Ready For Your Close-Up, Mr. Williams

Photo: Behind the scenes with Mr. Williams at Town Hall.

One, if not the sole, perk of being an ex-Belmont Selectman – if that title can be used one final time – it’s the honor of having a “goodbye” portrait hung in the Select Board Room of Town Hall.

Going back a century, the photos of residents who were elected to the executive branch of town government are placed in perpetuity on the walls overlooking the current members as the proverbial “judge over their shoulder,” giving wise guidance to those following them.

On Tuesday morning, Jim Williams, who served one eventful term on the board, arrived in the board room for his appointment with Belmont photographer Beth Ann Fricker of BAF Photography.

While he selected a more traditional tie rather than his favorite with sharks details, Williams – who is moving to Florida in the next few months – didn’t select a pair of paints for the session. If it’s a portrait they want, shorts will do the job just fine.

It’s not known if fellow ex-Select Board member Sami Baghdady showed up in shorts for his portrait later in the day.

Selectmen Chair Williams Not Seeking Re-election (Caveats Included)

Photo: Jim Williams

The question to Belmont Selectman Jim Williams was straight forward as was his answer.

Are you running for re-election?

“No, I am not,” said the chair of the selectman.

But, as Williams would tell the Belmontoian as he was walking home from attending the welcoming session for teachers and education staff at Belmont High School on a warm, Tuesday morning, Sept. 5, his answer has three parts. 

“The second sentence is everything is subject to change,” said Williams with a chuckle.

OK, so is the former Wall Street banker just hedging his bets? What gives? 

“But honestly, I don’t want to run. Guess how old I’ll be in June? I’ll be 72 years old. That means serving until I’m 75,” Williams said, adding the job puts limits on his travel and family plans.

“So what I’m saying is that I’m not running. I’m not forming a committee, not raising any money,” said Williams

But it was the third part of his announcement that turned out to be the most intriguing 

“It’ll also depend on who’s running,” said Williams. He would not name names of those who would run which would trigger his re-entry into the political fray. 

Williams said he felt that he’s accomplished much since winning a seat on the board in 2015 with a major upset of Andy Rojas, beating the incumbent by 500 votes while topping the 4,000 vote mark. The Indiana native and US Navy veteran point to the number of homeowners who have installed solar arrays with his promotion of alternative energy and the restructuring of the town’s pension funding structure which will save Belmont $15 million.

“I think those are significant changes to the town,” said Williams.

Williams: Belmont’s Unfunded Benefits Policy ‘No Longer Valid’, Town Must Restructure Debt Now

Photo: Selectman Jim Williams.

To the Belmontonian:

Some supporters have related that the “Belmont Street” is critical of the ideas I have put forth around the town’s management of its unfunded benefits obligations because it’s unlikely that I’ll be living in Belmont in 2026. While I have no idea as to whether we’ll be living in Belmont (or even living for that matter, but let that go), we all have some idea of the magnitude of the commitments Belmont has already made and is making to its employees and retirees. Also, we have some idea of how the town is currently managing these duties and my professional opinion is that the Belmont’s current policies and strategies are no longer valid based on what we know.

More specifically:

  • Town Counsel George Hall confirmed that the Belmont Retirement Board is responsible for managing the town’s pension obligation and manages that responsibility in part by determining how pension obligations are funded thru annual negotiations with the Board of Selectmen. The BOS then puts forward an annual warrant addressing the agreed funding schedule for review by the Warrant Committee and consideration by Town Meeting, which appropriates funding if agreed.  
  • The BOS is responsible for town’s pension policy and strategy. The same is true for OPEB policy and strategy albeit Town Treasurer Floyd Carman did propose and gain approval from past BOS administrations to set up and begin minimal funding the town’s OPEB Trust. So, the town treasurer is not responsible for benefits policies and strategies; the board is.
  • First Southwest, Inc. has not advised the current or past selectmen on town pension or OPEB policy or strategy and has not been formally engaged by the town to do so.

