League Of Women Voters, Warrant Committee Holding Briefing On Town Meeting Segment A On Wednesday

Photo: The Belmont League of Women Voters will co-host this virtual briefing

The Belmont League of Women Voters and the town’s Warrant Committee will co-host a virtual Warrant Briefing preceding the first night of the 2024 Town Meeting on Wednesday, April 24, at 7 p.m.

Here is the opportunity for Town Meeting members and residents to ask questions about articles in the non-budget warrant – known as Segment A – that will come before the annual Town Meeting starting on Monday, April 29. Town officials and department heads will be present to provide information.

Chair of the Warrant Committee Geoffrey Lubien will moderate the meeting.

Town Meeting Members and residents will have several viewing options to attend on Wednesday:

  • https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86137044412; Zoom meeting ID: 861 3704 4412
  • Live broadcast: Belmont Ch 8 (Comcast); Ch 28 (Verizon)
  • Livestream or on-demand at belmontmedia.org/watch/govtv

State Rep Rogers Announces April Office Hours 

Photo: State Rep Dave Rogers

State Rep. Dave Rogers has announced his April office hours. They will be:

  • Tuesday, April 9, from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St.
  • Tuesday, April 15, from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at the Belmont Cafe, 80 Leonard St.
  • Thursday, April 18, from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Dunkin Donuts in North Cambridge, 2480 Massachusetts Ave
  • Monday, April 22, from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Robbins Library in Arlington, 700 Massachusetts Ave.

Feel free to contact Rogers’ office anytime with questions by phone at 617-722-2263 or email at dave.rogers@mahouse.gov

Select Board Votes To Return To A Live Only Annual Town Meeting

Photo: The newly organized Select Board: (from left) Member Roy Epstein, Chair Elizabeth Dionne, and Vice Chair Matt Taylor.

For the first time since 2019, the annual Town Meeting will be in person without a virtual component to assist members who may find it difficult to attend due to medical concerns or competing interests.

The vote on what format the town meeting will use—required by a state law that will sunset next year—was held at an abbreviated Friday morning session on April 5, during the board’s yearly organizational meeting. Elizabeth Dionne was selected as the group’s Chair, Taylor as vice chair, and Roy Epstein reverted to being a member. Epstein will continue to chair the board to allow for continuity during the two Town Meeting segments in April and June.

Dionne will take the middle seat at board meetings beginning July 1, the first day of the fiscal year.

The newly constituted board’s initial business was determining the setup of the annual Town Meeting. Town Moderator Mike Widmer and Town Clerk Ellen Cushman—the two officials who manage the Town Meeting—were asked for their recommendations on whether the meeting should be held in person, in a hybrid setting, or virtually, as has been the case for the past four years.

Widmer emphasized his own “strong feeling of the importance of an in-person meeting,” citing the value of community engagement and active debate, which has been tempered ever since the meetings were held virtually due to restrictions on large gatherings after the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020.

When the town switched to a hybrid mix of live and virtual attendees at the 2023 annual meeting, more than 25 percent of members chose to stay at home rather than venture to the high school auditorium. This high number of virtual attendees “undermines the in-person nature of the event,” Widmer said, begging the question of even having an in-the-flesh gathering.

“Because if you think a remote meeting is the equivalent to a live meeting, you may as well dispense with live meetings,” said Epstein.

Cushman acknowledged the challenges of hybrid meetings on the time of town staff and the added cost of $2,100 per hybrid session. Like Widmer, Cushman believed that a live meeting allows members to “read the room” during debate on articles.

“And it’s not just the social aspect … it’s deciding to listen a little more closely when you hear that people are in favor of someone, it’s deciding to understand a little bit better when people aren’t in favor,” said Cushman. “I’m leaning towards, in person [Town Meeting], for connections, community, and understanding.”

Dionne said that in addition to the fact that the quality of debate is better in person and an important piece of community building, “[u]nfortunately … during remote-only meetings, it was fairly clear that often times people were not paying attention to the presentations, based on questions that were asked that had clearly been already answered.”

