” said Hasse.

You can send your submissions via our email address at, belmonthistory1859@gmail.com or to our postal address at,

Belmont Historical Society

P. O. Box 125

Belmont MA 02478

or visit us at our website: www.Belmonthistoricalsociety.org

Recreation To Refund Residents As Pool Season Unlikely, Summer Programs ‘In Holding Pattern’

Photo: Lifeguard Elizabeth Levy, 17, watching over the wadding pool at the Underwood Pool on Labor Day, Sept. 7, 2015.

Registration for Belmont Recreation Department’s summer programs were going like gangbusters on the first of March as residents signed up their kids for the popular S.K.I.P. (Summer Kids Interested in Playing) Program and 170 pool passes had already been requested.

Then on Tuesday, March 10 “everything kind of went sideways,” said Jon Marshall, recreation department director and assistant town administrator speaking to the Recreation Commission via Zoom on Thursday, April 23.

That day Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency due to the spreading COVID-19 pandemic in Massachusetts. And by the end of that week, the registrations and requests “all came to a screeching halt,” said Marshall.

Since then, the Recreation Department – which has already canceled all its spring programs and classes – had been looking to some way to salvage the summer activities including the popular Underwood Pool season.

Brandon Fitts, the assistant recreation director, had put together a hopeful plan looking at July 1 as the best date for the pool season to open. But that would require the town to give the department an OK to proceed by the first week of May as it requires two months in preparation to open the pool. It’s anticipated Baker will be extending the stay-in-place order by at least two weeks to mid-May.

Even if the facility opens, the big question, according to Select Board’s Adam Dash, is how to implement social distancing onto the swimmers and bathers in both the pool area but also the changing rooms, bathrooms, the grounds, and the admission’s area. Fitts said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending pools have a 25 percent swimmers/bather limit of the facility’s maximum, which at Belmont’s 325 max would be 82 people.

“From a public health point of view, I think this is a nightmare waiting to happen,” said Commissioner Kathryn Jones. “You’re never going to keep [young adults] six feet away from each other all the time.

Then there is the real question if anyone will want to come to the pool during a pandemic. “If we do open, we will have fewer people there. It’s either going to be from the COVID-19 situation or it’s just going to be the economics of it. I think we’d be lucky to have somewhere around 25 percent of what we did last year … it’s certainly a big impact,” said Marshall.

But the biggest obstacle facing opening the season is cost. While the pool has been a large revenue generator for the town, due to a later date opening and forced limitation on the number of people at the facility, the latest projection is the pool will be running a $171,000 deficit.

“Obviously the concern is this going to just be a big money lost if we open it. Not to say that is the be-all and end-all but we do have to take that into account,” said Dash, who said if the town is willing to open the pool at a deficit, that cost will come from another service or department.

While the pool season looks ever unlikely to occur, the SKIP program and other summer Rec Department events are currently “in a holding pattern,” according to Marshall. “I think if we do offer programs, they’re going to have to be different than the size and what they were going to be,” he said.

For example, the SKIP program takes in 80 children a session which requires the use of the gymnasium and the kitchen at the Wellington Elementary School. If there are changes due to social distancing or the lack of needed space, “we will need to change the fee structure. That’s only fair,” he said.

The Rec Department is now determining how it will refund the $125,000 it has taken in for SKIP registration and pool passes. “People are asking for them and I don’t want to hold that money out,” said Marshall.

With all the issues, Rec Commission members were nearly unanimous in feeling that a pool opening is simply not feasible in 2020. Chairman Anthony Ferrante said he would defer a vote on a recommendation to the Select Board until the commissions next meeting in May, “the governor may very well make [a decision] for us.”

’20, ’21 Budgets Appear Solvable But A ‘Juggernaut’ Of Debt Faces Belmont in ’22

Photo: Patrice Garvin, Belmont Town Administrator

With a combination of hiring and discretionary spending freezes, using the town’s free cash account (aka the fiscal piggy bank), and “kicking the can down the road” on capital projects and street repair, it appears Belmont just might be able to endure the anticipated collapse of local and state revenues to its fiscal year 2020 and 2021 budgets.

“I see [the budget] as solvable,” said Patrice Garvin, the town administrator who will be presenting an updated forecast of the town’s budget at a joint meeting of the Select Board and School Committee at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 27.

But the budgetary outlook for Belmont is fiscal ’22, which starts on July 1, 2021, is about as dark as Garvin can imagine as a massive tsunami of red ink heads towards the town.

“I am calling fiscal 2022 the juggernaut of budgets,” said Garvin. “I’m not looking forward to doing that budget at all” noting without the passage of a Proposition 2 1/2 override to pump needed income into town coffers, the town will be forced to rely on layoffs and cuts in essential services to balance that year’s books.

FY 2020: Put the budget in the freezer

Garvin said Belmont needs to prepare for a drop in town revenues – from parking fees, meals taxes, building permits, and payments to the Recreation Department – for the rest of fiscal ’20 by slowing the rate of spending.

“We don’t feel it’s going to be a significant shortfall but a shortfall just the same,” said Garvin. The effort will also

In its first effort to stabilize the budget for the remaining two and a half months in fiscal ’20, the Select Board on April 14 endorsed Garvins’ four steps to controlling expenses:

  • Freeze non-essential spending, excluding capital items, revolving funds, and existing contracts. The school district will also apply a freeze to purchases through the end of June, said Phelan.
  • All expenditures must be reviewed and approved by the town administrator before being submitted to the town treasurer.
  • All overtime must be approved by the town administrator, excluding requests by the police and fire departments.
  • Emergency expenditures are permitted but must be reported to the town administrator immediately after the bill is sent.

