Belmont COVID Numbers, Rates Move Lower; Town Starts Vaccine Helpline

Photo: Belmont has begun a vaccine helpline for those needing help to schedule a shot.

The number and rate of infection from COVID-19 in Belmont has take a pronounced drop in the past month, shadowing the national trends, according to data from the Massachusetts Department of Health.

As of Friday, Feb. 12, there were 23 new COVID-19 cases from the past week, a marked reduction from the peak a month earlier.

Date reportingNew cases in the week Change from the previous week
Feb. 1296723
Feb. 594440
Jan. 2991452
Jan. 2286263
Jan. 1579962
Data: Belmont Health Center

Belmont also saw daily rate of infection per 100,000 residents over two weeks fall from a high of 41.2 on Jan. 15 to 16.2 on Feb. 12, the lowest rate since Dec. 4 when it stood at 14.6.

Currently Belmont remains in the state’s designated “yellow” zone which indicates the town is not at as much risk as red communities, but are still being monitored for their higher than ideal infection rates. 

Belmont’s confirmed cases has reached 967. Deaths have stayed steady at 77.

Belmont Starts Helpline

The Town of Belmont has activated a COVID-19 Vaccine Helpline call center to assist any residents who either do not have a computer or who may not feel comfortable using one to schedule appointments for vaccines. Currently residents 75 years old and older

To reach the center located at Town Hall, call 617-993-2606 or 617-993-2626, Monday through Friday 8 a.m. – 4 p.m

The individuals staffing the line can assist with registering those currently eligible for available clinics, whether that is a Belmont-Arlington clinic or a larger state run clinic or pharmacy. They can also answer questions about vaccine registration, and add names to the town’s vaccine interest list for those who would like to be contacted for our small local vaccine clinics.  

Meeting/Vote On Winn Brook Tennis Court Expansion, Wednesday, Feb. 10

Photo: Design of the two proposals for courts at Winn Brook

The Belmont Recreation Commission will host a second public ZOOM meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 6 p.m., via Zoom, to discuss and solicit feedback on the Community Preservation Act (CPA) request to add additional tennis court/courts at Winn Brook Playground.

The court/courts would be added in the area between Joey’s Park playground and the existing tennis courts, to add one to two additional courts. See designs below.

There is a need for additional court/courts to meet the requirements of the Belmont High School tennis program that will utilize the Winn Brook courts for practices and matches. The additional court/courts will also add to the available courts for the public when not being utilized by the High School program.

Please click the link below to join the webinar:
Passcode: 481165
iPhone one-tap:
US: +19292056099, 87474795595#,,,,481165# or +13017158592,,87474795595#,,,,481165#
Or Telephone:
Dial (for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
US: +1 929 205 6099 or +1 301 715 8592 or +1 312 626 6799 or +1 669 900 6833 or +1 253 215
8782 or +1 346 248 7799
Webinar ID: 874 7479 5595
Passcode: 481165

Select Board Approves Contract With New Fire Chief DeStefano

Photo: David DeStefano, Belmont Fire’s new chief.

It’s official. Belmont has a new fire chief as the Select Board agreed to a contract with David DeStefano at this Feb. 8 meeting.

DeStefano, a battalion chief with the North Providence (RI) Fire Department, was selected by the board at its Jan. 21 meeting, replacing long-time chief David Frizzell.

DeStefano’s contract will be for three years starting March 15, 2021. His starting salary is $152,000. As part of his employment, he must establish primary residency within 15 miles of Belmont’s border in the next six months.

The town will provide DeStefano with an unmarked fire vehicle.

On July 1, 2021, DeStefano will be eligible for a minimum cost of living adjustment (COLA) of 2 percent or a general COLA pay increase for department heads, whichever is greater. On July 1, 2022 and July 1, 2023, he will be eligible for his current base salary plus a COLA minimum of 2 percent or the general COLA pay increase for department heads whichever is greater. There is also a merit increase based on his performance review.

DeStefano will accrue four weeks of vacation and three weeks of sick leave annually along with 12 holidays. He will be offered the normal health, dental and life insurance benefits of all employees of the town.

DeStefano must submit his application for Massachusetts Fire Chief credentials within the first three months of being hired.

Town Meeting Warrant Is Open Until Feb. 23

Photo: The Town Meeting warrant is open for business

The chance to have your say before this year’s Town Meeting is underway as the Select Board voted Monday, Feb. 8, to open the meeting’s Warrant for the next two weeks.

