2018 Town Meeting; Final Night, Segment B

Photo: Town meeting.

It’s the final night of the 2018 Belmont Town Meeting and the only suspense will be how early we end the session. 

I’m predicting 9:15 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. while Ann Marie Mahoney and Ellen Cushman believe 9:45 p.m. to 10 p.m.

We are underway at 7:06 p.m.

Moderator Mike Widmer gives a well-earned shout out to the Town Clerk staff and employees of the town which put together the meeting.

A heartfelt tribute by Town Meeting to Dan Kelleher, Belmont’s Mr. Hockey, who recently passed away. 

7:15 p.m.: State Rep. David Rogers gives his report, the highlights are an increase in general government funds by 3.5 percent that helps the town’s overall revenue picture. Belmont will see an increase in ed funding (Chapter 70) by 16 percent. Increases in higher ed scholarship and financial aid, METCO, and legal aid. Legislatively, Rogers points to criminal justice reform, media literacy, restrict access to firearms for those who pose a significant danger to themselves or others, and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. 

7:30 p.m.: Bill Lovallo, chair of the Belmont High School Building Committee, presents a project update of the proposed building. Widmer is allowing Lovallo 30 minutes to make the case for the $300 million 7-12 grade building. The reason for the new school is due to skyrocketing enrollment causing overcrowding, and the high school is no longer big enough to hold the students who will attend in the future. The physical plant is threadbare and falling apart. How to make the improvement? “The when is now,” said Lovallo. If a debt exclusion is approved by voters in November, construction will begin in June of ’19 with the 12-9 grade building open in 2021 and the rest of the building in 2022. “We are at a crossroads,” he said. “We have a one time opportunity to find a solution for overcrowding,” he said. Lovallo is greeted with a round of applause for a very effective speech.

8:05 p.m.: Floyd Carman, town treasurer, presents the first article of the night, Article 24, which adjusts the benefit to spousal survivors from $6,000 to $12,000 for three residents. Selectmen and Warrant Committee vote favorable  It will increase the budget by $15,500. For more information, read about it here. Carman said it’s an issue of fairness for “short money.” Selectman Chair Dash said he voted against the measure last year and while he remains worried about unfunded pensions and benefits, it only increases that amount by a small amount. The question is called and passes 191-24. 

8:18 p.m.: Article 25 is the increase in the cost of living adjustment for town employees from $12,000 to $13,000, which will increase the unfunded liability $873,000 to be 100 percent by 2029 or about $130,000 by fiscal 2020. The selectmen voted yes, 3-0, while the Warrant Committee voted it down, 10-3. Bob McLaughlin, pct 2, said: “Enough is enough.” The town is not obligated to increase this benefit and “we can’t afford it.” The town meeting needs to show fiscal responsibility knowing that in five months voters will ask to approve a $225 million debt exclusion for a new high school. He fears that voting for added debt is poorly thought out. Geoffrey Lubien and Michael Crowley of the Warrant Committee said the town can support the debt (adding 1 percent on an $80 million debt) without affecting the overall fiscal health of the town, saying that savings can be found to fund the additional liability. Both talked about fairness to former employees. Jack Weis and Anne Helgen also of the Warrant Committee voted against the measure in the committee. Roy Epstein, chair of the Warrant Committee, said its a mistake to think that all retirees are living in poverty, that we don’t know what other income retirees have available to them. He said the $130,000 added debt is a big deal and it shouldn’t be minimized. Dash said last year the cola increase was higher but the retirement board came back with a smaller increase and the town should show the board some flexibility. In an emotional appeal, Kathleen “Fitzie” Cowing, pct 8, said the idea that public servants have “other” sources of retirement income is a fantasy. As a teacher married to a police officer – neither receiving social security – Cowing said the pension is a necessity. The motion is called and it passes 134 – 83 and I lose my bet. 

8:51 p.m.: Now before the members is Article 14, which asks the town to appropriate $770,000 to cap the incinerator on Concord Avenue. Glen Clancy, director of Community Development, gives a history of the site and the hoops the town had to jump through to own the land from the state. The town has a balance of $754,000 appropriated by past town meetings in 2007 and 2013 – years the Red Sox have won the world series! – to cap the site. It’s estimated that it will take $1,524,000 over the next two years to clean the site, which is the $770,000 coming from the town’s stabilization fund which is currently $3.5 million. The new amount for the fund after the $770,000 will be $2.7 million. With an estimate of $3.6 million to cap the site creates a shortfall of $743,340 which Mr. Clancy has no idea how that will be paid for. Passes on a voice vote. 

9:13 p.m.: After the required five-minute break, the fiscal year ’19 budget comes before the Town Meeting. Epstein presents an overview of the budget. Some good news but a lot of apprehensions in the near future with an operational override likely. 

9:33 p.m.: Here we go with the budget which is Article 19:

Employee benefits, retirement expenses: $7.9 million. Passes.

Employee benefits, other reserves: $3.3 million. Passes.

Public Safety: $14.5 million. Claus Becker, pct 5, has been asking for the past years for more data and information to compare with other communities so to benchmark expenses. Christine Doyle, pct 1, said this data research is important not just for public safety but throughout all departments. Selectman Mark Paolillo said, in fact, the information is out there and it should be provided, Passes.

Public Schools: $57.0 million. Superintendent John Phelan presents the budget which includes the always frightening enrollment numbers – there is going to be 1,667 high school students in the near future! – how the district compares with other towns, the number of positions added in the coming year, and a lot of detail. Judith Feins, pct 6, urges caution on predicting that enrollment will only go up as there is a baby bust in the nation, and the department should not be locked into the numbers the district is predicting. Sue Bass, pct 2, agrees with Feins that the enrollment numbers appear to be out of whack. Paul Roberts, pct 8, said while the district 



Last Year’s Failed Articles Return On Town Meeting’s Final Night

Photo: Floyd Carman, town treasurer.

“If at first you don’t succeed, Try, try, try again,” goes the old proverb by Thomas Palmer. And on the final night of the 2018 annual Town Meeting, two articles that failed in 2017 will return for a second try before the town’s legislative body.