Given the above as background and because the financial and operating challenges Belmont faces over the next decade are unprecedented, the following are proposed for our consideration:

  • The status quo pension and OPEB strategies need to be addressed in the fiscal 2017 budget cycle and require our immediate attention.
  • The town can issue a Request for Proposal to engage a financial advisor to assist us in evaluating new strategies to meet our known benefits obligations. My recommendation is that the Town meet with the following firms: Stifle, Inc.; Kopelman and Paige PC; Seagal Group, Inc.; and FirstSouthwest, Inc.  
  • As a policy, Belmont should restructure its unfunded pension obligation amortization schedule by 1.) extending its maturity to 2035 using a straight line amortization schedule and 2.) structure a partial refunding (amount to be determined) by issuing a 20-year pension obligation bond to reduce near term cash outflow and extend the commitment.
  • As a policy, the town should undertake the funding of the Net Present Value of its current OPEB obligation estimate for the 30th year of the forecast using a discount rate of 7.75 percent annually going forward. This should be accomplished beginning in fiscal 2016 using funding from free cash flow.
  • Belmont should restructure its pension obligations and fund its resulting current obligations annually.

Mark Twain said: “Never make projections, especially about the future.” It would be so nice if we could use this idea as the basis for managing our benefits obligations, but we can’t because the cost of these long term commitments can be readily estimated as committed and they need to be funded annually with present value funding. If not, Belmont will end up with enormous obligations payable as we go forward, and this debt will beggar our operating, capital, and financial capabilities. 

It’s simply not fair to future Belmont generations which bring me back to the opening remarks of this opinion. It may be that the town might be better off if we all assume that we are not going to be around in 2026 because it draws attention to how unpredictable the future is and the need to take care of today’s business today.

Jim Williams

Belmont Selectman, Town Meeting Member

Williams ‘Wins’ Concessions, Withdrawing Petitions at Town Meeting

Photo: Jim Williams (left)

He’s been an elected officials for just about two months, but in that time, Selectman Jim Williams has sent Belmont’s thinking on town finances all topsy-turvy.

With his surprise election in April – the four-year resident defeated incumbent Andy Rojas by nearly 500 votes – Williams has used his time before and after his election seeking greater “transparency” on a number of financial issues facing Belmont’s future, specifically how the town views and manages long-term expenses related to pensions and other post-employment benefits (know as OPEB).

And it was likely that this month, the town’s legislative body – the nearly 290 member Town Meeting – would have encountered Williams’ goal of bringing those issues into the public forum as the Glenn Road resident filed four citizen petitions with the common goal of “opening the books” of town governance, Williams told the Belmontonian.

But Town Meeting members who were looking forward to several hours of debate and votes on the petitions will be disappointed to learn that Williams will withdraw his articles during the second night of June’s Town Meeting as town officials and members of the Warrant Committee – the financial watchdog for Town Meeting – have agreed to follow through with, at least, reporting on the ideas behind three of the four petitions.

“The selectmen [chair Sami Baghdady and Mark Paolillo] agreed to do the last three [petitions],” Williams told the Belmontonian on Monday, June 1 before Town Meeting reconvened.

The trio of petitions the selectmen agreed to be:

  • sending a quarterly report on the status of free cash to Town Meeting members,
  • the creation work sessions on the development and use of a 20-year financial forecast model for the town, and
  • the establishment of an in-house risk management policy which will make a lot easier because you can anticipate problems.

(The fourth petition would have required all reporting bodies – the selectmen and the warrant and capital budget committees – to provide in writing 48 hours before Town Meeting why they held either a favorable or unfavorable position on articles before the legislative body. It was decided that each body would have to decide on its own how to report this information.)

The other two selectmen’s deferring to William’s petition is somewhat of a surprise as both the Warrant Committee and the selectmen had or prepared to vote an “unfavorable recommendation” on each of the petitions. In the case of the Warrant Committee, the votes on the quartet of articles were nearly all unanimous.

Why the change of heart?

Williams said once he made his presentation to the selectmen, “they decided it was the right thing to do.” The former Wall Street banker said that all he has been asking the town for is “the same transparency any financial body is expected to provide. I don’t see how this is so revolutionary.”

Williams hopes that new information and vigorous debate will lead to what has been his clarion call of tackling the town’s fiscal obligations sooner than later.

As the selectmen are preparing to take a look at areas of debt, the Warrant Committee will take on a “summer project,” according to committee member Adam Dash, to review the town’s current pension payment plan with an attempt to mitigate the cost to town taxpayers.

For Baghdady, the purpose of the new long-range forecast committee “to look at our existing policy and see if there is anything more that can be done. We have a big obligation on paper [approximately $174 million] currently so the first question will be what more can we do as a fiscally-responsible community.”

