It Won’t Be Pretty: Consequences Of A Failed Override Prompts Select Board To Endorse Its Passage

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The date: April 6, 2021. The time: 9(-ish) p.m. The location: Belmont Town Hall. Town Clerk Ellen Cushman strolls out from her office to read the results of the annual Town Election. After going through the races for elected positions, she comes to what residents have been waiting for – the decision on the $6.4 million Proposition 2 1/2 override. Cushman clears her throat and reads out the count.

And the measure … fails.

The first question for many people will be: “Now what?”

On Monday, Feb. 8 – just under two month from the above election – the Belmont Select Board and residents were provided an answer to The Day After scenario as Town Administrator Patrice Garvin spelled out the rather dark consequences of a no vote throughout the fiscal year 2022 budget.

“There’s no way to sugar coat it really. They’re all painful which is way we asked for an override,” said Board Chair Roy Epstein.

While Belmont not yet on the level of the four horsemen of fiscal apocalypses, the certainty of cuts in services and personnel as well as still to be determined retreat on school programs, the Select Board unanimously voted to endorse passage of the Proposition 2 1/2 override on the April 6 ballot.

Note: On Thursday, Feb. 11, at 7 p.m., the Warrant Committee is holding a Zoom public meeting on “Understanding the Override Decision” that will present the impact of a yes and no override vote.

After reporting last month how a yes vote on the override would be used by the town and schools. the town proceeded to run a budget exercise on the impact of a negative response by voters. With expenditures of $163 million as opposed to revenues of $157.2 million, the town would need to fill a $5.7 million gap.

Garvin said a little more than a third of the gap would be bridged using an additional $1.9 million from free cash – the last of the reserves not reserved by town policy – and taking $350,000 of the $400,000 OPEB contribution. The remaining $3.45 million would be made up reducing town and school expenditures, 60 percent – or $2.07 million – coming from the schools and 40 percent ($1.38 million) from the town.

On the town side, cuts would come from all departments (see the chart below) as well as removing $500,000 from discretionary capital expenditures that was targeting much needed maintenance and infrastructure repairs.

Cuts to town departments with a negative override vote. (Credit: Town Administrator Office)

Garvin pointed out that long sought after positions such as a social worker for seniors and a new procurement employee to manage the increasingly complex nature of bidding and preparing projects such as the new Middle and High School.

“We really do need someone who has the expertise, who can move through the commissioning process as [the new school building] gets handed over and can run all the town buildings more efficiently,” said Adam Dash, board member. “I fear that if we don’t have that person in place, it will actually cost us more money because the systems won’t be run properly.”

Other departments will see significant reduction in salary and overtime requests while Police, Fire and DPW will see the loss of at least one staff member which will reduce response times for public safety and less work done at town fields and playgrounds.

The board’s decision to endorse a yes vote was expected, “especially in light of these pretty draconian and grim looking cuts. It’s going to be a difficult situation if it doesn’t pass,” said Dash.

While the school cuts will be announced on Tuesday, Belmont Superintendent John Phelan told the Financial Task Force on Monday morning that the schools would loss the 10.6 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions they had planned to add in 2022 as well as 15 additional staff members and cuts in many line items.

If the April override fails, the town is looking at a second override for the Town Election in 2022. Quick calculations by the Financial Task Force on Monday morning indicated that the subsequent override would be in the range of $10.8 million over three years, give or take a million either way.

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Comments

  1. Mamou says

    The flyer in the mail from the “Vote Yes for Belmont” states that a “No Vote” will cause delays in filling potholes and collecting trash from playgrounds and issuing permits! What a lot of nonsense and surely not reasons to vote yes! How many times have we been told that overrides will be used to repair sidewalks. I was on a list for 8 years and told my wait would probably be 10 years more because the money had been used on roads……so paid myself because my sidewalk was dangerous to school children and walkers. This town needs to tighten its belt.

  2. Mamou says

    Want vs. need.
    I need groceries in my refrigerator. I want a personal chef.
    Let us all be able to afford those groceries! We can live without the personal chef.
    I wish the schools and the town thought this way.

  3. Town Republican says

    The town can only cry wolf so many times, its time for the town to live within their means just like we all have to do… The town will have now asked us to foot the bill on an override or a debt exclusion 14 times in the last 20 years…

    There is money coming in and money going out, this town has to give up the pride of bring a town of homes and bring in some commercial property here ASAP or this is going to just keep happing time and time again.

    There is some real moral hazard here continuing to just give in and say yes, people just keep crying about the schools the school our students will suffer. Guess what tell your kids to work hard in school get good grades and they will be perfectly fine.

    Let’s for once live within our means as a town, make it happen, make the needed cuts and make the changes needed then move forward and grow.. just kicking the can down the road does nothing but hurt long time town residents.

  4. Jane C. says

    Our per pupil spending in this town is roughly 65% of the other towns that we often are compared…so why then is the Superintendent’s new contract 100% of the other superintendents in the area? If the student’s aren’t receiving anywhere close to even the state average, why is he so handsomely compensated at $250k a year plus additional bonuses and stipends (please note that Governor Baker’s salary is $180K). These schools are constantly asking for more money, while spending it on things that make zero sense (prioritizing a director of equity when they don’t even have actual curriculum directors at the elementary level), and meanwhile the teachers have been working part time for the last year while collecting full salaries. My sons’ teachers leave almost everyday at 11:45 to head home. It must be nice to have zero accountability in your job. If people were smart they’d stop giving their hard earned money to these schools and invest it elsewhere…like private school.

