Editorial: Cast Aside Politics and Fear, Vote Yes for the Override

Photo: The Yes campaigners. 

The Belmontonian endorses a “yes” vote on Question 1, the Proposition 2 1/2 override measure on the ballot to be decided on Tuesday, April 7. 

This question allows residents the opportunity to follow “the better angels of our nature,” when we can set aside manufactured tension and fear and replace it with good, positive, constructive acts.

The proposed override was born after a year-long gestation by the Financial Task Force of sober, careful analysis and facts of the financial constraints facing the community. The task force – including Selectman Mark Paolillo, Town Treasurer Floyd Carman, Town Administrator David Kale, School Committee Chair Laurie Slap, Capital Budget Chair Anne Marie Mahoney and Charles Laverty III of the Board of Assessors, all respected for their dedication and work for Belmont – held dozens of open and public meetings and forums, requested information and data and worked cooperatively with all.

The task force’s final report recommended the Belmont Board of Selectmen call for a $4.5 million multi-year override to both stems the rapidly growing funding deficit due to skyrocketing enrollment and rapidly increasing expenses in our schools. In a vote called a “brave decision,” the Selectmen unanimously approved the recommendation in February.

But just as vital as supplying funding, the override secures up to three, but likely many more years of stability for Belmont schools. While not ideal or even desired, assured level-funding will provide educators over the long-term, Town Meeting and our state legislators the time to commit to fundamental improvements and other necessary changes to retain the outstanding reputation of the schools, our community’s greatest resource.

The override will exact a burden onto Belmont property owners, about $650 on the medium valued house assessed at $847,000. No one should say it’s “only” $162 on the quarterly bill; that is a hardship to some.

But it is time Belmont residents face the fact the community has been attempting to run a modern, urban municipality on the cheap. Belmont has one of the lowest average tax bills in the state and an extremely low cost-per-pupil expenditures (coupled with one of the highest student-to-teacher ratios). It’s little wonder the town is a laughing stock for it’s disgraceful roads, but that happens when you won’t pay an adequate amount for their upkeep. The band Midnight Oil spoke to what Belmont needs to realize: “The time has come/To say fair’s fair/to pay the rent/to pay our share.”

There are worthy opponents to the override. Former Selectman Anne Marie Mahoney, a task force member, is opposing the ballot question as she takes the lonely role of sponsoring the large ticket capital projects – a new High School, police station, Department of Public Works complex to name a few. Her cause requires Town officials and Town Meeting to be acknowledged and brought fully into the fold of long-term planning.

The same can not be said for the “Vote No on Ballot Question 1 Committee,” a tiny renegade group from the Warrant Committee, made up of members past and present, supporting its campaign with little more than empty phrases and promises.

The No committee claims its complaint with the override supporters is fiscal, the Financial Task Force’s careful analysis on revenue assumptions by well-respected town members is wrong, the recommendation producing a “mega” override. All that is needed is to fill the announced $1.7 million deficit the schools will encounter in the next fiscal year.

The Nos has no completing reports to back its claim the money is out there; they counter with “trust us.”

What should take every resident aback is the solution being proposed from the Nos if the override is defeated; this group of non-elected residents will come before the elected Board of Selectmen with their “list” of residents and town members they hope to see on an unelected “budget committee” which will solve the fiscal issues facing the town, all within “three to six” weeks.

The questions that arise with this “solution” are numerous and unnerving:

  • Will the “budget committee” be open to all or closed to a few?
  • Who will lead it?
  • Will it have any authority?
  • Shouldn’t it be approved by Town Meeting before it starts?
  • Will the committee be subject to the open meeting laws?
  • What if the solution from the “budget committee” differs from the renegade Warrant Committee members?

The No committee is making it up as it goes. Its solution is not based on democracy, but power.

And, to misquote Hamlet, therein lies the rub: The No Committee’s mission is political, not financial. The amount could have been $4 million, $3 million or $2 million, the Nos would have pegged the override with the puerile label “mega.”