Articles 24 and 25 are not financial expenditures for renovating buildings or purchasing material, but rather, is a matter of “fairness” as each measure makes adjusts payments to retirees and spousal survivors, according to Town Treasurer Floyd Carman who is sponsoring the measures.

Tonight’s meeting – which reconvenes at 7 p.m. at the Belmont High School – will take up the remaining budgetary articles come before the 300-plus members, including the big-ticket articles such as the school ($57 million) and town budgets in Article 19, along with a vote to expend $770,000 from a stabilization fund to “cap” the former incinerator site on Concord Avenue at the Lexington town line. 

While the financial articles make up more than 90 percent of the town’s $116.2 million fiscal year 2019 budget, the articles are unlikely to stir-up members at Town Meeting as they have been vetted by the Warrant Committee and many members have discussed the motions at Warrant meetings. That is not the case with the two returning articles.

Speaking before the Board of Selectmen on May 30, Carman said the changes being proposed would bring benefits to town employees and spouses to the level what school teachers receive. 

Article 24 will increase the annual spousal benefit to surviving spouses from $6,000 to $12,000. While it is the doubling of the monetary outlay, only three survivors currently collect this benefit with a further 11 who could collect the perk. If accepted, the budget will increase by $15,456 in fiscal year 2019. 

In Article 25, the maximum cost of living adjustment (COLA) for town employees will be upped by $1,000 to $13,000 which is the level of Belmont School teachers, marking the first increase in 20 years. The change will provide eligible employees an extra $30 a year. The jump will impact the fiscal ’19 budget by an additional $9,960.  

Both articles were defeated by the 2017 Town Meeting by a nearly two to one margin as members, who feared the town was likely to seek an operational and schools override in 2019 and were not in a mood to bring employees up to the benefit level of teachers. 

But Carman told the Selectmen that for “short money” the town will “bring a level of fairness” to all employees by providing a level playing field for all retirees. The Selectmen voted 3-0 to seek “favorable action” by members on both articles.

Opinion: Let’s Do The Right Thing; Vote ‘Yes’ On Town Meeting Article 23

Photo: Belmont Police Headquarters

Have you visited the Belmont police station lately? Or dropped recyclables off at the Department of Public Works yard? Have you noticed the condition of those buildings? Have you tried to climb the 21 stairs to meet with Police Chief Richard McLaughlin? Do you know that our plow drivers have no place to eat or rest after eighteen hours of plowing snow? Have you experienced a sewer back-up in your basement? Do you know that DPW workers have no place to shower or change clothes after wading through raw sewage? Do you know that the female police officers who work in our neighborhoods and schools have only tiny locker space crammed into a bathroom?

Many professional evaluations over the years have determined that the police station and DPW facility are in far worse condition than any other town buildings. The time is now to finally meet the urgent needs of our employees by providing safe, accessible, gender appropriate working space.

The November 2017 Special Town Meeting authorized a building committee to address both the police and DPW. The committee has been working all out since December to present schematic designs to Town Meeting on May 30th.

The proposed solution for the DPW facility has two-prongs. In the short-term, renovate a small section of the DPW main building and add modular units which will house locker rooms, shower and laundry space, room for training and quiet rest and a small amount of office space. Renovations to the existing space will provide a more suitable kitchen and break room space and additional restrooms. This first phase will provide greatly improved working conditions for about $1.2 million. Long-term, the Town must pledge to construct a totally new facility on the existing site within ten years.

The solution for the police station is a brilliant design to renovate and add to the existing building on Concord Avenue. This will meet the department’s needs indefinitely. This extraordinary proposal includes additional construction on the back of the station as well as a sally port on the Pleasant Street side. The completed addition and renovation will provide new locker room space for both genders, new holding cells, safe and secure entry and booking space for prisoners, an elevator and second stair, evidence storage, meeting space and more. The proposed design respects the historic features of the building, provides an accessible entrance and additional parking. The permanent solution can be accomplished for between $6.2 and $7.5 million, which is a quarter of the cost of a new facility.

This proposal can be paid for out of the operating budget and will not require a debt exclusion. The advantage of this funding approach is that the work can begin immediately and will not interfere with either the library or high school plans for debt exclusions. The plan is the result of tremendous creativity by the building committee, the architect and owner’s project manager, the Town Administrator, and the Town Treasurer as well as the enthusiastic support of police and DPW personnel.

This proposal is a significant step forward for the Police and DPW who have languished in substandard working conditions for decades. As a town, we depend on our police department to keep us safe. We depend on our DPW to plow the snow, keep clean water flowing to our homes, and maintain our playgrounds.

Please urge your Town Meeting Members to vote YES on Article 23. It is the right thing to do.

DPW/Belmont Police Department Building Committee
Kathleen Cowing, Secretary
Roy Epstein
Anthony Ferrante, Vice-Chair
Anne Marie Mahoney, Chair
Stephen Rosales
Judith Ananian Sarno, Treasurer
William Shea
Michael Smith

Fingers Crossed: Third (And Final) Night Of 2018 Town Meeting Segment A [LIVE]

 Photo: Belmont Town Meeting.

6:50 p.m.: After the highly anticipated debate on marijuana along with votes on banning plastic bags, zoning bylaws and most of the Community Preservation Committee grant applicants, the Belmont 2018 annual Town Meeting will hopefully finish up the non-budgetary warrant articles (known as Segment A) tonight, May 7, as it reconvenes at Belmont High School’s auditorium.

The hot topic tonight will the citizens’ petition to increase the size of the Board of Selectmen from three to five members. If it passes, it would start the process which the town will seek state legislative approval of the proposal. But already the petition will have a hurdle to scale as the current Board of Selectmen voted to seek unfavorable action on the measure.  

A second citizens’ petition that would change the procedural rules on roll call votes will also be discussed but it has not garnered member support. 

Also up tonight are the final two Community Reinvestment Committee grant applicants:

  • $250,000 to fund eligible commitments by the Belmont Housing Trust that would increase housing units where new housing is being built, provide incentives to developers to develop affordable housing units, or fund pre-development work to determine if sites are suitable for community housing development.
  • $175,000 to stabilize the McLean Barn.

There will also be a proclamation to the Belmont Garden Club, reports from the Council on Aging and the Energy Committee.