While the virtual component of a hybrid format was meant for emergencies. “that’s not how it was used,” said Dionne.

He said that he “love[s] in-person town meetings. I think everyone should give it a try,” Taylor told his colleagues that the issue facing the board is “access to being a representative … the ability to attend town meeting still, if you have an illness, or mobility concerns or caring for family or other needs, that might otherwise need you to miss Town Meeting, and not be able to represent our precinct,” which a hybrid option can make a difference.

For Dionne, it is up to members to decide if they can be full-time Town Meeting members.

‘There are different points in your life that you can take on this challenge. ‘Can I give eight nights?’ ‘Can I do that for my community?’ Or is it just not the time I can do that because I care for an elderly parent or children at home. I’m a single parent, and I fear I cannot make childcare arrangements. So [members] need to make that choice long before the Town Meeting happens. Whether they really can do that and I appreciate that it’s not everyone can do it all the time,” she said.

While the board was open to setting aside a small number of hybrid slots for members who need medical care or have unexpected events, the cost and how to allocate the virtual spots could not be resolved.

The board voted 2-1 (Taylor voting no) that the 2024 annual Town Meeting be held in person only, starting with Segment A, the non-budget articles, on April 30 at 7 p.m.

“Put [the date] in your book,” said O’Brien.

Town Election: Yes On Override; Wins For Taylor, Widmer, Moriarty And Kraft; Assessors Question Too Close To Call

Photo: Warden Robert McKie reads out the preliminary results from precinct 2 on Tuesday night

Belmont voters approved a record $8.4 million Proposition 2 1/2 override by a comfortable 1,000-plus vote margin at the annual Town Election held on Tuesday, April 2.

The final tally was 5,120 in the yes column and 4,050 nos as voters accepted the positive argument from the “yes” campaigners to preserve public services and safety and protect Belmont schools from losing educators and maintain its outstanding reputation.

“I think it’s that people love their community,” said Erin Rowland, the campaign manager for Invest In Belmont, the “yes” campaign, when asked the compelling reason voters where willing to increase the property tax just three years after rejecting a smaller override request.

”We want the to see the town thrive and continue to be successful, and that’s the reason people came together. What was so heartwarming about working on the campaign was the outpouring of support from a wide range of residents,” she said in a crowded second floor lobby in Town Hall where candidates, observers and many candidates came after the polls closed at 8 p.m.

Invest in Belmont Chair David Lind said the town has “been through a hard few years and we were in a tough spot financially. I believe that [the override] gets us back onto a better track so we can all work together and keep Belmont as the town that we all know land love.”

Rowland, who was a winner in her race to be selected to Town Meeting from Precinct 6, said she fully understood that Tuesday’s results will be difficult for many residents, especially senior on fixed incomes.

”We are one community and we want to do everything we can to see Belmont implement senior [property] tax relief. We understand that need and it’s very real and we’ll do everything that we can to promote that,” she said.

In the night’s nail biter, voters approved making the Board of Assessors an appointed body by a mere eight votes, 4,218 to 4,210. With 50 ballots – from residents overseas and in the military as well as provisional ballots – yet to be counted, the race is too close to be called.

Final results will be released by the Town Clerk’s office by Friday or Saturday. Unofficial results as of Tuesday at 10 p.m. can be seen here.

In the race to replace Mark Paolillo on the Select Board, Matt Taylor defeated his Warrant Committee colleague Geoff Lubien by 600 votes, 3,851 to 3,248, with newcomer Alex Howard taking home 659 votes.

“I began [this campaign] genuinely wanting to connect with people and doing that in a deeply personal way,” said Taylor after feeling “so separated from our local government and our residents coming out of the pandemic. So I knocked on nearly 1,700 doors. I had a lot of one-on-one conversations. It was very grassroots.”

