Special Town Meeting, Nov. 13 [LIVE FEED]

Photo: Moderator Mike Widmer at the start of the Special Town Meeting, 2017.

Hello and welcome to the Belmont Special Town Meeting being held on Monday, Nov. 13 at the Chenery Middle School.

7:05 p.m.: Moderator Mike Widmer gets the proceeding underway five minutes late, or as we all know it as “Belmont time.”

7:15 p.m.: The first presentation concerned the creation of Veteran’s month in Belmont and an update on the Veteran Memorial fundraising (it still has $150,000 to go to reach its goal of $350,000). And Patty Mihelich is given a warm welcome on the recognition of the 25th anniversary of the Belmont Food Pantry. 

7:35 p.m. AnnMarie Mahoney, the chair of the Major Captial Project Working Group, discusses the process of coming to a solution to the four major building project in town: Police headquarters, DPW facility, the Belmont Public Library and the High School. The high school and the library have their own plans, so police and DPW are the best. candidates for “emergency solutions” that will increase the “humane employee working conditions, safety, accessibility.” 

The DPW needs adequately sized break room, changing area, locker rooms and office space. This is the easier of the two. Police headquarters is difficult because it needs an elevator which is problematic due to infrastructure barriers. It also needs adequate space for male and female officers.

The long-term plan for the DPW includes a new building and a place a new access road to Pleasant Street. 

Police headquarters will be in the DPW yard off Woodland Street. It will also have an access road to Pleasant Street. There are a lot of advantages to this area. 

The preliminary estimate for emergency solutions is $1.6 million for the DPW and $2.8 million for a total of $4.4 million with funding from the capital stabilization fund, capital budget, and free cash, Cushing Square parking lot money.

New buildings will cost $20-$25 million. Funding with a debt exclusion. Love to raise revenue with innovative solutions.

Prioritising projects other than the new high school. Criteria include condition, cost, readiness and public use. 

“We can do short-term solutions, but it is just not practical,” said Mahoney. 

Sample timetable: High school will have a debt exclusion in 2018 and construction in 2020 to 2023 with the library debt exclusion in 2020 and the DPW and Police in 2024. 

And there are other projects that need to be renovated and to be constructed – parking in Belmont Center and renovating Belmont schools. 

Tonight Mahoney wants $383,230 from the Kendall Insurance Fund for the emergency funding of the DPW/Police and forming a building committee for both projects. 

Mahoney’s detailed and entertaining update on her group’s work is given a big hand. For anyone who wants a primer on how to make a presentation at Town Meeting, review her deft handling.

8 p.m.: Bill Lovallo of the Belmont High School Building Committee is providing an update on the new high school which is coming along quite nicely. “This is a critical time for community engagement,” said Lovallo. By the end of August, the committee will give a presentation to the selectmen on how much money it will need to create the new school. The debt exclusion vote will occur either in Nov. 2018 to April 2019. “This is not a building committee project, a selectmen project or a school committee project. It is a Belmont community project,” he said.

8:10 p.m.: And here we go with the first article for a vote: the revolving fund article. George Hall, town counsel, said this article is mostly a technical issue to follow the lead of the legislature that now requires the funds to be part of the town’s bylaw. PASSED unanimously. 

8:15 p.m.: Article 3, this is the reason for the special town meeting: to fund the purchase of modular classrooms and improvements at the Burbank at the cost of $2,734,000. Belmont Superintendent John Phelan said the modulars are needed due principally to the system’s biggest bugaboo: just too many kids entering the system. Projected enrollment at the current rate will be 25 kids in each elementary classroom. The modulars will add one teacher per each grade which will reduce the class size. The district is also adding teachers, finding space and other things. At the Burbank, there will be four classrooms, improvements in parking, playground areas. Treasurer Floyd Carman said the program will be paid from a 10-year bond at 3 percent at $321,000 a year. 

