Photo: Elizabeth Dionne
Editor’s Note: This letter was presented to Belmont Town Meeting Members before the beginning of the Special Town Meeting on Nov. 6.
Many of you have approached me with questions about Civil Service, what it requires and how it operates. As non-experts, we all need reliable information.
The best source of information I have found on Civil Service in Belmont is in the 2022 Report from Belmont’s Structural Change Impact Group: “Recommendations to Improve Belmont’s Finances and Operations.” Anne Helgen’s “Idea #33—Civil Service” report is balanced and thorough. During her 12 years of service on the Warrant Committee, Anne has demonstrated absolute integrity and impressive financial expertise. She is a reliable narrator. There is no one whose judgment I trust more.
You can access the SCIG Report here. The Civil Service report is on pp. 43-54 (pp. 50-61 of the .pdf contents in the left-hand sidebar).
I support leaving the Civil Service for one compelling reason: Belmont’s Police Department has an ongoing staffing crisis that will become substantially worse in the near future. Leaving Civil Service is necessary in expanding our anemic hiring pool and fully staffing the department.
In 2019, Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac advised the Warrant Committee that he needed help to fill chronically open spots in the department. Despite diligent hiring efforts in the intervening years, those spots remain open. A few years from now, long-time officers will begin to retire, exacerbating an already dire hiring situation.
If Town Meeting votes to remain in Civil Service, then we need to reduce our policing expectations to match available resources, rather than demanding that current officers cover an ongoing personnel deficit. It is unsustainable and unfair to ask current officers to cover the work of the eight currently open positions for years at a time. It is bad for morale, and it is bad for Belmont.
However, Belmont residents want more effective policing, not less. They are justifiably concerned about school safety, gun violence, mental health responses, and threats to pedestrian and cyclist safety from overly aggressive cross-town traffic. As an aside: Earlier this week, my cyclist husband had yet another near-collision with a car leaving the Belmont Hill School. Again, these are areas where residents are demanding an increased public safety presence.
Without explicit authorization from the Town Meeting to leave Civil Service, the Town administration has been unsuccessful in negotiating departure terms with police unions. In April 2021, the administration presented the unions with a good-faith plan to replace Civil Service. One of the two unions failed even to respond. This followed clear statements from the public safety unions that they would never voluntarily leave the Civil Service. We are at an impasse. Further action depends on an affirmative vote of the Town Meeting.
The Belmont Police Department has faced a hiring crisis for a number of years, and that hiring crisis will become worse in the very near future. Leaving the Civil Service is a necessary step in expanding our applicant pool.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter.
Vice Chair, Belmont Select Board
PS: Regarding police compensation in Belmont, the following chart from the Belmont Citizen-Herald (May 8, 2023) is instructive:
Belmont’s 25 highest paid employees in 2022 (total pay)
- Superintendent of Schools John Phelan, $271,178
- Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, $220,353
- Police Officer Franz Strassmann, $220,066
- Police Capt. Christopher Donohue, $216,652
- Police Lt. Shiraz Banosian, $215,674
- Police Lt. Darin Demagistris, $210,584
- Belmont Light General Manager Craig Spinale, $210,332
- Police Chief James MacIsaac, $197,113
- Police Sgt. David Sullivan, $192,419
- Director of Community Development Glenn Clancy, $187,921
- Belmont Light Director of Engineering and Operations Mark Piccarini, $185,665
- Police Sgt. Paul Garabedian, $181,788
- Belmont Light Assistant General Manager Sanjin Osmancevic, $181,758
- Assistant Superintendent of Schools Janice Darias, $178,673
- Police Sgt. Brendan Young, $175,464
- Belmont Public Schools Director of Finance and Operations Anthony DiCologero, $171,694
- Police Capt. Brendan O’Leary, $171,280
- Assistant Public Work Director/Highway Division Manager Michael Santoro, $170,901
- Police Sgt. Richard Murphy, $170,557
- Butler Elementary School ELE teacher Meghan Gallagher, $169,295
- Belmont Public Schools’ Director of Human Capital Michael McAllister, $169,150
- Belmont Light Lead Line Worker Thomas Ricci, $168,974
- Public Works Director Jason Marcotte, $167,582
- Police Sgt. Marc Pugliese, $166,220
- Belmont Light First Class Line Worker Nicholas Kacoyanis, $163,648