”I have a lot of hope and I’m ready to work because this is a level where you get to make a real positive difference about the people around you,” said Taylor. “We have to reach out to residents and invite them in to have a broader two-way discussion. It brings us together. This is an “us” thing.”

Voters acknowledged incumbent Meg Moriarty’s successful tenure as the two-term chair of the School Committee by returning her to the board. Moriarty topped the three-person field for the two available three-year seats garnering 5,354 votes.

“[Winning] means I get to keep talking about all of our great students and it’s all about doing best for every single student in our schools,” Moriarty said at Town Hall Tuesday night after the results were read by Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman.

With her return to the School Committee, Moriarty will provide a continuity on the six member body “that helps tremendously” as it “helps keeps the momentum moving forward” on several of initiatives that Superintendent Jill Geiser has proposed.

Joining her on the committee will be first-time candidate Matt Kraft. The Brown University professor took home 5,176 votes, while recent Belmont High School graduate, current Emerson College student and Town Meeting member Angus Abercrombie collected 2,792 votes.

“I hope to take the opportunity to listen and learn both from my fellow school committee members and Belmont residents about our priorities and build on the three year strategic plan that the district is developing,” said Kraft who arrived to Town Hall with his wife and two kids after enjoying Taco Tuesday.

Speaking as the new body on the committee, “I think part of the hard work is to work collaboratively and collectively. And I look forward to those conversations that I know some will be difficult. But that’s the job. We all have a shared commitment towards strengthening our schools for all the students and in building towards, frankly, a brighter future.”

”People understood that experience is really important, and that running Town Meeting is very demanding. I’ve done it for all these years and voters felt that I had done well in the position,” said Widmer who announced earlier in the year that this term would be his final one as moderator.

Vote! Town Election 2024: Tuesday, April 2; All You Need To Know

Photo: Go out and vote!

Belmont’s annual Town Election is today, Tuesday, April 2!

A list of the candidates for town-wide office and Town Meeting, as well as information on the two ballot questions – for an appointed board of assessors and a $8.4 million Proposition 2 1/2 override – can be found in the Belmont League of Women Voters guide.

Registered voters may cast their ballots in person only on Election Day; polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the following polling locations: 

  • Precinct One: Beth El Temple, Zonis Auditorium, 2 Concord Ave.
  • Precinct Two: Belmont Town Hall, Select Board Room, 455 Concord Ave.
  • Precinct Three: Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St.
  • Precinct Four: Daniel Butler School Gym, 90 White St.
  • Precinct Five: Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St.
  • Precinct Six: Belmont Fire Headquarters,  299 Trapelo Rd.
  • Precinct Seven: Burbank School Gym, 266 School St.
  • Precinct Eight: Winn Brook School Gym, 97 Waterhouse Rd., enter from Cross Street.

If you are wondering if you are a registered voter and your voting precinct, go to the Town Clerk’s web page or phone the Town Clerk’s office at 617-993-2600.

Election results will first be announced at Town Hall after the polls close with unofficial results for the two ballot questions, town wide and Town Meeting races located on the Town Clerk’s website early Wednesday morning.

Town Raises Senior Property Tax Work-Off Amount To $2,000

Photo: Flag with the town seal of Belmont

After discussing the move for a better part of a year, the Belmont Select Board voted unanimously Monday, March 25, to raise by $500 to $2,000 the amount seniors can work for the town to pay off a portion of their local property tax bill.

The town’s Senior Citizen Tax Work-Off program is available to seniors 60 or older, Under this “work” initiative, cities and towns appropriate funds to employ seniors who perform needed work for the community at an hourly rate equal to the state’s minimum wage of $15 per hour, according to state documents.

Currently, eight homeowners participate in the program. The additional $4,000 expended in a full year with the same participants will come out of the overlay/free cash line item.

Details of the expanded program will be sent to seniors via inserts in town bills and through contacts at the Beech Street Center.

The state has recently given select boards and city councils the local option to raise the exemption to the $2,000 threshold amount without requiring Town Meeting approval, Patrice Garvin, town administrator, told the board.