Baghdady hopes that the efforts by the selectmen and the Warrant Committee on long-range debt “will come together as they really do go hand-in-hand” although pensions payments follow state policy while OPEB debt has not dictated.

While Williams believes the outcome of this new era of fiscal “glasnost” will lead to paying down OPEB debt early, Baghdady said that “it is possible that after the report is complete, it might tell us to ‘stay the course’.”

The current policy is for Belmont’s pension obligations to be paid down steadily – at an ever increasing amount annually – until 2027 and then focus on OPEB. Until that time, a token amount – this year about $366,000 in the next fiscal year – will be transferred into an OPEB stabilization fund.

Town Treasurer Floyd Carman has stated while small, the annual payment is seen by the bond rating agencies as a proactive step in facing its debt obligations, ultimately resulting in the town being one of only 30 or so communities with a stellar AAA bond rating.

“But I think we do owe it to ourselves to go through the process and the analysis,” Baghdady told the Belmontonian.



Letter to the Editor: Williams Will Not Kick the Can on Town’s Obligations

Photo: A family of Jim William campaigners,

To the editor: 

Belmont has a clear choice this year for the Board of Selectmen.  The best choice is Jim Williams.

Belmont made a commitment this year both to town employees and to school employees (both teachers and non-teachers). It’s a promise the town has little chance of keeping.  The promise is to pay benefits called “OPEB,” Other Post-Employment Benefits, referring to post-retirement health care benefits. OPEB is in addition to any pension that employees may earn.

Every two years, the Town prepares a study of how much it will cost to pay all of its OPEB commitments. The most recent analysis found that Belmont owes roughly $196 million in OPEB benefits.

Under Belmont Selectman and candidate Andy Rojas, Belmont appropriated roughly $265,000 toward its OPEB obligation for fiscal year 2015. While Rojas claims that this contribution would put a small dent in the unfunded OPEB obligation, that’s not at all true. In 2013, the annual interest alone on the unfunded OPEB obligation was $2.175 million. The town’s payment, in other words, was just over 10 percent of the interest alone on our unfunded OPEB liability.  

All of the unpaid balance, and 90 percent of the unpaid interest, in other words, went into an amount to be paid sometime in the future. The annual interest, alone, on the unfunded OPEB amount balance has more than tripled in recent years, from just under $700,000 to $2.17 million.

Belmont’s current treatment of OPEB is, in its essence, a form of deficit spending. The town delivers services today, and residents use those services without completely paying for them. When OPEB obligations are deferred to the future, the effect is to push onto our children and grandchildren the costs of providing today’s services.  

Accordingly, herein lies the choice. 

Rojas proposes to kick the can down the road in the hopes that “the state” will bail us out at some point in the future. In the meantime, while the interest and principal continues to accumulate, future OPEB payments will seriously impede Belmont’s future ability to deliver basic municipal services. Since an ever-increasing proportion of Belmont’s future budgets will be needed to pay the OPEB obligations, less and less of those budgets will be left-over to pay for things like paving streets and hiring teachers.  

Williams proposes real solutions. While those solutions not only may, but will surely evolve as they work their way through the political process, unlike Rojas who merely proclaims his leadership, Williams is exhibiting leadership by actually grappling with the problem.  

Belmont faces a real choice this year. Williams is my choice.  

Roger Colton 

Warwick Road

One-Woman Show: Financial Report Shows Allison Self-Financing ‘No’ Effort

Photo: Elizabeth Allison.

Move over, Koch brothers and Tom Steyer; you may think you have a big influence on politics, but you guys have nothing on Elizabeth Allison.

According to a campaign finance report filed March 30 with the Belmont Town Clerk, the Chair of the “Vote No on Ballot Question 1” committee has all but self-financed the effort to defeat the Proposition 2 1/2 override before voters on April 7.

The report which is filed eight days before the election with the Town Clerk shows Allison contributing $5,000 of the $5,640 given to the committee – about 91 cents of every dollar taken in – which saw a grand total of six residents donate to the “No” committee since mid-March.

Of the committee’s leadership, both Campaign Treasurer Raffi Manjikian or Robert Sarno failed to contribute to the fund (although Sarno’s wife, Judith, put in $100) while Jim Gammill pony upped $10.

In addition, Allison made two “in-kind” contributions totaling $1,642.62, raising her total tally to $6,642.62.