7:08 p.m.: Town Moderator Mike Widmer says there’s a quorum and we are underway. Widmer said the Community Preservation Committee, the roll call article that will be withdrawn. The budget section of Town Meeting will begin Wednesday, May 30. Widmer said the Town Meeting did not hold up to the tradition of respectful discourse. “Let’s have a civil debate tonight.” 

7:16 p.m.: Selectman Thomas Caputo reads the proclamation to the Belmont Garden Club, which is sort of long. But it is an important town resource by making the town a more beautiful community. Cheers all around.

7:23 p.m.: Now the reports, first Nava Niv Vogel, the town’s Council of Aging Director, who speaks on the Age-Friendly Movement. The town received an $8,000 grant from Tufts Foundation and a UMass grant to do a study on needs. There will be a community-wide presentation on June 5 at 3 p.m. at the Beech Street Center. 

7:30 p.m.: The Energy Committee’s James Booth is presenting the town’s Climate Action Plan. While there has been some decrease in carbon pollution, it’s not nearly at the level to meet the plan’s goal in 2050. There is a need to reduce automobiles and oil/gas heating. More electric cars (50 percent by 2030) and use of heat pumps in homes. This is a roadmap for the town to follow.

7:36 p.m.: The final two CPC grants: first up is $250,000 that the Belmont Housing Trust will use for affordable housing and suitable for community housing development. Housing Trust members Elizabeth Lipson and Rachel Heller present its plans in using the CPA set-asides. It can be used to maximize transit-oriented development opportunities, keep existing housing and shape housing rather than have development come without a plan in hand. Why approve these funds? We don’t have enough homes to house all workers. CPA housing funds is an excellent way for towns to show they are committed to their plans. The Housing Trust said it will allow the trust to use the money to leverage additional money. Liz Allison, pct. 3, asked about the grant agreement which is still being developed and will the agreement will only approve by the Housing Trust. George Hall, town counsel, said the Housing Trust is a quasi-independent committee that has the opportunity  Bob McLaughlin said the grant/agreement is a “slush” fund but you need a slush fund to have a chance to get everything done, it needs to move fast.

The vote is a voice vote and passes unanimously. 

8:02 p.m. Now is the $175,000 to stabilize the McLean Barn – on the National  to stop its deterioration and make the building secure so the town can decide what to do with it. The warrant committee voted 10 against and 5 for favorable action. This is the work that the CPA was created for,” said Lauren Meier of the Historic District Commission. 

Mark Carthy, ptc. 1, said it would be hard to determine the true cost of renovating the building will come only when future use is known so he has problem spending funds on it. Glenn Clancy, director of Community Development, said the only funds being asked to protect the building to allow future use later.

Folks, this is a waste of money, said Bob McLaughlin, pct. 2, said it will cost up to $2 million but there is no practical use due to restrictions on the use. Peter Whitmer, pct. 6, said reject it, talk to McLean Hospital on what it wants to do with it, then come back. Ellen Cushman, not as town clerk but as a member of McLean Land Management Committee, said McLean supports keeping the barn viable so the money is a start not the end of the process, Liz Pew, pct 2, said you have to walk around the building and see its potential, like she did with the old fire stations back in the 1970s. The town is asking $20 per household to save a unique resource. 

Celtics falling behind the Sixers by 12 with 7:32 remaining in the game. 

“I like old things. I am an old thing,” said Mike Chesson, pct 4, who said he sees this “rare” barn – which he visits – said the Town Meeting can think of a use. Smart, dedicated people saved the old fire stations and it can do so with the barn. A “powerful” speech, said Anne-Marie Lambert, pct 8, of Chesson’s speech. Mike McNamara, pct 7, asked Belmont Police on the safety of the barn. Richard McLaughlin, Belmont’s Police chief, said he’s aware of attempted break-ins and anything to help prevent that will be a benefit. Bob McGaw, pct. 1, we heard promises and dreams of the Clark House – which was demolished after a long time attempting to save it. This is much the same and predicts that Town Meeting to “shovel money into a black hole” to keep the barn viable. Ellen Schreiber, pct 8, said if the town doesn’t protect the structure, McLean will be freed from obligations such as building affordable housing on the land. “It’s penny wise but pound foolish.”

Roy Epstein, chair of the Warrant Committee, said the deed restriction on use should be decided first before spending any money on the barn. “We think it’s advisable to seek a long-run solution” before spending the funds.

Dash said this is a three-part process: mothball it, find a use and do the use. “We are looking to work with sddMcLean in the future” and why would they cooperate with Belmont if we can meet our obligations, said Dash. The barn is a poster child for the CPA in historic preservation, he said.

Those in favor see the barn as a valuable asset while opponents want to see future use up front before spending town funds. It’s been an hour of debate.

Donald Mercier moves the question. It’s an electronic vote.

It passes 181 to 59. 

Widmer asked if the masses want to finish tonight or adjourn until Wednesday. Only Jack Weis wants to come back in two days. We are going to finish tonight come hell or high water.

Mary Bradley, pct 5, is withdrawing her citizens’ petition on roll call voting.

9:22 p.m.: Sue Bass, pct 3, presents the citizens’ petition that would increase the number of selectmen from three to five. Bass said she is in favor of a larger board due to the “group dynamics” – less disagreement and more diversity. She said the selectmen should be a policy board. And it doesn’t mean you need to change the role of the Town Administrator to a manager, they already have that authority. The cost would not be that great. And the public meeting laws is not an issue with five which allows for a greater ability to bounce off ideas without the worry concerning a quota. 

Marianne Scali, pct. 2, who was a member of the committee on the number of said her analysis shows three selectmen is effective and manageable. Five would take more time and 

Amy Trotsky, pct 2, another committee member, said what the board really needs is more women and people of other cultures. Trotsky said two more members could see policy done out of the light of the public view. She said don’t fix what’s not broken.

Charles Hamann, pct 3, said it’s “bizarre” two selectmen can’t talk about a subject because of the open meeting law. 

Ellen Schrieber, pct 8, makes a passionate argument against the change, arguing that a five-member board is not 

Steve Rosales, pct 8, former selectmen, gives a rousing barnburner of a speech to defend the current number. 

Ann Paulsen, pct 1, speaks for a five-member board, saying during her seven years on the board her opinion was not always heard. She suggests that women do not seek membership on the board due to the lack of cooperation. 