When Board member Mark Paolillo, in his penultimate meeting before leaving the board after serving 12 years, asked what other municipal programs are available for senior tax relief, fellow board member Elizabeth Dionne said creating such a plan would require “the full and active participation of the Board of Assessors.”

“We would need to know what the cost shift [from seniors to the greater taxpayer base] and how many [seniors] are likely to take advantage of it,” she said. Since such a proposal would change every property owners’ tax rate, the town would need to send a home-rule petition to Beacon Hill for state legislature approval and finally for it to be placed on the town ballot for an up or down vote.

Even though the shift would likely be small, unless there is a specific dollar amount attached via the Assessors, “it’s probably dead in the water.”

Board Chair Roy Epstein said senior tax relief was actually a doable proposal in the past two years, only to falter due to inaction by the assessors in drafting the language to present to the legislature which was promised to Epstein.

“I think this is a question for, maybe, after April 2,” said Epstein, referring to after the town’s annual Election where a ballot question will determine whether the Board of Assessors will remain an elected committee or revert to an appointed one.

Brownsberger Seeking Applicants For Summer Internships

Photo: State Sen. Will Brownsberger is accepting summer internship applications (The Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill, Boston (Credit: Upstateherd – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62661950)

The Office of State Sen. Will Brownsberger is accepting applications for part-time, unpaid general office and legislative internships for the summer of 2024. Applications are due Monday, April 8.

Read our website post for details about the internships and how to apply. 

Questions? Contact Eric Helmuth – eric.helmuth@masenate.gov – Brownsberger’s chief of staff.

Some Good News As Rink Project Avoids Environmental Surprises; Next Up, A Budget

Photo: All that remains of the former “Skip” rink is a large puddle.

There was a collective sigh of relief from the Municipal Skating Rink Building Committee last week as the $29.9 million project dodged two potentially worrisome environmental issues that turned out to be duds.

“We have two pieces of good news,” Rink Building Committee Chair Mark Haley told the committee.

In the first case, an underground fuel tank that was punctured during the building’s demolition had leaked “a small amount” of oil, which was mitigated as the soil was shipped off to an EPA-registered landfill. A second potential setback involving untreated asbestos discovered during the building’s tear-down was also limited to a part of the old rink’s slab where the ice was made.

“We hauled it away last week,” said Haley.

The meeting came as the committee is preparing to receive a first set of firm cost estimates from the builder Skanska—the general contractor for the Middle and High School project—on the cost of the rink’s construction, which has been a point of contention for several committee members.

“I have to ask a basic question: What’s the bottom line? I haven’t seen any numbers. What is the bottom line here?” asked Ann Marie Mahoney, a veteran of several building committees who has been requesting an overview.

Skanska – an international project development and construction company with a major office in Boston – has a typical construction contract with the town, as does Galante, the project’s architect. The building committee has employed CHA as the OPM (Owners Project Manager) to handle the project.

Over the past months, Skanska has been seeking cost estimates on some of the project’s major components, such as building the concrete foundation, ice surface, and mechanicals. Currently, the committee is working with broad estimates on each of the building’s components. Only with the cost estimates in hand can the building committee “understand the value of each of these elements, and then can we assess whether or not it’s worth the value to keep it or take it out,” said Haley.

Anticipating the likelihood of cuts, the rink’s architect, Ted Galante, has begun an early round of value engineering, a process of reviewing the building’s designs to reduce costs while increasing functionality to increase the product’s value. Haley points to “accouterments and adornments” that were added to spruce up the pre-engineered metal building, pointing to an overhang/canopy that is adjacent to the building’s entrance or a concrete masonry wall that runs along the base of the structure.

One area that will see a reduction in seating capacity is currently 400. “In a perfect world, we would have more seats, but state building codes would then require additional plumbing fixtures,” which would hike the overall cost, said Galante.

