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.

‘Big Number’: New Belmont High School Price Tag Likely Topping $300 Million

Photo: Residents viewing designs for the new Belmont High School, Jan. 16.

It was always assumed a new or renovated Belmont High School would cost a pretty penny for taxpayers.

After Tuesday’s joint public meeting led by the Belmont High School Building Committee, residents now have a clearer idea of the price tag to build a new school will require a whole lot of pennies, as in about 31 billion one-cent coins.

That’s the outcome of the initial financial analysis by Daedalus Project Company’s Tom Gatzunis, the owner’s project manager for the Belmont High School Project, who presented his work to a joint meeting of the Building Committee, the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee as well as a number of residents at the Chenery Middle School on Jan. 16.

“We are giving you a brief snapshot of where we are of the cost of all the different scenarios,” said Gatzunis, pointing out the analysis presented initial cost projections for four designs – two that are minor renovation/major additions, a major renovation/minor addition and all new construction – in three grade configurations; 9th to 12th, 8th to 12th, and 7th to 12th grades.

With the focus of the joint committee on building a 7th to 12th-grade structure – which would not require the town to build a new elementary school if a 9th through 12th scheme is chosen or commit to costly revamping classrooms in an 8th through 12th grade blueprint – the project price tag for a new high school including construction and soft cost would come to approximately $310 million for a 410,000 sq.-ft. multi-story building housing 2,215 students.

Go to the Belmont High School Building Committee webpage to see an updated designs from architect Perkins+Will and financial data from Daedalus.

If approved by Town Meeting and voters through a debt exclusion vote, the new Belmont high school would be one of the most expensive ever built in the US, trailing only two mega schools in Los Angeles. Locally, it would top the current priciest high school in Somerville at $257 million and the proposed new building in Waltham at $283 million and dwarfing the controversial Newton North High School that came in at $197.5 million that opened in 2010.

Belmont will not be on the hook for the entire amount. About 36 percent of the construction cost or $81 million will be absorbed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority which is working closely with the Building Committee on the project. With the reimbursement calculated into the cost, Belmont’s share of the project comes to approximately $231 million.

What the $231 million expense means to taxpayers was explained by Town Treasurer Floyd Carman who said at 4 percent interest over 30 years of level payments, real estate property taxes would increase by $184 per $100,000 of assessed value beginning in 2020, the year construction would start. 

Below is a chart of the yearly real estate tax increase for homes at three assessed values:

  • $500,000 – $920
  • $750,000 – $1,387
  • $1 million (the average residential assessment in Belmont as of fiscal 2018) – $1,840

“The numbers are the numbers,” explained Carman.

There are less expensive options including renovating the existing school with not additions or new construction at $124 million with Belmont picking up $92 million. And a 9-12 school would be in the $180 million range, which does not include the cost of a new elementary school that Belmont Superintendent John Plehan has said would be required to meet the ever-increasing enrollment numbers in Belmont’s school.

Phelan said if any of the 9-12 designs are selected, the town would need to come up with between $72 million to $82.5 million for a new elementary school and renovations at three of the four elementary schools and the Chenery.

Whether it was sticker shock or the outcome of the analysis was expected, committee members and the public did not have any immediate reaction to the big numbers generated by the project. 

“Wow, I thought there would be a lot more questions,” said Building Committee Chair William Lovallo. He noted that the committee will not return to the cost component until mid-summer “when we will have better numbers.” 

The next joint meeting will be Tuesday, Jan. 23 when the School Committee will vote on a grade configuration moving forward while the Building Committee will select a design scheme. 

Town Election ’17: Carman Seeking Re-Election as Treasurer

Photo: Floyd Carman.

Belmont Town Teasurer and long-time resident Floyd Carman told the Belmontonian this week he will be running to retain his post as the town’s manager of its financial assets and liabilities and tax collector.

Now in his 12th year in the post, Carman is known for his ahearance to conservative financial principles which he says is one reason the town has maintained the gold standard Triple A rating from Moody’s, the bond credit rating firm, for most of a decade. 

Carman was first elected treasurer in 2005, winning a close race over Danelia Boccia. He has run unopposed since.

Born in Cambridge, Carman spent four decades with John Hancock, reaching the position of vice president before retiring in August 2005. The Brighton Street resident matriculated at Bentley College and received his MBA in Finance from Western New England College.