Jessica Bennett, pct 1, said it’s too big a change without taking a comprehensive look at town government as a whole while also calling for more diversity. 

Ralph Jones, pct 3, as a member of the number of selectmen committee, urge the selectmen to meet with the committee to discuss how to make the board better. He said a five-member board doesn’t mean you will always have qualified candidates/members. “Because I can’t be sure on the downside risk, I vote down,” said Jones.

Julie Crockett, pct 5, talked about barriers of entry to run for selectmen, with the need to raise $50K. She calls for socio-economic diversity on the board. 

Dash said the article is the most important in many years and if they get it wrong, “it will screw up the town for years to come.” He doesn’t see any problem as the board has changed many problem areas. When does increasing the size of the bureaucracy make anything better? “Please, please don’t do it,” said Dash.

David Alper, pct 6, said as a member of the Board of Health for the past 30 years that working within a three-person committee is quite doable. 

Town Administrator Patrice Garvin said she would need to hire a new member of her staff 

The question is moved – a two/thirds vote needed – and it’s 162 – 66.

Now the vote on article 12 … and it’s defeated 171- 59. Not even close. The board of selectmen will stay at three members.

LIVE: Belmont Annual Town Meeting: Second Night, Segment A

Photo: Waiting to start; Town Moderator Mike Widmer

Hello and welcome to the second night of the Segment A portion of the town’s annual Town Meeting, Wednesday, May 2 at Belmont High School. And this night is “Weed Wednesday” as the members of the legislative branch of town government will decide whether or not to send a Marijuana Retail Opt-Out question to town voters.

Tonight will also be voting on projects funded by the Community Preservation Committee 

According to Town Clerk Ellen Cushman, Town Meeting resumes at 7 p.m. (7;05 p.m. Belmont time) starting with Article 10. The Special Town Meeting which will is being opened to take on the Opt-Out will begin at 7: 30 p.m. Town Moderator Mike Widmer has indicated the presentations and discussions for the Special Town Meeting will be taken up after the Community Preservation Committee, Article 10, or at 9 p.m., whichever comes first.

It’s a busy night starting with a proclamation to David Alper, the recently retired member of the Board of Health. There will be reports from the Committee to Study the Number of Selectmen and the new trash plan before we get to the meat of the matter with the CPA article.

7:08 p.m. And we are off!

7:15 p.m.: The CPA will be first up at 7:30 p.m. after the Special Town Meeting is convened.

7:20 p.m.: What a wonderful proclamation to Dr. David Alper, who was on the Board of Health for 30 years which equates to up to 600 meetings. He thanked all the present and former Health Directors and members of the board he served with. He then thanked his wife and kids who snuck into the auditorium for a nice surprise. A deserved standing ovation. 

7:24 p.m.: Paul Rickter, chair of the Committee to Study the Number of Selectmen, presents the method and results of his group’s report. Widmer said in his long years on Town Meeting; it was one of the most complete and informative town reports he has seen. The committee voted two-to-one in favor increasing the number to five. Read the report online here.

7:34 p.m.: Jay Marcotte, director of the Department of Public Works, reports to Town Meeting on the new trash collection. All you need to know – it begins July 1, and you’ll get your new barrels the week before. The members voted overwhelmingly to receive news about trash and recycling via email with mail trailing far behind. They also say that their neighbors should be informed by the mail. Hmmm.

7:45 p.m.: The Special Town Meeting is convened and quickly recessed, and the annual Town Meeting reconvened.

The CPA article is now up and here are the six items seeking funding:

Article 10: The fiscal 2019 Community Preservation Committee budget and projects

  • $103,000 to the Belmont Veterans Memorial.
  • $5,000 for architectural drawings for the music bandstand at Payson Park.
  • $25,000 for design documents and bid specifications for the Town Field playground.
  • $780,087 for the construction of Grove Street Park Intergenerational Walking Path.
  • $250,000 to fund eligible commitments by the Belmont Housing Trust that would increase housing units where new housing is being built, provide incentives to developers to develop affordable housing units, or fund pre-development work to determine if sites are suitable for community housing development.
  • $175,000 to stabilize the McLean Barn.

Former selectmen Angelo Firenze presents the Belmont Veterans Memorial project. He presents the overall plan and discusses what the CPA funds will repair including the wall and other aspects. The Selectmen, Captial Budget, and Warrant committees ask Town Meeting for favorable action. Overwhelmingly adopted.

Tomi Olson, Pct. 5 and Payson Park Music Festival chair presents her request that will eventually create designs to build the bandstand. The Selectmen, Captial Budget, and Warrant committees ask Town Meeting for favorable action. Steve Evans, Pct. 6 ask why there is a need for a bandstand. Olson said its primary purpose would protect instruments from bad weather. Karen Bauerle, pct 6, asked if all abutters have agreed to the stand. Olson said all but one had expressed support. Corinne Olmsted, pct 1, asked if the stand will have sides which could prove to be a hindrance in seeing the many children who attend the concerts. Arto Asadoorian, pct 5, who is the school district’s art director said concerts would be 100 percent better for musicians and acoustically for audiences with a bandstand. A single no and the funding passes.

Up now is creating design drawings for the Town Field playground to start the bid process. It needs to be renovated. A quick vote Overwhelmingly adopted.

The Grove Street intergenerational path is being presented with Selectmen, Capital Budget and Warrant (11-4) seeks favorable action. Donna Ruvolo, pct 7, of Friends of Grove Street Park said it has the plans and want to implement the designs. The path will be paved and six-feet wide, seating areas, plant shade trees and accessible entries to the park. The most expenses are coming from the prep work; moving earth etc. The group has raised $40,000. It is used by so many groups, and Ruvolo is excited to see the project get started. The Rec Department supports the project. And the sledding hill will be even better! Why is it called an intergenerational path? Its name, while not technical, means it’s for everyone, said Ruvolo. Will the new features of the park effect overall maintenance costs. Don’t know. Joe DeStefano, pct 2, asks if the group had through of alternatives to the asphalt pathways which has high maintenance to be maintained. Warrant Committee Chair Roy Epstein said the four members who voted against the item – including himself – thought it was far too expensive when there is a great need for infrastructure (sidewalks) townwide. A few nos but the article passes.

