Belmont Town Meeting: Night 2, May 6

Photo: Belmont T0wn Meeting.

Welcome back to the 156th annual Belmont Town Meeting. Tonight’s the second night of Town Meeting with the Community Preservation Committee’s grants up for debate and transfers. 

7:05 p.m.: And we are off … five minutes late, as usual. 

7:08 p.m.: Moderator Mike Widmer announced that Article 9 will be reconsidered in June. In addition, Widmer said he was a “stunned as you” to have heard the Lord’s Prayer by one of the religious leaders who gave the invocation. “We hope that this will not happen again.” Widmer said the Lord’s Pray is a beautiful one but it does violate the separation of church and state. 

Long-standing member are recognized.

7:15 p.m.: A commemoration of the Waverley Trail with a special proclamation from the Department of Interior and the US Park Service recognizing the trail as a National Recreation Trail. What a great honor for the town.

 7:28 p.m.: An we are off with presentations.

First up is Jim Palmer, GM of Belmont Light, with an update on the substation project. Palmer said that permitting, engineering and procurement is nearly complete while construction is 10 percent complete. A June 2016 completion date for the project “is still achievable.” The project is on budget. But there are challenges ahead like managing contracts and working with the MBTA. 

7:36 p.m.: The Special Town Meeting is next with a pair of articles: to allow for the transfer of money from reserve accounts to pay down the deficits in the school department (about a half-a-million dollars due largely to skyrocketing special education costs) and about $750,000 in the snow removal account. 

First up, Article 1, a historic winter left the snow and ice account about $750,000 in the red. That money will come from free cash. Typically, Belmont gets 50 inches, we got more than 100 inches, and that will cost money, said David Kale, Town Administrator. Belmont could see between $250,000 to $275,000 in federal emergency fund but it’s not likely it will be received by June 30; when it comes in, it goes to free cash. The article is adopted unanimously. 

Article 2, seeks a transfer of $285K from the Warrant Committee’s reserve fund and $250K from the Special Ed Stabilization Fund to cover the deficit in the School Department. The reason for the debt: special ed costs

Discussion? Vincent Stanton, Pct, 2, will special ed cost fluctuation or is this systemic? Professional opinion by John Phelan, superintendent, is that growth will continue. Follow up, is there some way to bring special ed students back to town? Currently, there is not sufficient space, said Phelan, and that would help. And with students with like needs, you can begin and grow programs to bring the number down. No other discussion. The article passes with one negative voice vote. Electronically, the vote is 233 to 11.

 Now back to the regular meeting. Up is the Community Preservation Committee grants of $1.1 million.  

They, all community generated, are:

  • Belmont Veterans Memorial Project: $150,000,
  • Wellington Station exterior restoration and rehabilitation: $26,300,
  • Electrical upgrade at units owned by the Belmont Housing Authority: $522,500,
  • Digitization of historic Belmont newspapers from 1890 to 1983: $25,000.
  • Rehabilitation and restoration of the 1853 Homer House: $100,000.
  • Upgrade and restore the Pequossette Park tennis courts: $295,000.

Each grant gets its own update. PQ courts are in rough shape, said DPW director Jay Marcotte. So all four courts will be removed and refilled. It will take 30 to 60 days to do and will last 20 years. Jennifer Page, Pct. 3, wonders if this is too much money to pay to preserve tennis courts. Maryann Scali, Pct. 2, said let’s repair them correctly so the town has many years of playing on it. Sylvia Cruz, Pct. 5, asked shouldn’t the town look at recreation activities more broadly, once again wondering if this is a lot of money for courts. We spend $295,000 on courts when if the town looked broadly that the money could be used elsewhere. Floyd Carman, Town Treasurer and member of the Community Preservation Committee said the CPC looks at all applications but it has to be brought to the committee. Deb Lockett, Pct. 7, asked if outside sources which use the courts could pay the town for its use. Anthony Ferrante, Pct. 8 and CPC member, said a task force is being created that will look at all courts to determine usage and support. The measure is adopted. 