But the prime target for the Nos is the schools and the “hardcore” union representing Belmont teachers. It wouldn’t surprise anyone that the Nos have circulated lists of teachers pay prompting one supporter wondering at candidates’ night paying a kindergarten teacher $90,000. Several times, one member of the group have suggested that the union must be made to heal to lead the town into a financial nirvana. In addition, by providing annual funding rather than a long-term approach, the school district will be beholden to the “budget committee.”

If the Nos had declared its agenda up front, they would be seen as honest brokers, rather than a very small fraternity of political operatives.

With only seven contributors and a campaign paid by a single source, the Nos remain a powerful opponent, playing to a substantial number of residents who view Belmont as the same small town of several generations past, those who believe providing a “good enough” education – in a world that punishes those who are only “good enough” – is what is required, while nervously viewing their own finances as economic forces beyond everyone’s reach ever change.

We, Belmont, must reject the fear and mistrust being pushed by the No committee.

We, Belmont, must be for something, rather than be opposed to stability and taking responsibility for the true cost of running the town.

We, Belmont, must grab the opportunity to move forward with facts and realism rather than be led back with half truths and the empty “trust us.”

Vote for the override.

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Comments

  1. Tyler says

    What’s wrong with bringing together unelected citizens of Belmont to review the fiscal issue!?

    This town clearly has some issue managing money and I being held over a barrel by the teachers union. Good teachers deserve the money but some of the pay is crazy. The schools are bleeding money out of this town, as pay of teachers continues to increase and the unfounded pensions continue to grow, this override will be followed by another.

    We as a town need to fix the fiscal issues, I would like to ask what real proposals were given to the town meeting that didn’t require an override. An override is he easy way out of any problem. Cutting costs and working with the budget we have is much harder and takes hard work, and I don’t know how many people on the “yes” side put any thought into alternate solutions aside from the override.

    This whole piece is just a bashing of the “no” side, and is a litter embarrassing. Talking to people around town it also doesn’t seem like people understand that once the town collects this money they are by no way obligated to putting the money towards the schools or roads. THEY CAN SPEND IT HOWEVER THEY WANT.

  2. Idith Haber Kisin says

    No more last-minute bandaids and patches!!! Time for long-term planning.

    Say “Yes” for financial stability, ‘Yes’ for roads and buildings, ‘Yes’ for educating the next generation, and ‘Yes’ for Belmont!

  3. Dawn MacKerron says

    This editorial attributes any activities, dialog or opposition to the ballot question as all tied to the Vote No group. There have been many comments, salary documents and public questions floated. I assure you they are not all born out of the Vote No Committee or agenda. They are from a wide body of common sense minded taxpayers who question the rationale of an obscenely large request of taxpayer dollars, far over the actual need, to solve a questionable deficit. Questionable is a valid term when the FTF (however qualified they sound, it still merits questioning) “projects” a 1.8% revenue growth for next year when Belmont has averaged a 3.5% average revenue growth over the past 10 years. The difference between the two makes up the Education Department shortfall by itself. Hence the dialog about a “manufactured crisis”. They also raise the concern that out of 177 pages, the FTF only mentions cost containment on 6 pages. Concerned taxpayers want to know that at least some effort of evaluating costs is taken into consideration. The Vote No Committee has publicly expressed agreement with the other 5 findings of the FTF Report. There are also viable questions about the designation of funds. Half of this override amount the first year goes to something to be created called a Stabilization Fund, spending of it TBD by town officials. Every year after that 100% goes into that Fund. There is nothing specific in there about “securing level funding” for education for two or three years. This is a permanent override and the funds do not have a designated portion for Education after the first year. Us taxpayers have a right to be concerned that barring specific designations for our tax dollars that are visible, we think we will be better stewards of our dollars until that happens. Many are not comfortable that they will see that large amount of money spent where we’d like it to be spent. Don’t we want to see Accountability in how taxpayer dollars are spent? I disagree about any override being too much. The choice between a $4.5 Mega Override and zero does not allow for a comfortable choice either way. Had a reasonable override tied to actual need been put forth in the first place, there would not even be a Vote No Committee. I don’t know about your characterizations of the individuals who formed the Vote No Committee or their motivations. I applaud anyone who acts on their convictions, however overmatched, and have taken a stand to protect the taxpayers’ rights. They certainly have not been afforded a civil environment to raise questions and have a real conversation about the issues. Rather than nit picking the How To of what will happen if the override fails, all parties need to work together to close the gaps. For starters let’s factor in the >$400K that the state has told Belmont we will be receiving that was absent from the budget revenue projections. The real risk to the schools/education department was the decision to put forth a bloated, unnecessary, permanent Mega Override that has a true risk of being defeated rather than a fiscally responsible one that would easily guarantee we give the Superintendent what he needs to do his job.