8:48 p.m.: A five-minute break and up will come to the Special Town Meeting the pot opt-out article, which is number 1 in the special. 

9:02 p.m.: Pct 2s Tom Lowrie presents the citizens’ petition. Now George Hall, town counsel, provides an overview of the new marijuana state law approved in 2016. He points out that pot licensing is a state issue but a town can place “time, place, and manner” restrictions on retail sites but can’t limit the number of stores that are allowed by the state. In Belmont, that would be two retail operations.

The main point of the citizens’ petition is a complete opt-out. The amendments by Emma Thurston, Pct 1, would allow an opt-out with the exception for a retail operation. The Bylaw Review Committee approved the article and the amendments. The Selectmen, according to Adam Dash, is in favor of the citizens’ petition only with amendments 1 or 7 is included. But it is opposed to the complete opt-out. Lowrie made it clear the discussion is not on the legality of the 2016 ballot question number 4, it’s the law. It is about giving the town the option to vote on retail and other marijuana establishments. Lowrie said voters might have been in favor of the ballot question so that they could vote on the establishments. Will we permit a recreational marijuana establishment in Belmont? “It’s not to Town Meeting, it is up to the people,” said Lowrie. No response from the audience. 

Thurston is up to explain her three amendments, 1 and two are the same with 2 with a sunset clause. It would opt-out of marijuana-related operations except for retail operations. This a brand new industry so why kill it off before even any operation has opened its door. She said retail operations would be taxed and regulated which is far better than leave marijuana sales to the dealer down the street.

Lowrie points out the state law takes away the option of the town voters who require time to decide if it wants to have an establish at home. “Let the voters decide,” said Lowrie. 

Now … the confusion. Some members are having a hard time understanding what will be presented to voters if the amendments are accepted. So, said a member, that means we don’t have a chance for an election? Widmer is trying his best to explain it because he want’s it as clear as possible. 

If you want a bylaw that eliminates some or all of the establishments in town and limits the number, it needs to go to a town-wide election, said, Hall. How about an election with many options – a complete opt-out or a retail only choice – on the ballot? Possibly, said Hall, since you can have an election and then go to Town Meeting. But a menu of options could create mixed results. Mike McNamara, pct 7, said a local election would not have the same level of participation as it did with a national election, which would allow a small, motivated group to wield a great deal of power.

Claus Becker, pct. 5, said while people may have voted for the legalization of pot for several reasons but they didn’t want to give away local option. David Alper, pct 6, said there is local control over establishments since the Board of Health has created the first regulations in the state including raising the age of purchase to 25. Adam Dash said pot is everywhere and why to give away the potential taxes, which the town needs. Selectmen Mark Paolillo said a pot shop across the line in Cambridge could not be regulated by Belmont but having one in the Town of Homes will be. Doug John, pct. 7, said he voted for the 2016 ballot question so he could vote on the article. Silva Cruz, pct 5, said the citizens’ petition brought a question to town meeting, but it’s hijacked by the amendments.

Ann Mahon, pct 4, said marijuana is already in Belmont so why not tax it? (22) Priya Licht, pct 6, said the criticism of some who said why should there be a second bite at the apple. But that is what the original ballot question allows. Will Brownsberger, like a town meeting member, said he voted for legalization because the drug dealing culture does so much harm to many men. The public health issue is that other drugs are being introduced into pot, so it’s better to get it from licensed establishments. This is an unbelievable regulated industry, and Belmont has an incredible Health Department, so the risk to Belmont is small, said Brownsberger.

Gregory Connelly, a resident, and doctor, said just vote for or against the citizens’ petition and continued to make a strident black and white message on marijuana and how dangerous the current strength of this generation of pot. David Alper attempted to counter Connelly’s argument but quotes facts from the Cato Institute, which did not go over well with Widmer and some members in the back.

Bob McGaw, pct 1, asked Hall if the citizens’ petition failed at the election, that would allow all types of establishments into town with only the Planning Board and Board of Health regulating pot. Yes, said town counsel. Which one do you want to end up with, asked McGaw – a regulated retail operation or the Wild West.

Don Mercier moves the question. 199 to 51 to end debate. This is the vote for Amendment 2 which only allows retail with a sunset clause. It fails 53 to 193.

Now debate on amendment 1 which strictly allows retail operations without the sunset clause. Steve Rosales, pct 8, former selectmen, said people are pleading to him for the chance to have a voice to decide the quality of life. He recalled that residents voted on alcohol in Belmont, not leaving it up to Town Meeting. What are we afraid of to cast a vote. 

That was quick; the question has been called to terminate debate. The measure approved, 227-20. The moment of truth.

The amendment passes overwhelmingly, 162 to 80. The opt-out article in its original form is all but dead. Belmont will have at least two marijuana establishments in town.

Julie Crockett, one of the leading campaigners for the opt-out, calls for the meeting to be adjourned until Monday. Overwhelmingly defeated on a voice vote. The masses what to go home. 

Amendment 7, that allows two stores in town, is being voted. It passes 219-40. 

11 p.m.: Now the neutered opt-out article with the poison pill amendments is being debated. Not that much to debate. The vote is coming. Widmer asks if anyone has any questions since this is a “moving target.”

Now the vote on the article as amended: 135 to 112. That was close but undoubtedly one time supporters threw their vote to the no vote. 

Now a call for an electronic roll call vote, basically getting those who voted on the article to have their vote recorded. 134-103.

11:25 p.m.: And that’s it. What a night in Belmont. See you   

Will A ‘Poison Pill’ Amendment Doom Opt-Out Supporters’ Hopes For Town-Wide Election?

Photo: Marijuana on the agenda at Belmont Town Meeting.

One usually hears the term “poison pill” when a business is under attack from some Gordon Gekko-type and uses tactics like let shareholders purchase stock at a discount to keep the corporate raiders at bay.

Lately, the poison pill has creeped into politics – enter Ted Cruz – where amendments are made to bills that would make the proposed legislation mute or unattractive to even its supporters. Here’s an example curtesy of the junior senator from Texas.