On the other side of the ballot question, the “Yes for Belmont” Committee shows a far greater depth in the number of contributors and total money raised. Nearly 80 residents gave less than $50 and 66 more than $50 for a total of $17,385 raised from more than 145 residents since Jan. 1. On top of an opening balance of approximately $6,500, the “Yes” side had a little more than $23,900 on hand.

Nearly all the money raised on both sides have gone to print firms to create yard signs and other promotional material.

Going into the critical final week of the race, the “No” committee was running on empty with less than $200 in reserves while the “Yes” had $13,268.

Over in the Selectman’s race, the incumbent Andy Rojas flexed his money-raising muscles by taking an impressive $21,000 from about 80 contributors, which added to a running balance in his war chest of $11,300, gave the current chair of the Board just about $32,300 to use in his race with challenger Jim Williams. Contributors included members of the Planning Board, former colleagues Ralph Jones and Liz Allison, the School Committee’s Lisa Fiore and former Boston Herald business writer Cosmo Macero.

Interestingly, while not contributing to the “No” committees coffers, Manjikian ($150) and Gammill ($200) ante upped for Rojas.

In the final eight day, Rojas was sitting on just over $19,000 for any last minute push.

First-time candidate Williams found about a quarter of the number of residents – and some out-of-towners – contributing as the Glenn Road resident raised $6,055 since mid-January. Unlike the “No” campaign, Williams has been able to spend very little over that time and can use his remaining $5,359 to impress voters in the final week of the campaign.

Selectman Candidates’ Question of the Week: A Vision for Future Development in Belmont

Photo: Andy Rojas.

Every Wednesday leading up the Town Election on Tuesday, April 7, the Belmontonian will be asking a “Question of the Week” to the candidates running for a seat on the Board of Selectmen: incumbent Andy Rojas and Glenn Road resident Jim Williams.

This weekly feature will allow the candidates seeking a three-year term on the board to answer topical questions concerning Belmont and help demonstrate their ability to lead the town.

This week’s question: There is a critical need in Belmont to promote new growth and increase the tax base. What is your vision for future development in Belmont? Where do you think those opportunities exist within the town?

Andy Rojas

Belmont’s development future must be guided by the needs of our residents, the expansion of our commercial tax base and the enhancement of Belmont’s physical character. My entire adult life has been spent managing development so it fits the neighborhood and environmental context contained in each proposal. Applying my professional experience to town service has demonstrated my commitment to sensitive development that respects and enhances Belmont.

Belmont’s budget struggles often end up imposing a financial burden on the primary revenue generators — residential taxpayers. Well planned economic development in our business districts can change that; commercial taxpayers typically use fewer town services and therefore, have fewer negative impacts on town expenditures.

New development potential exists in Cushing Square, Waverley Square, Belmont Center, South Pleasant Street and Brighton Street among other key business areas. Transitional commercial areas such as Benton Square, Palfrey Square and other small neighborhood commercial areas also have potential for suitable contextual development.

Planning and design must provide necessary commercial services while limiting and mitigating traffic, mass and density impacts. Residents and neighborhoods must be protected with appropriate controls including overlay districts, zoning laws and demolition delay among others.

  • I have worked on revitalizing Belmont’s business districts — large and small — for the past decade and can combine my professional expertise with the Belmont background and experience needed to make these projects successful.

Fitting development to Belmont’s needs can be done most effectively by creating thoughtful overlay districts in key areas. My experience with Belmont’s overlay districts, zoning laws and demolition moratoriums will let me move Belmont forward.

The Cushing Square Overlay District (CSOD) should be updated in light of the Cushing Village developers’ interpretation of the by-law; tighter controls on mass, height and density are needed. CSOD allows for additional development; I will work with the Planning Board and the neighborhood to update and clarify the by-law’s requirements so future development adheres to better targeted, community-based standards.

New overlay district by-laws should be considered for Waverley Square and South Pleasant Street, which will likely see increased development pressure. Partnering with surrounding neighborhoods is critical to their success and effectiveness as important, protective planning tools. I am committed to leading this effort and to using my expertise and Belmont know-how to make them work.

Business district revitalization has begun with restaurants and stores such as Savinos, Il Casale, Spirited Gourmet, Vintages, Craft Beer Store and El Centro; they have opened because Belmont has issued more restaurant and alcohol licenses. The Belmont Center Reconstruction Project, Trapelo Road Reconstruction Project, Macy’s building redevelopment and the construction of Cushing Village will provide even greater commercial growth that will help alleviate the residential taxpayer burden.