“We’re doing is allowing resident to … submit warrant articles through citizens’ petitions or soliciting the Select Board to act,” said Roy Epstein, the Board’s chair.

The warrant was opened at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 9 and will close on Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 3 p.m.

There is already a long list of articles that have been submitted by the town and its departments, 23 in total as of Monday. The articles will be debated and voted during the first session of Town Meeting which will convene in late April or early May.

Just a few of the non-standing articles include:

  • Establishing Indigenous Peoples’ Day
  • The acceptance of Oakmont Lane as a public way
  • A resolution to the legislature to revise the state’s gas law to allow communities to approve fossil fuel free new residential construction
  • A sanitary sewage easement for 100 Common St.
  • Disposition of property at 92 Trapelo Rd.
  • Lease of a cell tower at 780 Concord Ave.
  • A bylaw to limit/restrict leaf blower use
  • Changes to the Belmont Light Board governance

Patrice Garvin, Belmont’s town administrator, said it’s likely that more articles will be forwarded from elected and standing committees and boards seeking the Select Board’s help in placing articles in the warrant.

“It’s not just time for citizens’ petitions,” said Garvin.

It Won’t Be Pretty: Consequences Of A Failed Override Prompts Select Board To Endorse Its Passage


The date: April 6, 2021. The time: 9(-ish) p.m. The location: Belmont Town Hall. Town Clerk Ellen Cushman strolls out from her office to read the results of the annual Town Election. After going through the races for elected positions, she comes to what residents have been waiting for – the decision on the $6.4 million Proposition 2 1/2 override. Cushman clears her throat and reads out the count.

And the measure … fails.

The first question for many people will be: “Now what?”

On Monday, Feb. 8 – just under two month from the above election – the Belmont Select Board and residents were provided an answer to The Day After scenario as Town Administrator Patrice Garvin spelled out the rather dark consequences of a no vote throughout the fiscal year 2022 budget.

“There’s no way to sugar coat it really. They’re all painful which is way we asked for an override,” said Board Chair Roy Epstein.

While Belmont not yet on the level of the four horsemen of fiscal apocalypses, the certainty of cuts in services and personnel as well as still to be determined retreat on school programs, the Select Board unanimously voted to endorse passage of the Proposition 2 1/2 override on the April 6 ballot.

Note: On Thursday, Feb. 11, at 7 p.m., the Warrant Committee is holding a Zoom public meeting on “Understanding the Override Decision” that will present the impact of a yes and no override vote.

After reporting last month how a yes vote on the override would be used by the town and schools. the town proceeded to run a budget exercise on the impact of a negative response by voters. With expenditures of $163 million as opposed to revenues of $157.2 million, the town would need to fill a $5.7 million gap.

Garvin said a little more than a third of the gap would be bridged using an additional $1.9 million from free cash – the last of the reserves not reserved by town policy – and taking $350,000 of the $400,000 OPEB contribution. The remaining $3.45 million would be made up reducing town and school expenditures, 60 percent – or $2.07 million – coming from the schools and 40 percent ($1.38 million) from the town.

On the town side, cuts would come from all departments (see the chart below) as well as removing $500,000 from discretionary capital expenditures that was targeting much needed maintenance and infrastructure repairs.

Cuts to town departments with a negative override vote. (Credit: Town Administrator Office)

Garvin pointed out that long sought after positions such as a social worker for seniors and a new procurement employee to manage the increasingly complex nature of bidding and preparing projects such as the new Middle and High School.

“We really do need someone who has the expertise, who can move through the commissioning process as [the new school building] gets handed over and can run all the town buildings more efficiently,” said Adam Dash, board member. “I fear that if we don’t have that person in place, it will actually cost us more money because the systems won’t be run properly.”

Other departments will see significant reduction in salary and overtime requests while Police, Fire and DPW will see the loss of at least one staff member which will reduce response times for public safety and less work done at town fields and playgrounds.

The board’s decision to endorse a yes vote was expected, “especially in light of these pretty draconian and grim looking cuts. It’s going to be a difficult situation if it doesn’t pass,” said Dash.

While the school cuts will be announced on Tuesday, Belmont Superintendent John Phelan told the Financial Task Force on Monday morning that the schools would loss the 10.6 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions they had planned to add in 2022 as well as 15 additional staff members and cuts in many line items.

If the April override fails, the town is looking at a second override for the Town Election in 2022. Quick calculations by the Financial Task Force on Monday morning indicated that the subsequent override would be in the range of $10.8 million over three years, give or take a million either way.