And it now appears the tactic is being introduced to Belmont Town Meeting as supporters of the proposed Opt-Out Article to be debated tonight during a Special Town Meeting within the annual Town Meeting – which resumes at 7 p.m., Wednesday, May 2 – view amendments to their citizens’ petition as toxic to its chances of passing.

“Oh, yes. It’s a poison pill,” said Julie Crockett, one of the campaigners said of the amendments being presented by Precinct 1’s Emma Thurston.

“The amendments prevent either of these votes from occurring and allow a retail establishment without an in-depth study and public input on the issue,” she said later in an email.

The title of the citizens’ petition clearly explains its mission; allowing the town to opt-out of the retail sale of marijuana to adults that is allowed under the state law passed by voters in 2016. Supporters contend while Belmont voters approved Ballot Question Number 453 to 47 percent, the law also provides municipalities the opportunity to vote on whether they want a pot shop(s) in their communities. It’s that election opt-out supporters are seeking.

“All were asking is that it go to a vote of Town Meeting (and the amendments fail) and so we know how Town Meeting feels, and then if it goes to a townwide vote, we find out the will of the people,” said Crockett in an email.

But already the campaigners for the opt-out article are behind the eight-ball as the Board of Selectmen voted unanimously against the citizens’ petition. Two members – Adam Dash and Mark Paolillo – have publically stated they would not call an election even if the article passes members muster. And now they face an immediate challenge from a supporter of marijuana sales in Belmont. Read Thurston’s view on her amendments and the reasoning behind them.

The amendments Thurston is presenting to Town Meeting – she started with seven but that has been pared down to three – allows members to both support the town opting out of all forms of marijuana sales and manufactoring while allowing it to be sold. The most significant amendment is number 1 allowing the town to “prohibit establishment of Marijuana establishments” as prescribed in the citizens’ petition, with one huge “but”: with “the exception for Marijuana Retailer, as defined” under state law, effectively gutting the amendment of its purpose. Amendment 2 is the same language as number 1 but with a sunset clause to terminate the amendment on April 30, 2021.

Crockett believe the amendment’s purpose is to force the issue of retail sales before members have the opportunity to vote on the citizens’ petition.

“Why do you need an exception to our [article]? If you are opposed to it, just vote no on the article. It’s only to confuse members,” she said Monday.

If the amendment passes, opt-out supporters are left with few options. While the option of tabling the article to a latter date is possible, it is unlikely as campaigner will need a two/thirds vote to move the vote to the future which Crockett deems a stretch.

Nor is it only Crockett’s opinion Thurston is attempting to kill the petition before it reaches a full Town Meeting vote.

“It sure sounds like one,” said Town Moderator Michael Widmer of the poison pill comparison, who said he wouldn’t be surprised if the opt-out supporters would themselves urge a “no” vote on the citizens’ petition to wipe the slate clean.

Thurston’s maneuvering has also changed how Widmer is going to “referee” the night’s debate. Earlier Monday, he expressed a desire to limit the scope of the discussion to the technical question of whether members desired to have a town-wide vote to decide the issue. But after reading the amendments, “what is really before Town Meeting is what contents members wants to send to the voters,” he said.

Due to the still evolving nature of the public’s understanding of the article, amendments and the state law and how they all will impact the town, Widmer said he and Town Counsel George Hall will present “a long preamble” before the presentations on the article and amendments to provide both an overview of the state law and the significance on how the members vote.

At a Monday meeting before the opening night that included bursts of amused laughter, the Board of Selectmen were advised by Hall that many of the board’s and town’s assumptions made about the state marijuana law “is just fiction” including limiting the number of storefronts selling pot which is currently more than one. Thurston’s third amendment, number 7, address that question by restricting the number to a single store.

With so many pot in Belmont questions still being juggled, Widmer said he is likely to quickly turn to Hall “more than once” to help to talk us through this all.”

2018 Town Meeting Recap, Night 1: Plastic Bags Trashed, No Sunset On The GR Bylaw

Photo: Belmont Town Meeting 2018

You knew it was going to be a quiet time on the first night of the 2018 Belmont annual Town Meeting when three members in a row focused on copy editing an article rather than debating it. 

To read a blow by blow account and all the measures voted on, head over to the live-blog of Monday’s meeting.

It was not that the articles were inconsequential – one will change the way residents shop and the shape of most single-family homes in the “Town of Homes” – yet none possessed a level of contention that would lead to rising tensions among the members. It was a night to help save the environment, keep newly-constructed residential houses within neighborhood standards and vote to make pot a town cash cow. It was akin to voting against apple pie and mom.

With more than 80 percent of members showing up on Monday, April 30 at Belmont High School, the initial session of the non-financial segment saw overwhelming support for nearly all the articles, led by the town’s ban on plastic shopping bags. While there was some opposition to the article, led by Don Mercier from Precinct 8, the zoning bylaw article presented by newly elected member Linda Levin-Scherz, Pct. 2, swept through 228-32. Star Market shoppers will feel the pinch first as “large” size stories will need to comply in November (how am I going to carry all my Thanksgiving items to the car?) while the remaining retailers have an extra four months before doing away with the bags.

The Planning Board’s two sponsored articles sailed through as the residents saw no reason to put the kibosh on the popular 2015 zoning bylaw that placed restrictions on the height and density of new single and multi-family homes in the General Residence Zoning District which covers a wide swath of Belmont. The “McMansion” bylaw, crafted three years ago by the Planning Board’s Steve Pinkerton who presented the article Monday, included “sunset” language killing off the bylaw if not repealed. The legislative body voted 238-16 to let the sunset language fade off in the distance. A housekeeping change in the bylaw that shuffles off to the Zoning Board of Appeals all the smaller changes/additions to nonconforming homes – dubbed the “deck and dormers” article – passed by a 242-9 margin.

While the three marijuana-related articles were initially set to be voted on Wednesday, Moderator Mike Widmer decided to allow the members a chance to experiment with the least controversial of the trio. Some members felt placing a moratorium on retail weed and edible sales until Dec. 31 was just another delaying tactic. But by a wide margin, 190 to 52, Town Meeting agreed with the Planning Board and Board of Selectmen that since the state still hasn’t hashed out a wide variety of issues with the state law that passed in 2016, Belmont would be better off delaying by a few more months and allow the Planning Board time to write new regulations. OK-ing the town taxing pot sales at three percent was one of the most popular votes taken on the night, 231- 7.

