Photo: Town meeting.
It’s the final night of the 2018 Belmont Town Meeting and the only suspense will be how early we end the session.
I’m predicting 9:15 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. while Ann Marie Mahoney and Ellen Cushman believe 9:45 p.m. to 10 p.m.
We are underway at 7:06 p.m.
Moderator Mike Widmer gives a well-earned shout out to the Town Clerk staff and employees of the town which put together the meeting.
A heartfelt tribute by Town Meeting to Dan Kelleher, Belmont’s Mr. Hockey, who recently passed away.
7:15 p.m.: State Rep. David Rogers gives his report, the highlights are an increase in general government funds by 3.5 percent that helps the town’s overall revenue picture. Belmont will see an increase in ed funding (Chapter 70) by 16 percent. Increases in higher ed scholarship and financial aid, METCO, and legal aid. Legislatively, Rogers points to criminal justice reform, media literacy, restrict access to firearms for those who pose a significant danger to themselves or others, and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.
7:30 p.m.: Bill Lovallo, chair of the Belmont High School Building Committee, presents a project update of the proposed building. Widmer is allowing Lovallo 30 minutes to make the case for the $300 million 7-12 grade building. The reason for the new school is due to skyrocketing enrollment causing overcrowding, and the high school is no longer big enough to hold the students who will attend in the future. The physical plant is threadbare and falling apart. How to make the improvement? “The when is now,” said Lovallo. If a debt exclusion is approved by voters in November, construction will begin in June of ’19 with the 12-9 grade building open in 2021 and the rest of the building in 2022. “We are at a crossroads,” he said. “We have a one time opportunity to find a solution for overcrowding,” he said. Lovallo is greeted with a round of applause for a very effective speech.
8:05 p.m.: Floyd Carman, town treasurer, presents the first article of the night, Article 24, which adjusts the benefit to spousal survivors from $6,000 to $12,000 for three residents. Selectmen and Warrant Committee vote favorable It will increase the budget by $15,500. For more information, read about it here. Carman said it’s an issue of fairness for “short money.” Selectman Chair Dash said he voted against the measure last year and while he remains worried about unfunded pensions and benefits, it only increases that amount by a small amount. The question is called and passes 191-24.
8:18 p.m.: Article 25 is the increase in the cost of living adjustment for town employees from $12,000 to $13,000, which will increase the unfunded liability $873,000 to be 100 percent by 2029 or about $130,000 by fiscal 2020. The selectmen voted yes, 3-0, while the Warrant Committee voted it down, 10-3. Bob McLaughlin, pct 2, said: “Enough is enough.” The town is not obligated to increase this benefit and “we can’t afford it.” The town meeting needs to show fiscal responsibility knowing that in five months voters will ask to approve a $225 million debt exclusion for a new high school. He fears that voting for added debt is poorly thought out. Geoffrey Lubien and Michael Crowley of the Warrant Committee said the town can support the debt (adding 1 percent on an $80 million debt) without affecting the overall fiscal health of the town, saying that savings can be found to fund the additional liability. Both talked about fairness to former employees. Jack Weis and Anne Helgen also of the Warrant Committee voted against the measure in the committee. Roy Epstein, chair of the Warrant Committee, said its a mistake to think that all retirees are living in poverty, that we don’t know what other income retirees have available to them. He said the $130,000 added debt is a big deal and it shouldn’t be minimized. Dash said last year the cola increase was higher but the retirement board came back with a smaller increase and the town should show the board some flexibility. In an emotional appeal, Kathleen “Fitzie” Cowing, pct 8, said the idea that public servants have “other” sources of retirement income is a fantasy. As a teacher married to a police officer – neither receiving social security – Cowing said the pension is a necessity. The motion is called and it passes 134 – 83 and I lose my bet.
8:51 p.m.: Now before the members is Article 14, which asks the town to appropriate $770,000 to cap the incinerator on Concord Avenue. Glen Clancy, director of Community Development, gives a history of the site and the hoops the town had to jump through to own the land from the state. The town has a balance of $754,000 appropriated by past town meetings in 2007 and 2013 – years the Red Sox have won the world series! – to cap the site. It’s estimated that it will take $1,524,000 over the next two years to clean the site, which is the $770,000 coming from the town’s stabilization fund which is currently $3.5 million. The new amount for the fund after the $770,000 will be $2.7 million. With an estimate of $3.6 million to cap the site creates a shortfall of $743,340 which Mr. Clancy has no idea how that will be paid for. Passes on a voice vote.
9:13 p.m.: After the required five-minute break, the fiscal year ’19 budget comes before the Town Meeting. Epstein presents an overview of the budget. Some good news but a lot of apprehensions in the near future with an operational override likely.
9:33 p.m.: Here we go with the budget which is Article 19:
Employee benefits, retirement expenses: $7.9 million. Passes.
Employee benefits, other reserves: $3.3 million. Passes.
Public Safety: $14.5 million. Claus Becker, pct 5, has been asking for the past years for more data and information to compare with other communities so to benchmark expenses. Christine Doyle, pct 1, said this data research is important not just for public safety but throughout all departments. Selectman Mark Paolillo said, in fact, the information is out there and it should be provided, Passes.
Public Schools: $57.0 million. Superintendent John Phelan presents the budget which includes the always frightening enrollment numbers – there is going to be 1,667 high school students in the near future! – how the district compares with other towns, the number of positions added in the coming year, and a lot of detail. Judith Feins, pct 6, urges caution on predicting that enrollment will only go up as there is a baby bust in the nation, and the department should not be locked into the numbers the district is predicting. Sue Bass, pct 2, agrees with Feins that the enrollment numbers appear to be out of whack. Paul Roberts, pct 8, said while the district