Expanding Belmont’s commercial tax base is vital to the long term financial stability of the town, will help mitigate the impact of residential taxes that currently comprise approximately 94 percent of Belmont’s revenue, and will provide the vibrant shopping and dining environment residents deserve.

I respectfully request your vote for Selectman on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. Thank you.

Jim Williams

Belmont is as close to fully developed in terms of available land as any town I know. We have an interesting conundrum here in that we aim to preserve a small-town, community feel, while continuing to advance the growing needs of our community.  

Selectman+Williams+2015-03-08+0001 (1)-2-2

I truly believe that development opportunities reside in Belmont’s commercial centers – Cushing and Waverly Squares, Belmont Center, and along Belmont Street – in order to capitalize on increased revenue (from taxes). Encouraging mixed-use development such as the Cushing Square development plan would promote a business- and commuter-friendly eco-system, while increasing our revenue. Because trains and buses serve the centers, there would be an inherent increase in foot traffic desirable to our local businesses.

Thriving commercial centers promote a sense of community and energy, while increasing engagement in the town.  On the flip side is the fact that our public services are overwhelmed and underfunded, which need to be addressed before expanding our tax base for the sake of revenue while increasing costs to serve the needs of our newest residents.  This balance is best achieved by a fully-functional town management that prioritizes fiscal responsibility and servicing our community and infrastructure. I consider development part of a larger solution within the plan I have offered our beloved Belmont.

Selectman Candidates’ Question of the Week: Where Do You Stand on the ‘McMansion’ Moratorium?

Every Wednesday leading up the Town Election on Tuesday, April 7, the Belmontonian will be asking a “Question of the Week” to the candidates running for a seat on the Board of Selectmen: incumbent Andy Rojas and Glenn Road resident Jim Williams.

This weekly feature will allow the candidates seeking a three-year term on the board to answer topical questions concerning Belmont and help demonstrate their ability to lead the town.

This week’s question: The construction of oversized and out-of-scale residential homes – known as “McMansions” – has become a hot button issue in Belmont and in neighboring towns. The annual Town Meeting in May will be presented a demolition moratorium on new homes that exceed a maximum height and mass in Precinct 7’s Shaw Estates neighborhood. Do you support the petition or not?

Andy Rojas

The character of Belmont’s neighborhoods has been under assault for at least a decade. Teardowns of existing residences have yielded much denser replacements that max out building height and mass while reducing open space, light and air. Increased density of units on existing lots also contributes to increased physical congestion and character erosion.

Development controls such as the recent GR District By-Law and the proposed Precinct 7 Demolition Moratorium By-Law are necessary to retain the architectural character and social demographics of our neighborhoods.

  • I support these actions and would like to see them extended to most of Belmont’s residential areas.

I will initiate and carry out work with the Planning Board, Community Development Department and other appropriate town agencies so a comprehensive Subdivision Control By-Law can be developed. Such a by-law is needed to preserve the historically large lots in many Belmont residential neighborhoods, including Belmont Hill, that are threatened by:

  1. subdivision pressure, increased density and traffic; and
  2. changes to their general character and ‘feel’.

This form of increased density is just as pervasive and destructive to Belmont’s character and charm as out-of-scale building on smaller lots. Both threats must be addressed.

While it is critical to balance benefits to the entire community with the private property rights of owners, we must act now to preserve and protect what has historically made Belmont so desirable as a residential community. The rights of residents should include not having the scale, density, mass and overall character of the neighborhood they chose to live in dramatically change due to unrestrained re-development. We must protect and enhance the basic, underlying characteristics that have evolved into our ‘Town of Homes’.

Preserving Belmont’s character requires effective and targeted use of zoning by-laws and overlay districts as well as approval of projects reflecting community context and values. Our Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals are often residents’ last line of defense against overbuilding. I pledge to appoint board members who will prioritize respect for the town’s character as well as residents’ rights.

Significant professional building and site experience, work as a landscape architect plus many years of Planning Board service qualified me to plan community-sensitive projects and draft bylaws including, but not limited to, the Oakley Village Overlay District; I actively supported the Demolition Delay By-Law. Understanding the past helps me plan Belmont’s future.

