A Request For Your Vote: Yes For Belmont, Ballot Question

Photo: Campaigners for the Yes for Belmont ballot question

The Belmontonian is providing candidates/campaigners of ballot questions in contested races the opportunity to make a request for votes in the final week of the election race.

Vote Yes on April 6. It’s up to us to support the future of Belmont.

For many of us in Belmont, the start of spring this month has come with a renewed sense of hope and optimism, as residents get vaccinated and schools begin to re-open more fully.

While there is good reason for all Belmontonians to feel hopeful about the future, we still have a lot of work ahead to heal our community, help Belmont bounce back from a tough year, and make sure Belmont is a place where all residents feel welcome and supported. 

On top of all this, our town is facing a looming fiscal crisis. Despite every effort to cut spending and increase revenue since 2015, what it costs to provide the basic minimum level of services continues to rise faster than our revenue. Even after assuming we spend down our cash reserves in a fiscally responsible way over three years, Belmont is still facing a $20 million deficit over the next three years.

We have a plan to address this looming crisis: Passing the override by voting Yes on April 6.

Supporting the override means we can address our structural deficit in a fiscally responsible way. It means we can preserve what we love about Belmont from our library programs to our parks and playgrounds. It means our students can return to school with the support they need and we can reduce Belmont’s notoriously large class sizes, which ballooned when more than 900 students enrolled in Belmont’s schools in the past 13 years.

Moreover, there is a cost to doing nothing. After the failed override of 2010, our roads and sidewalks fell apart and our high school students had classes replaced with “free periods.” If we don’t pass this override, we will face similar cuts beginning this summer; $3.45 million will be cut from our school and town budgets after depleting our cash reserves. That means a net loss of 21 school positions next year, erasing all the progress we’ve made since 2015 in reducing class sizes. It means reducing the budget for athletics, music, theater and the arts by 40 percent. These cuts and more will prolong the impact of the pandemic on our students, just when we’re all looking for a fresh start.

It also means cuts to the town services we all rely on every day. Our library will need to reduce hours, cut programs, and will be barely above the budget threshold it must meet to stay in the Minuteman Library Network. Our Department of Public Works will continue to plow the same number of streets, but with fewer resources, meaning delays for residents. Such cuts would be penny wise and pound foolish if they force our emergency response teams to rely on overtime rather than routine staffing to meet public safety needs. The cuts to our town services will impact the quality of life in Belmont for all of us.

Our structural deficit won’t be solved by one-time federal funds. The federal aid, while good for Belmont, is either restricted or is needed to pay for COVID expenses next year that were not included in the budget. Current estimates are that only $700,000 to $1.1 million of the federal aid could be used to cover our general operating expenses. That’s not nearly enough to address our $5.7 million deficit next year, let alone the $20 million gap over the next three years.  

And if we delay, our deficit will only continue to grow. A bigger deficit means we will need a bigger override in the future to keep the same services intact. It is more expensive to taxpayers if we wait. 

As we try to turn the page on a uniquely tough year, let’s join together as a community and take the steps needed to ensure our town can bounce back and face the challenges ahead of us on solid financial ground. Passing the override ensures we can preserve our town services, support our students and put Belmont on a fiscally responsible path for the future. It’s up to us to support the future of Belmont. It’s up to us to Vote Yes on April 6.

Opinion: Protect Our Town Employees and Seniors With A ‘Yes’ Vote On The Override

Photo: A vote to pass the override will ensure seniors and town employees are protected

ln his guest column in a local publication dated Feb. 18, “Please Join Me ln Voting ‘Yes,” former Selectman Ralph Jones suggests ways of reducing town expenses including asking town employees to help pay for them. He wrote “reducing compensation through union negotiations would depend on the expiration dates of existing contracts.”

ls it fair or appropriate for Jones, or any elected official or administrator in town including the Select Board or the town administrator, to expect town employees, through a reduction in compensation or benefits, to help pay for the ongoing increases in town expenses?

Residents, administrators and elected officials regularly advocate for new services and facilities but we are reluctant to pay for them and are dismayed when we receive our new real estate tax bills. We, as a town voted, through our town meeting members, for an expensive new high and middle school. Now we have to pay for it.

Regarding additional school services, Jones writes “increasingly, schools also are not simply educating students, they are also caring for their social and emotional needs. This expands the type of employees that must be part of the school system.” I agree with him and will be voting for the override in April.

As residents, we Belmontians want excellent services and top flight facilities and we have them. We want our schools to be among the best in the state. As taxpayers many of us are shocked and angry at how expensive our excellent quality of life costs us.