    • Mamou says

      I take issue with the first sentence stating that we spend 65% ppe of the other towns to which we are compared. According to the Ma. DOE, we spend a little less that Arlington and a little more than Winchester.

      Arlington ..$14,574
      Belmont ..$14,246
      Winchester…$14,100

      Spending more does NOT guarantee better education!

  5. Dawn MacKerron says

    Let’s talk about our seniors. Most seniors do not care about an extra social worker at the COA. They are desperate to be able to stay in their homes for the rest of their lives. An override will dash that simple hope for them, and put extreme financial hardships on many others. I have talked to and we have received many letters and emails from seniors for whom the passing of this override will be devastating for them.

    Many families, seniors and businesses are counting on us to vote this down so they can survive through this pandemic.

    The town will survive if this override does not pass. If it does pass, families, seniors and businesses will not. We cannot let that happen.

  6. Lisa says

    I ditto all the above comments. After 35yrs of hearing the same old threats, out right lies, cover ups for their inability to do their jobs and the lack of real genuine concern for our taxpayers and to add more insult they keep getting outrageous salaries while the rest of us are afraid we will have to sell our homes we worked so hard for and the lives we built here in Belmont they seem to feel that we’re not as important as this new culture of transients who are now here in groves and we keep calling them here at the taxpayers expense because build more schools, more housing (soon they can just give them the homes we’ll have to give up). I see one house go down and 2 more go up all over my neighborhood seems to me there should be a moratorium on replacing one home with 2 and building anymore multiple family homes to start then we should consider removing some of these extremely over paid employees who continually drag us further into the abyss. Consider this two of the top salaries is equal to 10% of this override which they have caused. THIS HAS BEEN AND ALWAYS WILL BE THE ONLY RESPONSE FROM THE TOWN : OVERRIDES and PROPERTY TAXES! LET’S NOT FORGET THE THREATS AND BULLING of WHAT WE WILL LOSE ALWAYS THE SAME THREATS and YOU’RE A BAD PERSON if YOU STAND UP for YOURSELF!! I’ve had enough of INCOMPATENTCY in our TOWN GOVERNMENT STOP RUNNING AWAY FROM THE PROBLEMS YOU HAVE CREATED FOR THE TAXPAYERS! THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNIG OF MORE OF THE SAME IT HASN’T GOTTEN BETTER and IT WON’T THEY HAVE MORE OVERRIDES PLANNED INDEFINATLY!! COME ON BELMONT STAND UP FOR YOUR RIGHT TO ENJOY WHAT “YOU” WORKED SO HARD FOR DON”T GIVE IT AWAY TO PEOPLE WHO DON”T CARE!!!!

  7. Mamou says

    If the override passes, and due to the already passed debt exclusion, my taxes will have gone up $3000 in three years. This will claim a huge portion of my monthly budget from a pension. I live in a small house on a tiny lot and the situation is untenable for seniors.

  8. Stephanie L says

    According to Mass DOR’s statistical data, Belmont’s taxes per household income is already the highest among all the comparable towns for two year in a row, currently at 16%. That does not include the $6.4M permanent override increase if passes.

    Another override is just a cop-out for the town officials to continue spending irresponsibility. They put our town in this dire financial situation and they need to figure out a solution to get us out of it, but NOT at the expense of the taxpayers this time. Enough is enough!

  9. Joanne H. says

    I agree with the writers above!! Belmont is like Mayberry and Green acres!! Our SB do not want to face the problems or be responsible for them. Shame on all of them. No integrity!!. What is going to happen when it gets worse or the town goes bankrupt. They will sell their homes and move out. They are suppose to be professionals and they act like the town people on Greenacres. Why don’t they want to face the financial issues. Are they receiving kick backs from all the new building??? What a sad situation . Some day our homes will be worth nothing because of these clowns!!! No one will want to move to Belmont and it is almost like this now, contrary to what Epstein quotes “they are coming in DROVES!”

  10. Carrie H says

    Not Wasting money on Outside Fire Chiefs who know nothing about the town would be a good way to start to save some money.

    20 Thousand dollars on an Outside search for Fire Chief when we already had an internal candidate that we as taxpayers already invested a lot of our hard earned money on . I will say again what I said before in another article this town is run by Clowns. 3 Selectmen and a Town administrator with a bloated salary and no clue. Life in town was good before she arrived.

    I would be shocked if this override passes , and when it doesn’t all FOUR of them should take a long hard look in the mirror . I’m sure the new Chief who just got a 70K bump in pay from where he was will figure it out .

    I’m ashamed ……… Time to call the Real Estate Agent.

    • Mamou says

      And further, why does a Belmont teacher earn on average $10,000 more than an Arlington teacher? And don’t tell me the myth that higher salaries mean we get better teachers. That is not true. I know, because I am a former teacher, and also the parent of Belmont High School grads.

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