I am committed to intelligent residential development and re-development that expands Belmont’s tax base, serves residents and retains our physical, cultural and social character. Belmont can achieve this by utilizing my extensive experience and expertise.

I respectfully request your vote for Selectman on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. Thank you.

Jim Williams

I support the proposed moratorium on over sized teardown replacements for a number of reasons.

First, this is an example of Belmont residents stepping forward to take action, through a democratic process, regarding something that directly affects their neighborhood and quality of life. It does not prevent landowners from selling or renovating their properties, nor does it prevent the teardown and replacement of similarly-sized dwellings. Instead, it provides for a period to re-evaluate this town-wide trend toward the demolition of modest homes in favor of large so-called McMansions.

Jim Williams

Jim Williams.

These large, over-sized dwellings, can have adverse impacts on a neighborhood, and it is in response to this concern that the residents have moved this article forward. During this one-year moratorium period, I hope we can, as a town, consider planning tools that both allow for responsible re-development and also protect the character of our neighborhoods.

Large, over-sized dwellings that fill small lots up to the zoning limits of height, set-back and lot coverage are often much greater in elevation and overall mass than their neighbors. They increase impervious surface and therefore contribute to increased storm-water runoff. In many cases, they replace more modest affordable dwellings thus reducing the diversity of housing stock, particularly for young families, first-time home buyers, and families on fixed incomes such as seniors. The size of these houses can, without extreme energy-saving measures, disproportionately increase the energy demand on the town and its infrastructure and thus drive up energy costs for the town. In several instances, this trend has resulted in the demolition of historic houses and the loss of irreplaceable reminders of Belmont’s history.

Ultimately, Town Meeting will decide the fate of the proposed moratorium. But, in the interim, I wholeheartedly support this article as an example of the neighborhood’s right to shape it’s own future, and more importantly, the message it sends to Town Government regarding the need to re-evaluate and direct future development in a responsible manner town-wide.

Selectman Candidates’ Question of the Week: ‘What’s Your First Act if the Override is Approved, Rejected?’

Photo: Jim Williams

Every Wednesday leading up the Town Election on Tuesday, April 7, the Belmontonian will be asking a “Question of the Week” to the candidates running for a seat on the Board of Selectmen: incumbent Andy Rojas and Glenn Road resident Jim Williams.

This weekly feature will allow the candidates seeking a three-year term on the board to answer topical questions concerning Belmont and help demonstrate their ability to lead the town.

This week’s question: The $4.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 override before Belmont voters on April 7: What would your first act be as a selectman if voters approve the override; and, if they reject it? Be specific.

The position of the answers will alternate each week with Williams having the top spot this week.

Jim Williams

Now that the current Board of Selectman chaired by Andy Rojas put a $4.5 million override on the ballot, it’s very important for the long-term financial stability of the town, its citizens and its creditors that this override is approved as proposed on April 7. Approval will prevent $1.7 million of unnecessary cuts to the school budget and, equally as important  $1.1 million unnecessary cuts to other Town services  in fiscal 2016.

However, even with approval, Belmont’s  financial crisis will continue for the next thirteen years and beyond unless we do something about the $113 million pension fund amortization schedule thru 2027 and the $200 million OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits) obligation projected for 2022.

I have a clear plan for addressing  both obligations. The two key drivers of the plan are 1) refinancing the pension obligation with a bond issue and 2) funding the unfunded OPEB  obligation by making a $2.5 million annual contribution to the fund. We can pay off the  pension obligation by issuing a 20 year, $60 million, <3% municipal bond in 2016. The bond would be paid off  by $4 million annual payments thru 2035 which would be funded by a debt exclusion. The OPEB fund contribution should be funded by override because the operating and capital budgets cannot accommodate such a recurring contribution and the growth of OPEB obligations were not anticipated by Proposition 2 1/2. The door-to-door cost of the pension strategy is $80 million compared to the cost of the current strategy which is $113 million. This approach will save us $33 million, fix the cost of the pension funding for the next 20 years, and  return the $113 million in scheduled pension amortization payments  to the operating and capital budgets thru 2027.

My plan is not only the most responsible way of getting over these huge financial obstacles, but it is also essential to the future financial well being of the town. Also, moving forward from 2016, if we can control our expenses to <3%  annual increase per year, the town’s budget would remain in surplus through 2031 which will allow us to replenish our reserves for the inevitable unforeseen need.

