Belmont’s ‘No’ on Override Committee Warrants Attention

Photo: A generic design asking for a no vote.

It has no lawn signs (yet), nor a web site (so far) and is keeping its campaign close to the vest (for now).

But last week, a group of Belmont residents made it official: it will campaign to defeat the $4.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 override on the April 7 Town Election ballot.

But unlike former override opponents who are content with authoring missives that populate the letters page of a weekly newspaper, this ensemble – officially known as the “Vote No on Ballot Question 1 Committee” – carries far more heft than any group in the past.

A cursory glance of those identified as ‘no’ supporters quickly reveals a common core; they are or have been members of the town’s influential Warrant Committee, the Town Meeting’s financial watchdog. The ‘No’ chair, Liz Allison, was for several years its head while ‘No’ treasurer, Raffi Manjikian, is joined by the Warrant Committee’s vice chair Robert Sarno and member Jim Gammill on the ‘No’ campaign.

In addition to his work on the Warrant Committee, Manjikian was one of the prime movers in the successful 2013 effort by Waverley Square residents to pass a general residence demolition delay bylaw protecting single-family homes from the wrecking ball.

To be fair, membership on the Warrant Committee doesn’t lead one exclusively onto the ‘No’ committee. Ellen Schreiber, a leader of ‘Yes for Belmont’ which supports the override, was recently selected to the Warrant Committee by Town Moderator Michael Widmer (The moderator selects residents to the committee) while current Chair Michael Libenson has written advocating for the three-year, $4.5 million increase.

The group – which includes Sarno’s wife, Judith Ananian Sarno, and Dawn MacKerron – has been quietly flying under the radar, collecting email address and putting out the word to those who will vote against the override.

This week, the first arguments from the ‘no’ campaign has emerged in public statements by the group, less than three weeks before the election. A “guest commentary” by Manjikian circulating throughout town via email provided a glimpse at the committee’s chief arguments. (The complete commentary is here: Letters-to-Editor_drafts-2

“As a parent of four children, I try my best to lead by example. Choices sometimes may not be popular, but one needs to stand for up for what he or she believes and at times to call upon others to join in. Voting ‘NO’ on Question 1 is not a vote against the town or the school system; it is a vote against how we have chosen to manage,” writes Manjikian.

In his statement, Masjikian argues the town doesn’t have a revenue problem as stated by the Financial Task Force which recommended the override, “we have a management problem,” specifically in managing expenses, pointing to four projects residents voted to pass in the past year-and-a-half costing taxpayers $12 million.

By voting no, “[we] will open the discourse to a balanced approach toward crafting a multi-year plan that impacts both the revenue and expense side of our budget.”

Manjikian rejected claims by Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan that turning down the override would have dire consequences to the Belmont School District; reducing classes, firing teachers, greater teacher-to-student ratios and forcing more free time onto students.

“We don’t agree that a “NO” vote will have a detrimental impact of education in Belmont,” he said. “We need to put this in perspective – voters are being asked to fund a ‘Mega Override’ of $4.5 million when the draft school budget is looking for $1.7 million,” Manjikian told the Belmontonian.

“If voters reject the override ballot question, the [selectmen], [warrant committee], [school committee] will do what has been done many, many times; identify revenue opportunities and cost saving in the draft budget that will allow the critical needs of the schools to be funded,” he said.

Only then, if a gap in revenue to expenses remains, “a ‘right sized’ override should be called for to support that need,” said Masjikian.

“Going to the taxpayers as a first step is just not right. We need to bear in mind that we will be going to the voters for more tax dollars in support of the numerous capital projects among which is the high school – the  debt exclusion would be $70 million, which could be as soon as [fiscal year] ’18,” he said.

As the No campaign has begun to surface, those supporting the override believe their assumptions simply don’t hold water.

“It borders on shocking that the leaders of the ‘No’ campaign are suggesting another band-aid fix to Belmont’s long-term financial challenges,” Sara Masucci, co-chair of YES for Belmont campaign. 

“In Belmont, we love to complain about the yearly “financial crisis,” yet that is exactly what they are doing – again. Belmont’s voters have an opportunity now to change that; to take a smart, fiscally responsible and proactive approach to town management,” she added.

Masucci said the issue before Belmont voters is not “a management problem” but a culture of short-term thinking.

“Rejecting the override is just kicking the can down the road, they make no proposals to address the real issues and they reject this carefully developed multi-year solution. This reckless approach – throwing around blame and avoiding tough choices – risks Belmont’s children’s futures,” she said.

 

 

And after that evaluation if there still is a gap, a “right sized” override should be called for to support that need. Going to the taxpayers as a first step is just not right. We need to bear in mind  that we will be going to the voters for more tax dollars in support of the numerous capital projects among which is the high school – the  debt exclusion would be $70 million, which could be as soon as FY18.

 

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Comments

  1. otc says

    I have no stake in the outcome as far as schools are concerned, but my understanding is that some of the $4.5m would go to improving roads. Belmont’s roads are truly atrocious, like something you would expect to see in a third-world nation. If the override offers any hope of improving them then I’m in favor.

