Letter To The Editor: Our Plan For A New Rink Worked But Town Lacked The ‘Political Will’ To Get It Done

Photo: Rendering of the Belmont Youth Hockey’s proposal to the town for a new rink.

To the editor:

On Nov. 10, the Belmontonian reported that eight months after receiving a single proposal for the development of a new skating facility, the town of Belmont determined the proposal was not economically feasible. While certainly convenient to blame the bidder, it was not true; the proposal submitted by Belmont Youth Hockey Association to develop a new facility was professionally vetted and fully financially feasible.  

The deeper story is that the town issued a Request for Proposal that was never feasible. The RFP asked for more square footage of programming than currently exists in the designated development space west of Harris Field. In an area that currently houses the White Field House, one rink (the Skip), a soccer field, a softball field and facility parking – the town’s RFP asked for all of these to be maintained and improved while adding an additional half rink, baseball field, shot put and discus area and 90 additional parking spaces required by the new high school.   

Once the review committee realized they needed more space to meet their own RFP requirements, the town made the decision to pass on the opportunity to adjust their expectations to make the project feasible. The town lacked the political will to address the need for incremental parking for the high school in an alternate location.   

The decision by the Select Board to pass on the only proposal caps nearly 10 years of effort by Belmont Youth Hockey to address a critical issue: the town continues to operate a facility that is structurally and mechanically unsound. By passing, the town has eliminated any potential for a public/private partnership. Belmont is no longer a credible partner. The town wasted the time, resources, and diligent efforts of a consortium of financial, construction, design, operating firms, and individual volunteers all collaborating to solve a pressing safety and viability concern.  

The positive news is that the path forward is now clear. By failing the RFP process, the town must move forward on its own. It’s time to allocate and approve the approximately $15-$20 million needed to rebuild the Skip and the White Field House and to do so as part of an integrated plan to develop the space west of Harris Field so that the pending development of the field space is not squandered. Continuing to deny the lack of structural integrity of a complex that services several thousand kids and adults each year is not a responsible option.

Bob Mulroy

Belmont Youth Hockey

Support Local Artisans and Charitable Organizations through Holiday Shopping

Photo: Santa can come with social action holiday gifts to give.

The Social Action Holiday Gift Fair has been an annual tradition of the First Church in Belmont, Unitarian Universalist for many years. This year it looks very different, but the opportunity remains the same: You can do holiday shopping and benefit others at the same time.


This year, given the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic, choosing to do your holiday shopping this way is more important than ever. Buy gifts for everyone on your list by choosing from an array of products featuring the work of both local and international artisans and craft makers. All proceeds from your purchases will benefit the participating organizations.

Hybrid Learning Returns To Belmont Grades K-8 On Monday; HS Enters Hybrid Thursday, Dec. 10

Photo: A hybrid schedule at Belmont schools

It’s hybrid week at the Belmont Public Schools as the entire student population will be either returning to or begin for the first time hybrid in-person learning schedules.

In an email to the community from John Phelan, superintendent for Belmont schools, grades K-8 will resume their hybrid schedule on Monday, Dec. 7, while “we are happy to report Belmont High School students, grades 9 to 12 will start -person hybrid on Thursday, Dec. 10.”

The schedule for the Belmont High School hybrid schedule can be found here.

Phelan noted that principals from each of the six public schools will have sent out a communication to parents of children with more details on returning to the classroom.

“We appreciate the patience of our students, parents, faculty, and staff in pivoting to remote learning after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend,” said Phelan.

“We feel these proactive measures help keep the school community safe and give us a chance to assess and ‘reset’ the buildings for a healthy return to hybrid in-person learning,” he said.

Phelan said the district’s goal is to proactively and strategically pivot the instructional model for elementary, middle, and high schools when needed during the current pandemic environment while trying to limit disruptions to teaching and learning.

Belmont Returns To ‘Yellow’ As COVID-19 Cases Surge In-State and Town

Photo: COVID-19 update.

As the United States experiences the most significant surge of COVID-19 cases since the coronavirus was first identified in February, Belmont has seen a similar increase in the number of positive cases over the past 14 days as of Dec. 3, according to the state’s Department of Public Health.

Sixty-three residents were diagnosed over the past two weeks as a total of 427 Belmontians has been infected by the virus since February, which comes to a biweekly rate of 14.6 infections per 100,000 population, both indicators increasing over the past two week period.

Over the fortnight, 3,703 residents were tested with 63 positive cases, a rate of 1.7 per 100,000 population.

There are now 97 communities considered at the highest risk for transmitting the new coronavirus in Massachusetts, according to the latest weekly community-level data on the pandemic, an increase of 16 

The jump in the number of cases resulted in the town re-entering the state’s designated “yellow” range indicating a moderate risk of being infected. Belmont had been in the “green” range for more than a month, having spent a week in the yellow range earlier this fall.

For communities with populations of between 10,000 and 50,000, a yellow designation has an average of more than 10 cases per 100,000 or a positive test rate of more than 5 percent.

Belmont Police Assist In Cambridge Knife Fight Arrest

Photo: Belmont Police assisted in the arrest of a man who stabbed a person.

Action by Belmont Police officers led to the arrest of a Boston teen who stabbed a person in Cambridge near the Belmont town line on Friday, Dec. 4.

According to a twitter posting by the Cambridge Police Department, a 19-year-old man was arrested following a fight on Normandy Avenue adjacent to Belmont’s Blanchard Road. Cambridge Police said Belmont officers were the first to respond to the incident.

“A male was stabbed during the fight and sustained non-life threatening injuries.” said the Cambridge Police which recovered the weapon. “Special thanks to @BelmontPD for their assistance & initial response,” twitted the CPD.