So, when  the proposed $4.5 million override is approved, my first act would be two fold: begin to work on refinancing the pension fund amortization and  funding the OPEB obligations in 2016 which will return the $113 million in scheduled pension amortization payments to the operating and capital budgets thru 2027.

If the voters don’t approve the override, my first act would be to seek alternative funding to avoid the school cuts for, at the least, 2016. Then, I would do the same things outlined above for the pension and the OPEB funds.

Again, my plan is essential to the future financial well being of the town and should have been adopted in 2012 when it was clear that the pension fund amortization would put the town’s budget  in deficit.

Andy Rojas

Regardless of the override outcome, as Selectman, I will use the in-depth experience and knowledge obtained both in my first term and from extensive town service to faithfully implement the will of the voters.


If the override is approved, I will follow Financial Task Force (FTF) recommendations closely. The FTF worked for over a year to develop its carefully thought out, unanimous blueprint.

Immediate FY 2016 actions will include fully funding seven new school positions (approximately $500,000), stabilizing the school department budget (approximately $1.7 million shortfall) and implementing approximately $620,000 in capital budget items. These consist of $300,000 for the pavement management plan, $200,000 for annual sidewalk repair and $120K for debt service payments. I will direct the Public Works and Community Development Departments to undertake road and sidewalk repairs and replacements.

The override completely funds Belmont schools for the coming fiscal year. Increased enrollment, new unfunded mandates for special education, English language learners (ELL) and out of district (OOD) student placements will be accommodated effectively.

The remaining override funds will be placed in a stabilization fund designated for unforeseen budget fluctuations and, per FTF recommendations, for preparation for FY 2017 and FY 2018 budget needs.

Additionally, I will work to enact the other important FTF structural and non-structural budget reform recommendations (among other reforms) so another override will not be needed any time soon.

Andy, Allison & Smudge Rojas - IMG_0827

Andy Rojas, his wife, Allison Miele Rojas, and Smudge.


If the override is rejected, I will work carefully with the School Superintendent, Town Administrator, Warrant Committee and my Board of Selectmen (BoS) colleagues to make necessary town and school cuts.

  • Schools would require targeted, prioritized reductions to remove approximately $1.7 million in expenses from the FY2016 budget.
  • The town, with a very lean current operating budget, is not directly affected by the override. However, it would not receive the override’s approximately $620K for road and sidewalk capital budget improvements.

This will necessarily be very challenging. It’s why Belmont needs an experienced Selectman who already understands in-depth, the relationships between budget items and department needs and who can work within the available revenue budget without compromising town services or the Level 1 ranking of our schools.

If additional revenue sources are identified during FY 2016, I will work with the School Superintendent, the Town Administrator and my BoS colleagues to allocate the funds to the highest priority needs. I am already up-to-speed on the budget, the appropriation process, town and school operations and requirements and, as the current BoS Chair and a Warrant Committee member, will be able to make the requisite difficult decisions based on experience.


Both scenarios depend on effective communications between the BoS, School Department, Town Administrator, Warrant Committee and related town departments. I have worked closely with all these groups and have a proven track record of effective communication and engagement that has resulted in forward-looking financial management of town resources. Continuing this broad engagement will give Belmont the best outcomes in the future.

I respectfully request your vote for Selectman on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. Thank you.

Selectman Candidates’ Question of the Week: ‘Why Are You Running?’

Photo: Andy Rojas.

Beginning today and on every Wednesday leading up the Town Election on Tuesday, April 7, the Belmontonian will be asking a “Question of the Week” to the candidates running for a seat on the Board of Selectmen: incumbent Andy Rojas and Glenn Road resident Jim Williams.

This weekly feature will allow the candidates seeking a three-year term on the board to answer topical questions concerning Belmont and help demonstrate their ability to lead the town.

This week’s question: Why are you running for selectman?

The position of the answers will alternate each week with Rojas having the top spot this week.

Andy Rojas

I am running for re-election as Belmont Selectman to build on my first term achievements — significant results based on an in-depth understanding of the job, experienced leadership and excellent community-Selectman communications.

Belmont is truly a wonderful town but, in common with other towns, it faces many challenges ranging from the effects of increased use of town and school services, to the need for thoughtful residential and commercial development that preserves our green space. These challenges require experienced leadership, in-depth knowledge and skills in many areas — not merely a focus on one or two issues. I bring the right qualifications to the table.