Next up is the Veterans Memorial Project. Kevin Ryan, chair of the project’s committee, describes the project. The project can be finished by Veteran’s Day in November, he said.

Vince Stanton, Pct. 2, said the memorial is described as a park, has landscaping been discussed? Ryan said the group did not but hope that groups that does it now will continue to do so. The project is adopted unanimously

Susan Smart, director of the Homer House, describes the restoration project which includes repairing the cupola and three porches which are in bad shape. This will lay the foundation for private, state and possibly federal contributions. Support this because of cultural tourism, as a television crew said how wonderful the house remain. “Thank goodness for those dames,” one said for saving the project. The great Belmontian Lydia Ogilby, Pct. 1, said she supports the project “because I’m one of those dames.” The article is adopted unanimously. 

The Belmont Public Library submitted the digitalization of old Belmont newspapers. Kathleen Keohane, Pct. 2, and head of the Board of Library Trustees, said the reason to computerize papers from 1890 to 1923 will make it searchable which makes it easier to research and use. Many towns are doing this and the Boston Public Library is creating a digitization lab to make the content is accessible to the country and world. Don Mercier, Pct 8, can this information be placed on a hard disk for our own files. Yes, that information will have access – maybe not on disk – and you can tell how many people use it. Mercier wonders if the information can be on a hard disk – “not on that sky thing” – and use it for the town’s purposes. Penelope Schafer, Pct. 7, asks if the project will move quicker than the town records which received funds in 2013. Town Clerk Ellen Cushman said actually the level of work for the town records was massive and, actually, is about to be completed. The motion is adopted unanimously.

8:54 p.m.: Up now is the Wellington Station restoration. The money will help preserve the well-known landmark adjacent to the First Church, Belmont. It’s been around before Belmont was a town. Vince Stanton, Pct. 3, asked if other funds were sought to help restore the building as the Belmont Historical Society has a bit of money that could have been used. No we didn’t, said Carman. Was there any exploration of having a contractor do the work for a sign? The motion is adopted unanimously. 

9:09 p.m.: “We will be out of here before 11,” said Carman. Yikes! Did the treasurer jinks us?

Donna Hamilton, director of the Belmont Housing Authority, said that this year’s request is the continuation of rewiring the final 19 buildings in Belmont Village. Steve Klionsky, Pct. 6, asks why is the Housing Authority is asking for more money when last year’s money hasn’t been spent yet. Hamilton said the work is currently being bid out, so its heading forward.

Norma Massarotti, Pct 6, asks if the authority should use last year’s money to find out just how much it will cost to perform the work and then come back next year for the rest of the money. Hamilton said the systems need to be upgraded from the existing wires put in the 1940s as tenants have greater electronic needs.

It’s shocking that nothing has been done due to safety reasons, said Christine Kochem, Pct. 8. Hamilton said she agreed, but they wanted to come up with a good plan rather than the quickest. Kochem returned to ask a timetable. Hamilton said first units will be built out soon and the entire two projects should be done by next May.

“I’m very disappointed that you haven’t spent the money from last year. Just for that, I’ll have to vote against it,” said Don Mercier, Pct. 8.

Sylvia Cruz said the CPC should not have to pay to do what the state should be doing as this request takes away the town’s investment in other areas such as open space. There’s some applause.

Sami Baghdady, Selectmen chair, agrees and a letter will be going to the state on this issue. But that should not stop the town from doing repairs for a valuable housing source for low-income residents. He also said this should be done for safety reasons.

The motion is voted on and adopted.

Widmer “really urges” Town Meeting Members to get as many questions answered in advance because most of the questions members asked tonight could have been answered” beforehand. Cheers. Carman said he is willing to come to any precinct meetings to answer questions.

Final article, for CPC administrative costs of $56,200. It passes and we are about to adjourned until June for the budget. It’s 9:41 p.m., a record. 

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