The debate on the tax got the biggest laugh of the night through Town Meeting stalwart Bob McLaughlin who suggested the moderator should ask only those in the hall who were against the tax to speak (figuring there was less of them) because the Red Sox, Bruins, and Celtics were still playing and he wanted to see them.

Belmont Annual Town Meeting: First Night, Segment A

Photo: Town bylaws.

7 p.m.: Hello, and welcome to the first night of the 2018 Belmont annual Town Meeting, which will be about non-budgetary articles. It’s nice to see a large crowd in the Belmont High School auditorium for what will be a fairly straightforward list of articles – nothing too controversial tonight – so we might be able to get out of Dodge by the end of both the Bruins and Celtics playoff games. 

So here is tonight’s agenda:

Article 1: Order of the articles 

Article 2: Authorization to represent the town’s legal interests

Article 3: Amend the general bylaws: Establish the Thaddeus Frost House Historic District

Article 4: Amend zoning bylaws: General Residence Zoning District, Sunset Clause

Article 5: Amend zoning bylaws: General Residence Zoning District 

Article 6: Citizen’s Petition: Single-use plastic check-out bags [Withdrawn]

Article 7: Amends general bylaws: Plastic Bags

Article 10: The fiscal 2019 Community Preservation Committee budget and projects

  • $103,000 to the Belmont Veterans Memorial.
  • $5,000 for architectural drawings for the music bandstand at Payson Park.
  • $25,000 for design documents and bid specifications for the Town Field playground.
  • $780,087 for the construction of Grove Street Park Intergenerational Walking Path.
  • $250,000 to fund eligible commitments by the Belmont Housing Trust that would increase housing units where new housing is being built, provide incentives to developers to develop affordable housing units, or fund pre-development work to determine if sites are suitable for community housing development.
  • $175,000 to stabilize the McLean Barn.

7:05 p.m.: We are right on Belmont time. Moderator Mike Widmer gets the meeting underway. Pastor Butler from the Open Door Church provides the invocation and the Boy Scouts presents the flag. The Chenery Middle School chorus sings the national anthem. The 30 (!) new town meeting members are sworn in. Nice number.

7:20 p.m.: Widmer said he hopes to get through the non-budgetary articles in three nights but that appears to be a hopeful wish. The under/over of three nights to complete the articles is one-in-five. 

The long-serving members are recognized including Marty Cohen with 43 years. Marty said four years ago he gave his retirement speech and he’s giving another one. I’ve enjoyed it very much not as a hobby and a duty but something you want to do well.” Standing O.

Mark Paolillo makes a wonderful speech at the reading of the proclamation for the late Bill Skelley. 

Craig Spinale, the Belmont Light interim GM, gives an update on the electrical distribution plan including the completion of the Blair Pond substation and the infrastructure – power lines – are (near) completed which will allow for the decommissioning of the three older sub-station. The substations will take up to five years for the one across from Town Hall and 6 to 10 for the other two. 

Bruins, Tampa Bay, 0-0 midway through the first period.

Patrice Garvin, our new town administrator, gets a big hand after being introduced by Selectmen chair Adam Dash.

7:40 p.m.: The first article that requires a vote is up and it’s the Thaddeus Frost House Historic District, introduced by Mike Chesson, Pct. 4. The Frost House is a circa 1805 Federalist farmhouse at 291 Brighton St., one of the last in Belmont. The owner wants to protect the exterior if it’s sold in the future. Selectmen unanimously voted favorably. It will be the fourth district in town. This article is well presented by the Historic District Commission with a combination of facts and history. Needs a two-thirds vote. The owner, Athena McInnis, gives her support to the measure. The first question from Warrant Committee chair Roy Epstein on the future use of Community Preservation Act funds to repair the house.

The vote is up and passes overwhelmingly, 237-15. Passes

7:58 p.m.: Steve Pinkerton of the Planning Board presents Article 4, which is the sunset clause of the General Residence Zoning District. This article will allow the restrictions on new construction on single and two family structures to limit the size and mass so they can be consistent with what’s in the neighborhood. Pinkerton said the bylaw has been very successful – developers have been working with the town – over the past three years so it should continue by striking the sunset clause. “Things are going quite well,” said Pinkerton.

Kevin Cunningham, Pct. 4, said he supports eliminating the sunset language because if it doesn’t, the entire bylaw will end which is not what anyone wants. No objection to the action.

The vote is up and it passes with only 16 “no”s with 238 in favor.

8:11 p.m.: Article 5 is up now. This article is known as the “porch and dormer” article which is more of a “housekeeping” issue. Since the zoning bylaw requires that any changes to a non-conforming structure go through a special permit process, small and non-complicated improvements have to go through the cumbersome site and design review in the Planning Board. This article will ship all smaller items – increases under 300 sq.-ft. – to the zoning board of appeals while the Planning Board will have more time to investigate larger additions and such.

Bruins/Lightning 1-1 after one; Celtics/Sixers underway.

Jack Weis, Pct. 2, asked if the ZBA knows they are getting all this new work and will the decisions have the same care and degree of involvement as with the Planning Board. “Yes,” said Edmund Starzec of the Planning Board. Bob McGaw, Pct 1, is acting as Town Meeting copy editor finding errors in the wording in the articles for the second time. Now Roy Epstein, chair of the Warrant Committee, is also finding his own errors. Ellen Cushman, Town Clerk, informs the third challenge to a word (by-law vs. bylaw) that it took her a few years to realize what was the correct.

It passes 242-9.

8:25 p.m., The plastic bag article. The reason article 6 was dismissed. This bylaw will end the use of plastic bags in Belmont, with Star Market, Nov. 1,  being the first to end its use with smaller retailers given a longer time frame, until Feb. 2019. Did you know 7.3 million bags are used by Belmont residents or about 300 per person? Don Mercier, Pct. 8, said that plastic bags cause less stress than cotton/paper bags. Mercier is making the case for the plastic industry. Not so sure he has much support although he has the data holding up his argument. He said the bylaw might seem like a good thing, but it could actually be detrimental to the environment. Bonnie Friedman, Pct. 3, said the town should support the use of compostable cups and paper by retailers. Anne-Marie Lambert, Pct. 8, asked if the town would have a campaign for behavioral change to go along with the ban. Sylvia Cruz, Pct. 5, asked what the impact on businesses in other towns. Campaigner Linda Levin-Scherz, Pct. 2, said they have heard from those businesses who said “Armageddon” didn’t come. Melissa MacIntyre, Pct. 8, said she’s buying eight reusable bags 

The vote is in and it passes 228-32.