  2. Alexa James says

    As Manjikian has pointed out, “we have a management problem,”. However, what he has failed to point out, is that this failed management has derived directly from, logically, the managers. Rather than accepting the blame for the constant debts Belmont delves into. The education system is this town’s sole source of prestige. Without it, Belmont is little more than an overpriced husk of a town, with a roadway to match.
    Consider for a moment, why you live in this town. Do you, or did you, have children that went to the public schools here? The vast majority of the population of Belmont fall under the previously described, and yet many are willing to allow this atrocity to happen. Allow me to admit that your property taxes have a direct correlation to the value of the public education of this town. Now, allow me to clarify that this is a double-edged sword, and where the taxes on your properties would drop from this ordeal, the values of said properties would drop as well. Now I, myself, rent, and as such, escaping the sudden property value crash would be rather simple. For many others, however, leaving this town simply wouldn’t be feasible without a large sum of money in addition to which you’ve put into your homes.
    And on one final note, think of the children. The children who’ve worked incredibly hard to achieve what they have, the children who’ve killed themselves striving for excellence. Don’t let their efforts go to waste. Yes, in the distant future, generations may begin to get to their feet again, and may strive for the same excellence. But can it truly be just to destroy the futures of all of those who have thus far been working so diligently? Are we to sentence them to a future lacking in reward, and relief for their efforts? A vote to pass the override is a vote for Belmont, and a vote for its children. A vote for Belmont is a vote for the future.

  3. vera says

    Vote yes on override and vote for Jim Williams for selectman. Belmont needs new, financially competent leadership

  4. Azra Nelson says

    How will lower middle class ,or simply middle class working family survive in public school system in which everything under the sun, every participation, and every enrichment opportunity is fee based, and set to remind you that you can not afford it? How is that good system? Who are we kidding?

    This type of bare bones school system is set up only for the rich, and those with good connections, and more programs and education you cut out, more kids and families you exclude. It is predatory and backward system disguising as “fiscal responsibility”

    There is nothing responsible in dismantling all the hard won progress of the past generations, and now racing to the bottom of the barrel. Much of the world is advancing, closing gaps, and investing, but we are crumbling and cutting things left and right, and all of this in one of the richest states of the Union, in one of the richest countries in the world. Why? This doesn’t make any sense.

    Like most people, I am not thrilled to have higher taxes, but it is small price to pay for Belmont to stay desirable and safe, kids well educated, and busy with school work , sports, and enrichment, and not drugs and hopelessness,.

    Please remember that town reputations are not build overnight, but can be easily and quickly tarnished. I do hope that property values stays intact throughout this storm..

    Most residents, as I do too, believe it is high time to clean our Belmont “house” well, and it is time to put in proper financial order, but please, lets not throw out the baby with the bath water as well. Vote to preserve and nourish, and not to destroy.

    Go Belmont!

  5. Idith Haber Kisin says

    The override would lead to GOOD management, not looking for extra money at the last minute, as the opponents would like us to continue to do so. It is GOOD management to AVOID having the superintendant and school administrators and school committee taking up significant time every year to make projected cuts. Think of all the wasted time and the money we have to pay for them to do this.

    The money needed is never wholly funded.

    Here is a list that Paul Roberts made of the things that have been cut over the years. He forgot that now parents have to pay for the whole-day kindergarten ($2900 last year). The pre-school hours have also been cut significantly.


    We eliminated funding for elementary instrumental music.

    We eliminated language instruction in grade 5.

    We stopped using substitute teachers at Belmont High.

    We drastically cut funding for most classroom materials, including textbooks.”

    The financial task force didn’t just have a soul, they also have no ulterior motives, which is the only way I can rationalize what the opponents are doing. “

  6. says

    Voting no on the override to prove the point “…against how we have chosen to manage” (Manjikian) the town’s money, is hasty. Though this point may be valid, voting no to prove it would be at the expense of the education and the future of the youth of Belmont.
    A lot of this town’s success and reputation originates from the public school system, where the courses and opportunities attract many new families. AP Art, one of the High School courses on the chopping block, has demonstrated a huge amount of success and has gained Belmont the reputation of being one of the best painting schools in the state. Voting no on the override would deny students the potential to grow and explore their artistic abilities.
    That is why it is important to vote YES on the override so that instead of shouting at the town’s officials, we can preserve the futures of our students.

  7. says

    As a current student at Belmont High the override would be detrimental to my education. If the override doesn’t pass I personally would be losing at least 2 of my classes, most likely more. The two definite classes that I would lose, AP Art and AP latin, have been classes I’ve been looking forward to since freshmen year, and in turn have been working towards since then.

    The budget cuts would mean our course loads would be stripped down to the minimum required for us to graduate; essentially we wouldn’t have the classes necessary to be competitive to colleges. The school would lose ALL of the highest level foreign language classes, along with the highest level arts courses (of which is AP Art, arguably one of the most successful classes at the high school).

    Pass the override and save a child’s education – vote Yes for Belmont

  8. Anne Mahon says

    The irony here is that the same folks that held the purse strings are now blaming our financial chaos on others. These are Warrant Committee members running this No campaign for crying out loud and for those of you that don’t know, that Belmont’s Finance Committee.
    All those recommendations from them of cutting finances so deep that we lost elementary school libraries, foreign language classes, 21st century programs., counselors, text books, freshman sports, music, art, theatre…going to fee based for everything under the sun….everything that was once part of EVERY PUBLIC SCHOOL BUDGET are disappearing…because of these folks…and they want to cut further while screaming in the mirror, “it’s all your fault!” The best part is that things got so miserable that the Selectmen ended up appointing a financial task force of citizens that actually had a true financial background and a soul.
    Gimme a break with this “no” junk and VOTE YES FOR BELMONT. Lets pay the bills and get back on our feet again…..because remember……I’m trying to protect your home values people and a no vote ain’t gonna do it! ;-).

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