The town has a limited commercial tax base so we residential taxpayers have to rely on ourselves to fund the facilities and services we choose to have. Going forward, I see overrides every several years as an uncomfortable but routine aspect of living here.

For years there has been talk of helping seniors, who may be having trouble paying their real estate taxes, stay in their homes but I’m not aware of any follow through regarding this issue. ln order for overrides to be successful I believe this issue needs to be effectively addressed.

Our town employees are an integral and valued part of our community. They contribute to our quality of life in ways we often do not notice. I’m in favor of the police and fire department employees keeping their Civil Service protections and of fair compensation and benefits for all town employees.

Dick Madden
Retired Town Meeting Member
Pleasant Street

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.

Letter to the Editor: The Steak and Potatoes of Voting ‘Yes’ for the Override

Photo: Young “Yes” campaigners in Cushing Square on Saturday, March 28.

To the editor:

To the “distinguished” gentleman in the Lexus who gave me a thumbs down this morning [Saturday, March 28] when I was holding a YES for Belmont sign in Cushing Square:

Congratulations on your success.  I’m sure you worked hard for it.  As my 84-year-old father would say, you are driving the “steak and potatoes” of cars.

Maybe you own a house in Belmont. Maybe you bought it long before I bought mine in 2005, when home values were not so high. Maybe you had kids in the Belmont School District, a steak and potatoes school district if there ever was one.

And maybe your kids have done well too, partly as a result of that school district.  I congratulate you.

But the failure of the last override has already taken some steak and potatoes from my son, who did not enjoy fifth-grade foreign languages as those who preceded him in the school system had.  He wants to be an engineer some day; speaking Spanish will help.

My son is in sixth grade, and I purchased my condo in Waverley Square in great part to give him a steak and potatoes education.  I love Belmont and intend to spend the rest of my life here.

This morning [Saturday, March 28] he, an eighth grade friend and a tenth grade friend held signs in Cushing Square in support of the override (photo attached).

If this override does not pass, BHS juniors and seniors will be limited to five courses instead of seven.  This means almost two hours of “free time” in the school day! Chenery Middle School students will have larger class sizes and will lose the “small school within a big school” team teaching system that strengthens learning and helps them through the difficult early teenage years.  And elementary students will lose the intervention that helps struggling students catch up to their peers.

I urge all Belmont residents to vote YES April 7. Below is another way of looking at it. Belmont’s last operating override passed in 2002, 13 years ago. Since that time, similar communities have passed numerous overrides, totaling as follows:

$6.8 million in Acton
$12.5 million in Arlington
$6.2 million in Concord
$10 million in Lexington
$5.8 million in Milton
$7.6 million in Needham
$19.9 million in Newton
$10.3 million in Sudbury
$6.6 million in Wayland
$14.5 million in Wellesley
$5.9 million in Winchester

Belmont, $0

By the way, I drove over some nasty “hamburger and French fries” potholes this morning on my way to hold that YES sign. Those will be fixed too with this override!

Kate Searle

Beech Street

Letter to the Editor: Vote Yes on April 7

To the editor:

Vote “YES” on April 7th

The need is clear: rising enrollment and costly mandates necessitate additional funding if we are to continue to offer our children a quality K-12 education. The statistics are compelling: 

  • the total number of students has risen by 317 in the last five years.
  • Belmont High’s Class of 2014 had 270 students; there were 350 Kindergarten students last fall.
  • two sub-groups of students with higher needs and costly mandated services have increased rapidly: 
    • the number of English Language Learners has climbed from 95 to 222 in the last six years
    • the number of students needed specialized schooling outside the district has increased from 81 in June 2013 to 97 in January 2015 (the average annual cost for an out-of-district placement is $65,000). 

Patching the school budget with one-time funds as we’ve done in recent years is no longer a solution.  If we don’t pass an override to meet these new realities, the steps needed to balance next year’s budget and beyond will without question degrade the quality of Belmont’s Public Schools, including fewer teachers, increased class size, and cuts in programs and electives.

Passing the override will enable us to maintain our existing programs and address the enrollment increases. The override is designed to stabilize the budgets for at least the next three years; and the School Department and School Committee have every incentive to continue to work hard to control costs so that stable and predictable budgets extend well beyond that horizon.

Operating overrides are in Belmont a rare occurrence; and continued tight cost control will be necessary to preserve a stable and predictable budget outlook so that we can retain top teachers, key electives, and reasonable class sizes in the years ahead.

Please join me in voting “YES” for the override on April 7.

Laurie Slap

Long Ave. 

(Note: Slap is the chair of the Belmont School Committee.)