Jim Gammill, Pct. 4, questioned that use of the funding but it was considered beyond the scope of the question which is all about authorize funding, not spending. Katherine Poulin-Kerstien, Pct. 6, of the Burbank PTO, said she is in support of the project as a short-term solution to enrollment problems until a new High School is built which likely have a 7-12 grade configuration which will lessen the enrollment problems. Bob Sarno, Pct. 3, asked Carman if the funding could come from a debt exclusion. Carman said that yes, it’s possible but for the town “This is mission critical,” so why to spend money and time on that method. The questioned as been moved and the vote on the article is up which needs a 2/3’s margin. The vote is 229 for and 14 against; it carries.

8:45 p.m.: Article 4 is up, and Mahoney is back up, asking for the $383,230 for schematic designs for emergency repairs and the creation of a building committee for both issues. Stephen Rosales, Pct. 8, introduces a video that was created by the Belmont Media Center to give a tour of the conditions inside the DPW building and Police headquarters. Liz Allison, Pct. 2, is concerned that voting yes on Article 4 will likely result in a lack of impetus to fund a long-term solution. Ariane Goodman-Belkadi, Pct. 3, of Woodland Street, said she is not in favor of spending the money on short-term relief without knowing more on a permanent solution. Opposed to placing a police station on a dead end street, she asked if the MBTA doesn’t allow access to Pleasant Street, will the working group look for an alternative location. Mahoney said she’s not sure. Mark Paolillo said it’s high time that the town made repairs to the town facilities.

The question has been called, and the vote is 223 yea, and 12 nays, the funding passes.

9:25 p.m.: Article 5 is up which the Belmont Board of Library Trustees is seeking $150,000 from the Kendall Insurance Fund (the Library Foundation will put in $150,000 to meet the total funding) to move forward on schematic-level design and the creation of a building committee. Kathleen Keohane, head of the Trustees, gave statistics on the library and Ellen Schreiber talked about the private fundraising campaign that will be required to start the process towards building the new library. Joel Semuels, Pct. 6, asked the town to support the funding needed to create a plan that can be brought to investors and donators. Steve Rosales, Pct. 8, said the town had spent $301,000 in past planes and designs. What’s to say the $150,000 will not be wasted as funding in the past. 

The motion has been moved, and the vote to take $150,000 from the Kendall fund is 215  yes, and 21 no. It passes. 

9:50 p.m.: We are going to finish the special town meeting tonight! Last up is the citizens’ petition on creating an elected planning board. Paul Roberts, Pct. 8, is introducing his petition. The Selectmen are unfavorably inclined to the article. “This is a simple amendment to make Belmont government better,” said Roberts. Roberts said an elected board – which Belmont had from 1922-72 – would only change the way the board is populated, by the people. Co-sponsor Wayne Mesard said an elected board would bring the full breadth of talent within the community and provide a defense against bureaucratic overreach. If approved, the planning board will resemble qualified people like our other boards, as other towns do. Co-sponsor Anne Mahon said everyone in the room ran and were elected; it will be the same with the new planning board.

Selectman Adam Dash said an elected board would politicize the board – and make them susceptible to public pressure – and that the town would not get the number and quality of people who would run for the position. Ellen Schreiber, Pct. 8, said she’s opposed because people don’t run for “significant” positions because they are “hard”, incumbents are re-elected and won’t provide the accountability the proponents seek, there should be a change in the appointment process, and elected boards will be impacted by upcoming elections. “We are not in a rush,” said Schrieber. 

Michael Crowley, Pct. 8, said “we are adults” and the public can make the decision through voting. Corinne Olmsted, Pct. 1, said Planning Board serves the residents and so the residents should have a direct voice to support the board. Ian Todreas, Pct. 1, said if you have the energy and commitment to run for such an important position, you will have the drive to do a good job.

The question has been moved and the vote is … 87 yes and 141 no; it’s defeated.

And the town meeting is over.

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