    • Anne Mahon says

      I think those of us who have lived to watch the cuts that take place every single year under the term “Level Service Budget” have had enough. We’ve witnessed the damage first hand and are tired of seeing our beloved town of Belmont repeatedly take blows to the face. It’s time to invest in the town that we love….the schools that have raised the property values for all….what is likely our biggest investment.
      Remember, these are members of the Warrant Committee new and old that were supposed to be making wise recommendations to the town as a whole on the direction it was taking. It wasn’t until the Selectmen collectively realized that we were being bound tighter and tighter to the train tracks that they realized we needed true and proven financial brilliance to evaluate the recommendations.

      This process took a year and we opted with the absolute lowest recommendation to keep the tax burden at a minimum….this doesn’t improve the system, it merely prevents further loss.

      Don’t make the children pay for the poor decisions of the past….after all….these same children could have the cure for diseases, but if they can’t get into the colleges that let them explore the research because they no longer have the qualifications to get in….that’s our fault for slamming the door in their faces if we don’t invest in our town of Belmont.

      I love Belmont and I’m voting YES to prove it!

      • Tyler says

        This town needs to bring in or ask some of its citizens to look at its books and find where the money is leaking from and plug it. They never should have unfunded the pensions (wait for that shoe to drop). I honestly don’t think the town and people on the “yes” side looked for other options aside from raising taxes..

        The math also doesn’t make sense.
        the town has said they will spend $500,000 on the roads every year,
        that leaves us with 4 mil for the schools to cover 1.5 mil deficit.
        – and all of this is if they spend the money where they claim they will, they are not legally obligated to spend the money on the schools and the roads by any means.

  4. Jennifer Thomas says

    I couldn’t agree more! At the time of the last override attempt we were new to the town and we bought the “no” arguments. What a mistake! This time around we are wholeheartedly behind “Yes!” and look eagerly toward Belmont’s bright future.

  5. Anne mahon says

    And this is why I love you Franklin. You know all the facts and you “get it.” Bravo for the article that has tears of hope running down my face!

  6. Julia Coelho says

    Franklin- Thank you for your comprehensive coverage throughout the campaign and this very well written editorial. Belmont is at an important juncture and it is critical we do the right thing for our community as a whole.

  7. says

    Bravo Franklin- it’s time to step up and pay for the town and its services. I said this before and I’ll say it again here- Proposition 2 1/2 was never meant to be a cap- it was meant to be a starting point. Nobody- even the person who proposed the law- ever expected towns to live on 2 1/2 percent increases exclusively, Belmont has not passed an override in 13 years! Every other town around us has passed many overrides in that time. Where is your pride Belmont? Go out and vote yes tomorrow- it’s time and it’s the right thing to do.

  8. Adriana Poole says

    Good for you, Franklin! I haven’t seen the truth put in words so clearly and so courageously, I may add . You are spot on and I couldn’t agree more with everything you write in this. Nicely done.

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