With 17 Days To Go, ‘Yes’ Supporters Rally at the Corner to Begin Election Season

Photo: The traditional site – the corner of Common Street and Concord Avenue – for campaign rallies sees the “Yes for Belmont” group gather to begin the election season in Belmont.

Blame it on the record snowfall, the lack of town-wide contested races or one of a number of other reasons, but so far, there hasn’t been much politicking around Belmont as the annual Town Election fast approaches. Besides some lawn/snow pile signs set outdoors, most of the electioneering in the “Town of Homes” has been taking place inside.

That changed on the first full day of Spring – Saturday, March 21 – as the committee supporting a Proposition 2 1/2 override marshaled its forces to revive the tradition of holding signs and garnering support at the corner of Common and Concord across from the commuter rail tunnel leading in and out of Belmont Center.

Holding large sherbet orange-colored signs proclaiming “Vote Yes April 7,” a wide array of supporters braved a final – hopefully – morning blast of snow to wave both hands and placards at passing motorists.

School Committee member Tom Caputo – who is running unopposed to fill the final two years of the term he holds in the coming election – brought his wife, Sarah, and two daughter, Allison and Jane, to man the site nearest the tunnel.

In the coming years, Belmont schools will face the challenges of dealing with higher enrollment and the costs associated with a top-tier district, “and it’s critical that we recognize that we need the funding of an override to make that possible,” said Caputo.

Preparing for his first-time voting, Belmont High senior Daniel Vernick is also helping garner support among his fellow student for the override’s passage which included holding voter registration at the school. .

“There’s an incredible amount of support at the high school at all [grades] but especially with the seniors because they see how these cuts will [impact] their classmates,” Vernick said.

For veteran campaigner Monty Allen, the primary reason for standing out in the snow is to support the schools that provided his son with “just an outstanding education.”

“It’s not about my son or my family. It’s about everybody else in town. There are some things that you can buy for yourself; there are other things like schools and town services that you can only buy them collectively. I’m for that,” said Allen.

Start Up: Group Seeking ‘Yes’ on Override Holds Initial Gathering

Photo: Residents who came to the Belmont Hill School to discuss passing the Prop. 2 1/2 override in April.

The snowfall that arrived Sunday afternoon, March 1, made driving difficult, particularly attempting to putter up the Prospect Street’s steep incline.

But the weather and the climb did not deter approximately 120 residents who braved the conditions to drive to the Belmont Hill School’s Jordan Athletic Center to listen to the leaders of a newly-formed community group.

Its message: Pass the override.

Yes for Belmont is seeking to marshal support for the passage of a $4.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 override – recommended by the Financial Task Force and placed on the April 7 Town Election ballot by the Board of Selectmen – in an effort to forestall potentially deep cuts in next year’s budget including laying off 22 full-time positions in the school district.
Not a rally nor a policy debate, the half-hour meeting had the feel of a “meet and greet” where supporters could get a chance to get to know the Yes for Belmont leadership team and ask questions about .

Sign-up sheets and forms on what residents are willing to do (holding signs, being part of an outreach team) where on tables for attendees while orange yard signs – that can be found on snow drifts around Belmont – were ready to be taken home.

For Sara Masucci, a seasoned political campaigner and co-chair of Yes for Belmont, the need for an operational override – which permits the town to exceed the 2 1/2 percent annual limit on the increase in taxes a municipality is permitted – is real; deteriorating roads, exploding enrollment in schools with additional costs for special education and English learners has overwhelmed current efforts to pay for it.

“We’re all here because this is a very big deal and we are deeply concerned and we want to make sure that we do what we need to do to make the quality of this town stay at the level that it should be,” said Masucci.

Yet the plan is not to push too hard, be too passionate when discussing the need for additional tax revenue as those residents less supportive of the override “to claim that we are being ‘too emotional’, that we are overblowing the issue, that we are creating a panic,” said Masucci.

Masucci said there are several avenues for residents to take to support the effort; personal networking with friends and colleagues, writing letters of support to media outlets and getting out the vote.

“That’s when will be counting on you, the people, to get out there and make those connections and make that final push to make sure that person you know who supports us but doesn’t really vote gets out there on Tuesday,” Masucci said.

Lars Kellogg-Stedman came to the meeting because of his concern for the future of education in Belmont.

“I have two kids at the Burbank [Elementary] and they’ve really been enjoying their time here and seeing the depth of cuts that are possible if the funding doesn’t come through makes me sad for them because they will be missing a lot of opportunities,” he said.

“I’m going to be writing letters and standing on street corners with signs while talking with all the parents that I know,” he said.

“This is important to our family,” Kellogg-Stedman said.