With The Pressure On, School District Introduces Group To Lead Belmont Back To In-Person Learning

Photo: A working group has been created to facilitate to return students back to school full time.

With pressure increasing to bring back students to the classroom, the Belmont Schools District announced this week the formation of a working group whose charge is to create a roadmap to quickly reopen the district to in-school learning.

“It is our full intention. as a district, to identify the challenges and … to see where we can look for opportunities and also anticipate some updated guidance,” said Belmont Superintendent John Phelan before the Belmont School Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 2 as he introduced the “Return to In-Person Learning Group” which will hold its first meeting on Monday, Feb. 22.

The district is running under a hybrid school day which provides a limited amount of in-school instruction.

Unlike past committees and groups that produced a final summery that “lies gathering dust,” Phelan said this group is committed to producing “rolling recommendations” where breakthroughs and solutions can be rapidly implemented.

“This committee is really charged with identifying those challenges and giving us a roadmap for when those challenges [become] opportunities … and how we can move forward,” he said.

The new working group, introduced by Phelan on Jan. 19, is established just as the district and school committee is feeling the pushback from national and state governments and local groups and residents to find some way to put kids back in schools full-time, which hasn’t occurred since mid-March of last year.

The day after the superintendent’s announcement, newly-appointed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said “[t]here is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen” without the need for teachers to be vaccinated. She also said schools would need to meet a myriad of safety protocols – masks, distancing, ventilation and surveillance testing – to open safely.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has been advocating for the return of in-person learning whether it is hybrid or full time instruction since the school year began in September, providing incentives such as testing . Locally, the frustration of parents on the slow roll out in September of the hybrid plan and no indication of a date certain for person to person instruction has led some to run for the two school committee seats

The district is also feeling the push from the local teachers union. While silent throughout the COVID crisis, it is clear the Belmont Education Association has emphasized safety of its members during the nearly-year long pandemic.

The state union, the Massachusetts Teachers Association has asked been adamant that districts wait until all teachers are vaccines before educators back into classrooms.

On Tuesday, the School Committee voted to join a letter signed by 42 superintendents and 23 union presidents endorsing the calling for teachers to be given preference in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, Massachusetts teachers are part of the third group in Phase 2 of the state’s vaccine timeline which start later in February.

“In order to do our jobs at the level desired by [the state], the professionals working in our field should be vaccinated as quickly as possible so they can continue to work with the children they come in contact daily,” said Prestwich reading from the letter.

The working group will be led by independent veteran educators with connections to the Harvard Graduate School of Education; Michelle Rinehart and Dr. Drew Echelson,

“The purpose … for this working group is to develop specific and actionable tools that will support Belmont public schools in determining when and how to bring more students back to in-person learning,” said Rinehart.

The group’s charge is three fold: Discover the conditions which will allow the schools to increase the level of in-person learning, determine the current conditions and what are the “roadblocks” impeding students return to the classroom and finally submit draft rolling recommendations to the superintendent that will outline the path to person-to-person learning.

The working group will be divided into subgroups which will focus on critical areas for a safe return such as social distancing, vaccination, testing, classroom capacity, PPE and health supplies and transmission rates.

The working group will also pay attention to changes in and emerging guidance and regulations from national and state government entities – the CDC, the Massachusetts departments of Elementary and Secondary Education and of Public Health – on opening schools, follow COVID cases and trends as well as focusing on possible additional funding available from the Biden administration which will be in line with his initiative of ramping up the opening of a majority of K-8 schools in the first 100 days of the Biden presidency.

The group will be one of the largest in town history: 27 members – represented by teachers, students, residents, health officials and the school committee – meeting weekly with biweekly public gatherings to provide updates and receive feedback and insight from the public and other stakeholders. The members will be selected Feb. 9.

Phelan sees the working group laboring through February and March with its final recommendations submitted to him by late March/Early April.

“There’s going to be a lot of work to do with the context of the work ever changing,” Phelan said on Jan. 19.

Snow Emergency 2.0: Second Parking Ban In A Week Starts Noon, Sunday

Photo: A second nor’easter in the past week is heading towards Belmont.

For the second time in a week, the town of Belmont has issued a Snow Emergency Parking Ban due to what the National Weather Service is calling a “quick hitting” snow storm that could produce up to an inch of snow an hour at the height of the nor’easter.

The ban begins at noon, Sunday, Feb. 7 and will last until further notice. Parking is prohibited on roadways, municipal and school parking lots. Vehicles in violation may be towed.

The NWS Boston station, which issued a Winter Weather Advisory, reported the winter storm will bring accumulating snow to much of southern New England Sunday. Snowfall may be heavy at times and cause hazardous travel.