First Peek At Fiscal Year ’22 Budget: Public Meeting On Dec. 9

Photo: The town created its FY ’22 budget with the expectations that voters will approve a Prop 2 1/2 override in April.

John Phelan express the obvious in his opening remarks when presenting this coming year’s school budget on Monday, Nov. 23.

“We look towards a very unique year in budgeting in a very unique year in our time,” said Belmont schools superintendent as the town and school provided the public its first peek at the fiscal year 2022 budgets.

The “unique” year Phelan mentioned was seen during a topsy turvy nine months in which Belmont’s finances took a beating and where the town budget was revised twice – and likely a third time – as COVID-19 played havoc to fiscal assumptions.

During this upheaval, the fiscal year ’22 budget was being cobbled together. At first glance, a growing degree of normalcy has returned to the budgets: expenses such as overtime and road repair funding are back while the school district is seeking to add educators even as over all enrollment has declined by 250 students.

But the documents Phelan and Town Administrator Patrice Garvin presented before a mega joint meeting of the Select Board, Financial Task Force and the School, Warrant and Capital Budget committees are unique insofar as they are contingent on voters passing a multi-million dollar Prop 2 1/2 override at this April’s Town Election.

Just how big is the override’s price tag? That figure remains up in the air. What is known as currently calculated, the all town ’22 budget is approximately $8.1 million in the red.

It will be an especially unique new year as the town and schools will present sometime early in the new year a version of the fiscal ’22 budget if the override fails at the ballot box.

“So we will be preparing two budgets this year,” said Phelan, to allow the public see the impact on services and staffing with and without override funds.

The town will hold a Zoom public meeting on the impact of a Prop 2 1/2 override on the fiscal year ’21 budget on Wednesday, Dec. 9 at 7 p.m.

For Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, while “we are inundated every day with what is horrible about 2020,” she said that there are reasons to see the past year in “a positive note”: town services were continued to be delivered while measures were taken to soften the blow from revenue losses including hiring freeze and maximizing turn backs from school and town departments to build up the town’s free cash account.

Due to its conservative approach to the operating budget, reaching out for grants and award – including $2.1 million it received from the federal government’s CARES Act – and seeking new sources of revenue (the McLean development and two marijuana host community agreements), the town retained its top ranked triple A credit rating as it approached developing the coming budget.

All-Town Budget

What is known at this early stage of the budget process is the combined town/school budget- excluding the enterprise funds of $6.9 million – is being set at $144.5 million, a 3.8 percent increase from the pre-pandemic fiscal ’21 budget.

The FY ’22 budget breaks down as:

  • Town: $43.5 million
  • Schools: $67.6 million
  • Fixed costs: $31.4 million
  • Capital budget: $2 million

Due to the wild fiscal year the town underwent in 2020, the percentage change between the ’21 and ’22 budgets are significantly different. If compared with the “original” fiscal year 2021 – the pre-pandemic budget from March 2020 – the fiscal year ’22 budget has increased by 3.8 percent, which is in line with annual budget growth over the past decade. Substitute the original ’21 financials with the COVID-19 budget – in which town and school stripped out $7 million in expense savings – the increase jumps to 9.2 percent.

Highlighting the town budget, Garvin pointed out that while FY ’22 will be a minimal level service budget, there will be personnel adds to a few departments such as a social worker for the Council on Aging as well as a newly created town-wide procurement manager.

The town will increase the tree budget by $50,000 for the increasing number of damaged timber and replenishing deferred expenses such as $450,000 for equipment and furnishings for town departments as well as bringing back overtime.

View a detailed PowerPoint presentation of the ’22 town budget here.

Reporting on the schools, Phelan said while its current fiscal budget did take a significant hit due to COVID-19, it was able to employ educators to support remote learning and secure supplies and computers through federal grants.

Because those expenses were paid for with one-time funds, Phelan said the district will attempt to carry those expenses over to FY ’22 but not embed them into the annual budget but rather place them in what is being called the “COVID parking lot.”

“So we only provide these service (including technology specialist, aides and nurses) and ask for the funds if they are actually needed,” said Phelan.

The schools will be budgeting to a model created by the Financial Task Force II which has been working for eight months with the district and the Warrant Committee on the assumptions of anticipated expenses.

The detail presentation from Superintendent Phelan of the FY ’22 school budget can be found here.

At the end of the day, the preliminary fiscal ’22 is swimming in the red by $8.1 million, or about two-thirds as large as the $12.5 million in override funds the Select Board is seeking at April’s Town Election. The Board has said the override amount that will be before voters in the spring will be reduced sometime in the next two months.

To provide residents the real world consequence of the override measure, Garvin and Phelan will be creating a second budget over the next month of two that will show the services and staff cuts to town and schools if voters reject the override.

While both the town and schools expenses are set, the more interest part of the meeting was how the revenue side was looking. There were two nice surprises on that side of the ledger: the first a great leap in free cash to $11.2 million. A detailed explanation on this year’s free cash account can be found here.

There is also a healthy amount of state aid – $3.2 million – the town was not anticipating in fiscal ’21 as the town expected a drop of receipts by 20 percent. But after the budget was approved, Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration stated it would maintain the same amount of aid in ’21 as in the previous year.

But Garvin said the restored state revenue – which has yet to arrive from the state – is slated to go into fiscal year 2023 free cash account.

And every penny of funding is needed as the town has yet to find an answer to the bain of Belmont’s fiscal existence: a persistent structural deficit. With Belmont’s real estate classification at more than 90 percent residential and new growth limited due to a lack of open space, the “Town of Homes” is hamstrung by the four decade old Proposition 2 1/2 that places a 2.5 percent ceiling on total property taxes annually – which makes up 77 percent of tax receipts – as well as the 2.5 percent limit on property tax increases.