My wife, Allison Miele Rojas and I have lived in Belmont for over 20 years. This is where we raised our two children both of whom are graduates of Belmont High School. Our son, Samuel, is a senior at St. Michael’s College. Our daughter, Lucy, is a sophomore at the University of Hartford. Smudge, our pug, rounds out the family.

Allison and I own Rojas Design, Inc., an architectural firm. I am a professional landscape architect with significant, sustainable building and site design experience. Allison is an experienced interior architect who is a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Accredited Professional.

I have a Master of Landscape Architecture from Harvard University, studied Real Estate Development & Management at the Harvard Business School, received a Bachelor of Media Arts (Honorary) from the Massachusetts Communication College, and have a Bachelor of Science from the City College of New York School of Architecture.

My extensive knowledge of the issues that Belmont faces comes not just from living here for many years but from actual service to the town. This service includes, but is not limited to:

• Board of Selectmen — 2012 – present, Chair, April, 2014 – present;

• Warrant Committee — 2014 – present;

• Community Preservation Committee — 2012 – present;

• Planning Board — 2006 -2012, Vice Chair — 2010 – 2012;

• Capital Projects Overview Committee — 2007 – 2009;

• Capital Endowment Committee — 2012 – present;

• Benton Branch Library Re-Use Committee — 2007 – 2010;

• Police Station Feasibility Committee — 2007 – 2008;

• Harvard Lawn Fire Station Re-Use Committee — Chair – 2006 – 2007;

• Shade Tree Committee — 2005 – 2012;

• Town Meeting Member — 2007 – present; and,

• Coach for Belmont Youth Basketball and Baseball teams.

Allison and I have made it a practice to use our professional expertise to help the town. We’ve donated professional design services to the Butler School Playground, the Belmont High School Language Lab as well as the Winn Brook School Basketball Courts. I introduced the Grove Street Playground Master Plan concept and advocated for the study that is currently underway.

I have the experience, proven leadership, demonstrated commitment and knowledge of Belmont needed to meet the challenges we face. I respectfully ask for your vote for Selectman on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. Thank you.

Jim Williams

Dear fellow Belmontonians, did you know that Belmont’s Management states in the current Annual Report that our town does not have the reserves necessary to “meet its ongoing short and long term obligations to its citizens or its creditors”? 

Did you know that we will need to come up with  nearly an additional  $400 million over the next 13 years to meet these obligations unless we change our financial strategies?

Did you know that the current $4.5 million override proposal is inadequate to meet the current scheduled unfunded pension assessments beyond 2019 and that another even larger override will be needed to cover the remaining payments thru 2028?

Did you know that the Town projects costs of a new high school, a new police station, and a new DPW Facility to be an additional $200 million which makes “planned” expenditures  total $600 million under current strategies? 

If you don’t,  you are in the majority and it’s not surprising since Town Management has not engaged us in a frank discussion of these looming obligations as they developed or  provided sensible  and timely strategies to address them.   

It should be clear that something’s going to have to give as  this plan  and its expenses are just simply too large for the Town to pay, incur or otherwise undertake with its $100 million in annual revenues. Also, it should be clear that it  can no longer be  resolved with  just overrides and/or service cuts (i.e. “cans kicked down the road.”)

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Jim Williams

I am running for Selectman because I think I have real solutions for the Town. What we need to do is to issue a 20-year bond in 2015 to pay off the pension liability which will return the scheduled pension  payments to the operating and capital budgets thru 2028; fund the healthcare retirement obligation with $2.5 million annually beginning in 2015 and control expense increases  going forward to less than three percent per year.
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By taking these three actions, we can resolve this crisis. Since the current Board has put a $4.5 million override on the ballot, our choice is to approve it or to face further service cuts. I recommend that you consider approving the proposed override to avoid the threatened services cuts.  By doing this, we can repurpose those funds provided  as we implement a more serious plan to resolve our very real financial difficulties and return the Town to fiscal stability.
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I don’t think of my candidacy as running against Andy, Mark, or Sami. Instead, I want to make sure Belmont remains a great town with level one schools for our children, roads that do not require slalom driving, great recreational opportunities and a green policy that makes us part of the solution to the climate change. This election is critical to the Town’s financial stability.  If you are as concerned as I am, please vote for the override, support my campaign and vote for Jim Williams on April 7th.