The town could save approximately $271,000 for the remainder of the fiscal year, said Garvin. On the school side, additional savings will be generated by the district’s idle buildings as they are not using electricity, water or heat, Phelan said.

The Select Board’s Adam Dash said while the amount of money being saved with the freezes are not large, “the money not spent will fall into free cash which we can use next year.”

“I think this is a no-brainer,” said Dash. “I don’t like the idea of … belt-tightening but I think under the circumstances we have no choice.”

Larger savings still could come from a hiring freeze of 13 open positions – nine full-time and four part-time – for the remainder of the fiscal year with potential savings in salaries and benefits of $463,726.

But the catch to realizing that savings are that four town departments – schools, assessors, library and cemetery – have authorization over hiring matters. In addition, Garvin has received some pushback on a total freeze on hirings as each department with a vacant position will contend “[the job] is critical.”

The Belmont Police Patrolman’s and the Belmont Superior Officers’ associations sent a letter on April 13 to the Select Board to allow for the immediate hiring of two of the vacancies; assistant police chief and captain.

“Leaving those gaps unfilled would not be good managerial practice in normal circumstances,” said the letter. “In the current context, doing so, in the view of the BPPA, is simply indefensible. The Department needs strong leadership at all established levels of the chain of command if it is to weather the tremendous strains now being imposed on it.”

Saying it is “a very charged environment,” Garvin created an independent five-member panel to recommend to the board which jobs should remain vacant and, essentially, “to take some of the politics out of [the process].” It will also make “it less about the individual department and more the need of the community,” said Garvin, adding that the board should consider extending hiring reviews through June 30, 2021.

Recommendations of the New Hire Advisory Committee will be submitted before the Monday, April 27 joint meeting.

At the school committee meeting, Phelan said the district would not be hiring new staff for the remainder of the school year, noting the two new elementary school principals selected this spring along with an interim principal for the middle school will not start until July 1.

Garvin said while proposing a freeze is unsettling to those affected, all departments are acutely aware of the hardships facing the town government.

“We have a good working team here,” said Garvin. “I think everyone realizes the fiscal challenges of the town and I’m encouraged to think they see the challenges and they want to help out” in building up reserves to be utilized in the next fiscal year.

FY 2021: A painful fiscal environment but doable

While the town and schools are set to conclude the fiscal year in good financial shape, to achieve a similar level of success in fiscal 2021 will require cuts, delays, and a great deal of finesse dealing with an uncertain future.

“As we start to unpack in the coming weeks the options before us … are not good options,” said the Select Board’s Tom Caputo looking forward to fiscal ’21.

Garvin and her staff have been spinning out fiscal models that correspond to different levels of revenue losses on the town budget due to a reduction in state aid and local receipts. One such revenue line item that will be hit is new growth – the additional tax revenue generated by new construction, renovations, and other increases in the property tax base – with revenues falling nearly by half to $500,000 from earlier projections.

The end result: Belmont can expect to see revenue wane in fiscal ’21 anywhere between $3.4 to $4.6 million, said Garvin. Yet she told the Warrant Committee that she sees balancing the fiscal ’21 budget as doable.

“I believe that I can take a very large portion of [the expected deficit], defer [expenses] in FY ’21” to later years while using the savings the town made in fiscal ’20, said Garvin. “But I’m not gonna lie, it’s gonna come with some pain,” she said.

One area of savings being suggested is a significant reduction in capital expenditures. The new fire truck, upgrades in infrastructure and repairs can be delayed for a year or so while reductions in town contributions such as the OPEB (other post-employment benefits) funds “are adjustments we don’t necessarily want to make but would have to,” said Caputo.

One area of savings in fiscal ’21 that is not on Garvin’s radar screen is layoffs or furloughs due in large part to the complexity of negotiating job reductions within the existing union contracts. In addition, any agreement will need to be approved and ratified by the time Town Meeting meets in late June.

There is a major X factor facing Garvin in her calculations: what the economy will be at any time in the future. Until this year, changes in state aid and town revenues were fairly predictable allowing budgeting to be pretty straight forward. Today, said Garvin, “I have no idea what the economy is going to look like” in six or seven months.

And even if residents are willing to “plug our noses” and accept the cuts, “in order to get to four million [dollars], you’re going to have some impact in services in some way,” said Caputo.

FY 2022: An unprecedented budget challenge

While the outline of a plan is being formulated that allows the town to limp through June of 2021, the first long-range forecast for fiscal 2022 is all rough weather ahead.

“The budget problem is FY ’22, it has always been FY ’22,” said Garvin. “And everything we do in ’21 is going to impact 22.” And with many of the reductions in spending simply deferrals of necessary payments, “those decisions we’ll be making in ’21 are just going to create a bigger challenge in ’22,” said Caputo.

Just how bad could the deficit be for fiscal ’22. Garvin wouldn’t even speculate before the Warrant Committee just that it will be “unprecedented.”

Garvin has hinted at the need for the passage of the operational override, similar to the Proposition 2 1/2 measure the Select Board had favored placing on the November 2020 ballot. If that isn’t successful, the remedy to the deficit will be job cuts.

“Right after the June Town Meeting … we just start right in on ’22 with a plan [in which] we don’t receive the operational override because if layoffs are required, we have to have that time to figure out how we are going to approach the unions,” said Garvin. “Something like this doesn’t happen overnight.”