The latest information as of 3:34 a.m. Sunday has the snow beginning before noon and lasting until 10 p.m. to midnight with up to six inches of snow on the way.

School Committee OKs 2021-2022 Calendar; Late Start on Sept. 9 Due To Construction, Religious Concerns

Photo: The calendar for the 2021-22 school year

It will be a later start than anticipated for the next school year as the Belmont School Committee unanimously approved the 2021-2022 school calendar, one which nearly all in the committee and district is hoping is a return to “normal.”

The delay of more than a week in the start date for the nearly 4,800 students is due to a pair of events; the opening of the high school wing of the new Belmont Middle and High School and observance of a Jewish High Holiday.

While existing district policy calls for the school year to start the Wednesday before the holiday when Labor Day occurs later than Sept. 3, Superintendent John Phelan told the committee the first day of classroom study for students – COVID variants pending – will move from Sept. 1 to Sept. 8, as “we need to consider starting after Labor Day for the construction project.”

The committee also voted unanimously to push the start back an extra day to Thursday, Sept. 9 in deference to the final day of Rosh Hosannah, the Jewish New Year. The vote runs counter to School Committee policy passed in 2016 after a contentious debate to no longer celebrate Christian and Jewish religious observances as official district holidays.

But Committee member Amy Checkoway, who sought the extra day delay, the holiday comes on the important first day of school in what she hopes is “a normal-ish year.”

Committee Chair Andrea Prestwich noted that the collision of one of the “most important Jewish holidays” and the opening of the school year creates “a perfect storm” of competing pressures on many families in Belmont.

While she supported the existing language not to favor religions over others on the calendar, Prestwich said she changed her mind because it is the very first day of school. Taking time off on that day would be more disruptive than any other day of the year, she said.

Committee member Michael Crowley said because a significant number of teachers and students when they all are needed to be in the classroom.

“It’s just not the best choice for a first day of school,” said Crowley, one of the five votes in favor of starting schools two days further down the calendar.

Highlights of the ’21-’22 calendar are:

  • The start of school for grades 1-12 takes place on Thursday, Sept. 9 with kindergarten half days on Friday, Sept. 10 and Monday, Sept. 13.
  • Winter recess will begin on Friday, Dec. 24 with a return to school on Jan. 3, 2022.
  • The week long February recess will take place the week of Feb. 21 and
  • Spring recess April 18 – 22
  • The last day (which includes the five snow days) will be tentatively Monday, June 27.

How Much Will The Override Add To Your Tax Bill? Belmont Has A Calculator For That

Photo: The town has created a calculator to determine your taxes with a successful override. (Credit: Wikipedia)

One of the burning questions that many homeowners have with the proposed $6.4 million Proposition 2 1/2 override is “how much will it cost me?” The first estimate from town officials gave a general idea of the price tag: about an extra $900 per year on the “average” property valued at $1,125,000.

But that round figure was not cutting it for many owners who asked the town in previous public meetings to come up with someway make the cost a bit more specific.

They asked, and the town now has the answer. The town has created the Override Impact Calculator, a simple application in which all a person needs to do is input their address and the calculator will take the latest assessed value and calculate both the override amount and the annual 2 1/2 percent tax increase.

“This came out of [Financial] Task Force meetings with the hope to get more information to the residents,” said Town Administrator Patrice Garvin who helped introduce the override calculator at the Select Board meeting on Monday, Feb. 1.

“This is an opportunity for us to get beyond just the averages and talk about specifically how individual homeowners and taxpayers are impact so I think it’s great,” said Board member Tom Caputo, who is also the chair of the task force.

Snow Emergency Parking Ban Ends; Now Clear Your Sidewalk

Photo: It’s the rules – shovel the sidewalk outside your house. (Credit: Belmont Police Department)

The Belmont Department of Public Works reports the snow emergency parking ban has been lifted as of 9:45 a.m., Tuesday, Feb. 2 (Groundhog Day).

After the end of the snow fall, the Office of Community Development reminds residents the town’s residential snow removal bylaw requires sidewalks along residential property be cleared of snow and ice by 8 p.m. the day after a storm ends. With regards to last night’s storm, snow and ice should be cleared or treated from sidewalks to a width of at least 36 inches by 8 p.m. tomorrow night, Wednesday Feb. 3.

The town appreciates residents attention to this very important public safety matter. Please refer to the town’s web site for further information regarding winter weather and the town’s snow removal bylaw.