9 p.m.: Moderator Mike Widmer wanted to stop for the night but the members immediately rattled the cage in disapproval. Widmer decided to throw the crowd article 8 and 9 to satisfy their appetite.

Celtics by 10 over the Sixers with a minute left in the second; Bruins down to the Lightning, 2-1, after two. 

9:13 p.m.: Marijuana tonight! Widmer goes with the two narrow pot-related articles: first up is the moratorium, Planning Chair Charles Clark is asking the town meeting to delay adult dope use facilities until Dec. 31, 2018 because there is a great deal of confusion – well, it IS marijuana – from the state and the law is very complex that has yet to be resolved. Clark said he did not feel that they had sufficient information to make zoning decision, protecting the town going forward. Mark Paolillo said more time is needed to discuss “time, place and manner” with town residents. Anne Mahon, pct. 4, believes a moratorium is just another delaying tactic. Two-thirds required. The first vote on pot is … 190 to 52.

9:26 p.m.: Article 9 is a three percent town tax on grass and product sales. Mercier said the town might be breaking federal law to accept the money. George Hall, town counsel, said he didn’t see the feds going after the state for taking in revenue. Emma Thurston, pct. 1, asked that the tax is not directed towards any specific expenditure. Hall said it goes into the general funds. Bob McLaughlin, as always, makes his point saying the moderator should ask only those in the hall who are against the tax to speak (figuring there was less of them) because the Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics were playing! The crowd cheers!

The vote is taken: 231- 7. 

 We are going home at 9:36 p.m. Weed Wednesday as the meeting will take up the opt-out article.

Marijuana High On Resident’s Questions At Town Meeting Preview

Photo: (Left) Warrant Committee Chair Roy Epstein and Town Counsel George Hall

April 20 – better known as 4/20 – is, in short, a holiday celebrating marijuana where people gather to consume cannabis and get high.

(Why 4/20 – pronounced four-twenty – ? Blame it on California.)

And in Belmont, 5/2 (May 2) will be marijuana day at the 2018 annual Town Meeting as next Wednesday weed will likely dominate the night’s debate as Town Meeting Members will be asked to decide whether to move forward on a citizens’ petition allowing Belmont to “opt-out” of allowing the retail sale of pot in the “Town of Homes.”  

And if the discussion at Monday’s annual Town Meeting warrant preview co-sponsored by the Belmont League of Women Voters and Warrant Committee is any indication, marijuana will take center stage when the Special Town Meeting is called on Wednesday.

In 2016, Bay State voters approved a ballot measure that legalized recreational cannabis and its sale by retail operators. While Belmont followed the state by endorsing the question by a 53-47 percent margin, a group of residents – many affiliated with the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – has sought to remove Belmont from authorizing the sale of pot and cannabis-related “eatables.” Under the current state law, Belmont can approve a single state retail license under a formula that takes into account the number of retail liquor licenses in town.

The pro-opt out group contends a vote to legalize pot statewide does not mean the voters wish to have a marijuana store in the community. Others, including two current members of the Board of Selectmen, believe the majority of Belmont voters in November 2016 represent the “will of the people” on all aspects of the new law, according to Selectman Mark Paolillo.

From what the questioners asked to Warrant Committee Chair Roy Epstein who hosted the meeting and from Town Counsel George Hall, it appears members and residents wanted some clarity on what Wednesday’s vote by Town Meeting will begin or end in terms on Belmont’s pot future.

Hall explained that if the article to approve an opt-out provision passes on a majority vote – 50 percent of voters plus one extra vote – a general election will need to be called sometime in the summer by the Board of Selectmen (the only group allowed to request an election) to ask for town-wide approval.

“It needs to be approved twice. Both need to happen,” said Hall.

But Hall pointed out that approval of the opt-out clause at Town Meeting is a “recommendation” to the Selectmen to ask for a town-wide vote; it does not compel the Board to call for one. And Adam Dash, the selectmen’s chair, reiterated the board’s majority opinion that it would look unfavorably at such an election. 

Undeterred by the board’s reluctance to the article, Pam Eagar, who presented the opt-0ut citizens’ petition to the town clerk, showed her group’s potential strategy on bypassing the selectmen when he quired Hall on a possible public referendum on the measure. 

Under Belmont bylaws, a referendum – a direct vote in which all voters are invited to vote on a particular proposal to adopt a new bylaw – is allowed, although Hall said it would be a bit “strange” for proponents of the measure to overturn an article accepted by Town Meeting using the referendum process. 

But all the political wrangling on opting in or out will be mute if the article doesn’t pass muster on May 2. And if history is any measure, the supporters of the measure could find themselves fighting an uphill battle due to the time-honored practice of placing amendments to an article. 

Amendments are just that, addition or substitution to an article’s language used to clarify a measure or to correct misprints or errors. As of this week, there are six separate amendments to the marijuana proposal. 

But as seen in past Town Meetings, the greater the number of amendments attached to the articles, the more likely members will determine the original to be “unwinding” and “complicated,” as one member of Monday’s meeting said. 

Pot wasn’t the only subject discussed as residents raised questions on amendments regarding changing the number of Selectmen from three to five members and zoning issues related to the General Residence districts.

Town Meeting Preview: Warrant Briefing Monday Night

Photo: Belmont Town Meeting in action.

The Belmont League of Women Voters and Warrant Committee is co-sponsoring the annual warrant briefing to acquaint Town Meeting members with the non-financial articles on the Town Meeting warrant.

The meeting will take place Monday evening, April 23 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St. This is an opportunity for Town Meeting members and the general public to ask questions of town officials and department heads concerning any of the warrant articles prior to the 2018 Town Meeting beginning in one week on Monday, April 30

Warrant Committee Chair Roy Epstein will preside.