Selectmen Chair: 2 1/2 Override ‘Possible’ on November Ballot

Belmont Board of Selectmen Chair Andy Rojas said he is receptive to a Proposition 2 1/2 override to secure long-term funding for town and school needs being placed on the November election ballot.

“I’m going to be pushing the Financial Task Force to move their work a little faster so we can hopefully see an override vote in November,” Rojas told the Belmontonian on Wednesday, June 4 before the final night of the annual Town Meeting.

Election day for state races in Massachusetts is Tuesday, Nov. 4, less than five months away.

“Now is the time to act,” he said.

But an early date for an override, which many advocates believe is critical to secure its passage, ultimately depends on how quickly the nearly year-old task force can complete its mission of producing a comprehensive report, said Rojas.

“We need the facts before us,” he said, adding that the task force’s report should be presented before the Selectmen and the public “at least a month” before any date is selected for the override vote.

Rojas response came after comments last week by several Town Meeting members and from outgoing “interim” Belmont Schools Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston expressing concerns that both schools and town services need an infusion of funding to support needed academic courses and increased teaching levels to match anticipated enrollment growth that currently exceeds the available revenue from the town’s annual 2 1/2 percent increase in tax revenue, new growth and state aid.

” … [I]t’s time for us in the community to turn to our neighbors and say ‘This isn’t right.’ We need to fully fund our schools,” said Christine Kotchem at last week’s Town Meeting.

While the fiscal 2015 School budget, now $46.2 million, saw a four percent increase in available revenue from the previous year, the “wish” list created by the school department of teachers, courses and material needed to keep the schools within a top-tier Level 3 district, according to Kingston who made the statement at Town Meeting.

Rojas said Kingston’s statement concerning the need for an operational override “was the first actual request the board has had in the past four year.”

“I think we need to take it very seriously and I do,” said Rojas.

It has been a dozen years since Belmont voters approved an override, for $2.4 million in June 2002, with the last three attempts, in 2006, 2008 and 2010, defeated by close margins.

While flexible to override advocates in placing the measure in November when voters will also be casting ballots for state-wide offices including a contest governor’s race, Rojas said the board and the public should first review the recommendations from the Task Force, the 13-member “mega” committee created last year charged with creating a comprehensive review of the town’s finances, discover possible new revenue streams and develop a long-range financial and capital improvement plan.

“The preferred course of action is for the Financial Task Force to do its work, create a report and that would inform the decision of the board (of selectmen),” said Rojas.

“If they can do it quicker, great. It all depends on that,” said Rojas.

Yet Rojas also acknowledged that the task force will be required to do a great deal of work during the summer months when meetings and report schedules are impacted by vacations and travel plans of the 13 members.

“Summers are always tough on committees,” said Rojas.

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