One decision that could affect long-term savings – but with a higher upfront price tag – is the system used to refrigerate the ice. Most of the building committee is leaning toward a CO2 system popular in Canada and at professional hockey rinks. Currently, the direct competitor to CO2 is Freon, a chlorofluorocarbon that is a highly potent greenhouse gas that faces increasing restrictions on its use by the federal government. While CO2 is low, the mechanical system tends to be more expensive as it relies on high pressure to work efficiently.

If the cost estimates come in on the high side in April, Haley said the committee will need to “take more of a cleaver” to the project, impacting the programs the rink was heralded to undertake for the school athletics and the town’s recreation department. But as of the meeting, he was hesitant to make any major adjustments to the new rink until he has the numbers in hand.

“We’ve been looking at how to effectively build the rink in a way that can navigate the budget and make sure we get the project we want,” said Haley. That’s why we don’t want to cut things out of the project now and then find out later that when we buy it all, we have to put things … back,” he said.

The committee continues to believe the rink will be ready for the start of the fall recreation department programs in 2025 and the high school hockey season of 2025-6.

[Correction: In an earlier version of this article, the project is a “design-build” project. That description was in error.]

The League Of Women Voters Annual Candidates’ Night A Virtual Event March 21

Photo:

Belmont residents will be able to don their pajamas while having dinner as they are introduced to the contestants for town-wide office and Town Meeting seats as the Belmont League of Women Voters is holding its third virtual Candidates’ Night on Thursday, March 21 at 7 p.m.

The evening will begin with a “parade” of Town Meeting Member candidates from each of the town’s eight precincts, followed by short speeches and a round of Questions and Answers with the town-wide candidates including those running for Town Moderator, Select Board, and two seats on the School Committee.

The night will conclude with information on the two ballot questions: the proposed $8.4 million Proposition 2 1/2 override and a change from an elected to an appointed board of assessors.

And the league wants residents to remember that the Town Election takes place this year on Tuesday, April 2.

No Love For Donald In Belmont As Haley Wins Presidential Primary; Biden Is Dems Preference

Photo: Town Clerk Ellen Cushman announcing state presidential primary results

While the results of Super Tuesday’s Republican Presidential Primaries held across the country on March 5 solidified his hold on the party, Donald Trump did not find the same level of love in the Town of Homes.

The former president and leading GOP presidential candidate came out second best in Belmont, trailing former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, 1,140 to 851 (55 percent to 41 percent), in the Republican contest. Former NJ Gov. Chris Christie lead the also rans with 25 votes, followed by “no preference” (23), Vivek Ramaswamy (12), Ron DeSantis (9) and Asa Huchinson with 6.

Belmont Republicans proved themselves as outliers as Trump handily won the Bay State, picking up all the available 40 delegates with 60 percent of the vote to Haley’s 37 percent. Haley would suspend her campaign on Wednesday, March 6.

You can find the unofficial results for all races at the Town Clerk’s webpage.

Over on the Democratic side of the ledger, incumbent president Joe Biden secured 3,146 votes of the 3,820 ballots cast by those affiliated with the Democratic party. Just under 10 percent of the Democratic vote, 375 in total, where marked as “no preference.” Dean Phillips (123) and Marianne Williamson (95) also received votes.

“No Preference” topped the field in the Libertarian race with 12 votes, tripling the tally of Jacob George Hornberger with 4.

Belmont Democrats elected Steven Owens as the State Committee Man and Jessica Nahigian as State Committee Woman while the Republicans selected John and Catherine Umina as their representatives.

There was no surprise who topped the field for each parties 35 member Town Committee: Anne Mahon for the Democrats and Tomi Olson for the Republicans.

A total of 5,934 ballots (out of 18,217 voters in town) were cast, with 64 percent Democratic ballots and 35 percent Republican.

It was slightly past 10 p.m. when Town Clerk Ellen Cushman read the primary results, a delay of nearly 90 minutes. A surge of last-minute ballots placed in the town’s drop box at Town Hall created the night’s backlog as each dropped-off ballot is required to be brought to the voter’s precinct to be tallied.