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