‘Growth Spurt’ Has Belmont School Budget Bursting at the Seams

With just three months left in the fiscal year, it appears the Belmont School District will likely finish the fiscal swimming in a pool of red ink.

In a report highlighting the district’s third quarter financial status, Director of Finance and Administration Anthony DiCologero reported the Belmont’s schools are running an $220,000 deficit for the fiscal 2014 budget, which is $44.3 million excluding state and federal grants.

“There has been unanticipated events that began in the summer” resulting in the financial shortfall, said DiCologero, which Belmont School Committee member Kevin Cunningham said is caused by “a growth spurt” within the district since the bulk of the new expenses are directly related to a continued influx of students into the already brimming district.

According to DiCologero, approximately $450,000 of additional funds were spent on hiring 18 FTE (full-time equivalent) positions – many aides – to fill gaps in the system created by an increase of more than 100 students into the system.

An additional amount – not yet calculated – went to direct students services in Special Education as the actual amount spent in fiscal ’14 far outpaced what was anticipated at the beginning of the fiscal year in July, 2013.

“This continues to be a [line item] in flux,” said DiCologero.

On other unanticipated costs, the need to install a new exhaust system at the High School’s Higginbottom Pool required the expenditure of $50,000.

In addition to higher expenses, the district missed out on opportunity savings when an oil feeder pipe burst in the basement of the High School. This has delayed switching the final of the three heating burners from oil to natural gas, resulting in lost savings in the energy account, said DiCologero.

According to Belmont School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston, the deficit will be resolved with a request of $200,000 from the town’s reserve account as well as clamping down on hirings – each most be reviewed by Kingston and DiCologero before being approved this fiscal year – while also restricting spending on supplies, material and services. In addition, facility maintenance and repairs will be limited.

While the ’14 fiscal budget needs a shot of cash to finish the year, the pending fiscal year 2015 budget – which the School Committee will hold a public meeting and discuss before approving on May 13 – which stands at $46.2 million is in balance.

Resident Seeks Snow Removal Bylaw Repeal, Focus on Fairness

Eric Anderson knows what happens when it snows in Belmont.

Born and raised in town, Anderson said he spent many a winter day with his father shoveling his fair portion of the frozen precipitation off the sidewalks adjacent to his family’s home.

“I’ve been shoveling snow for 37 years … and I’ll continue to do so for the rest of my life,” Anderson told The Belmontonian.

But Anderson doesn’t believe he or any other resident should be forced to perform this normal winter task by a town edict that he has determined is both legally and philosophically questionable.

On Monday night, April 28, before more than 100 residents attending the annual Warrant Briefing sponsored by the Belmont League of Women Voters and the Warrant Committee at the Beech Street Center, Anderson defended his citizens petition – Article 6 – that would strike down the town’s newly-installed residential snow removal bylaw at this year’s annual Town Meeting set to begin Monday, May 5.

“This is, from every angle, a bad law,” he told the audience.

Yet supporters of the bylaw are advocating that the regulations be allowed to stand for the remaining two years of its existence to see how this “experiment” to make Belmont “a better, walkable community” can be improved, according to Michele Banker of Scott Road.

“I’m sure we will have a robust discussion [on the article],” said meeting moderator Michael Libenson, chair of the Warrant Committee.

Eric Anderson (sitting) and moderator Michael Libenson at the annual Warrant Briefing.

Eric Anderson (sitting) and moderator Michael Libenson at the annual Warrant Briefing.

Anderson said the town shouldn’t force residential property owners to be “good neighbors” under a threat of increasing fines and penalties within the bylaw passed at the Special Town Meeting last November that instructs home and property owners to remove any “sizable” snow that falls on sidewalks bordering their property within 36 hours after the snow stops.

One reason for quashing the bylaw is practical for Anderson. After living in the Midwest for a dozen years, he moved back to Belmont in 2011 to settle in a house at the corner of two major town thoroughfares, Pleasant and Leonard streets.

When it snows, the sidewalks outside his house become magnets as the white stuff gets pushed and falls into the walkway.

“If there is a foot of snow on the ground, there is about three feet piled up on my sidewalk and contrary to town officials, a lot of snow gets re-plowed onto the sidewalk,” said Anderson.

The bylaws legal responsibility to clear the sidewalk is “just one I can’t meet so I am subject to fines every year by no fault of my own,” he told the Belmontonian, noting to the audience earlier that penalizing him and his neighbors “is completely unjust.”

A question of community

But his objection isn’t just one of physical effort. Anderson joins past critics who question a legal requirement that residents must improve the accessibility of sidewalks that are town owned.

“It’s not our property. How can the town force us to labor for it?” Anderson told the Belmontonian.

“Who knows, we could be required next year to fill in pot holes.”

But Anderson believes the debate that is sure to come at Town Meeting should include the understandable rational behind the bylaw’s creation: enjoining Belmont residents to act responsibly.

“The worse part of this is the way it undermines community in Belmont,” Anderson told those in attendance, asking resident if they “want to live in a police state where every inconvenience gets addressed with a law and a schedule of fines and punishments?”

Rather, neighbors should speak to those who are not shoveling “and talk to them politely” concerning the necessity to shovel, for both safety and convenience.

Anderson’s “sense of community” was questioned by Anne Paulsen, the former Selectman and State Representative, who said for the first time in her now half-century living in Belmont, she was able to walk from her house on School Street nearby the Wellington School to Waverley Square where “every sidewalk was shoveled.”

“Don’t you think that’s a sign of a good sense of community?” queried Paulsen.

“I think that’s a sign of fear of being fined,” said Anderson, whose answer brought a few hisses and some good-natured laughing from some in the crowd.

Other supporters of the new bylaw spoke out concerning the spirit of the bylaw “was just to get people to have more of a sense of responsibility,” said Lucia Sullivan, and that before its enactment, “almost no one shoveled. But after, those who could, did.”

Others hoped the town would allow the bylaw to work for the next two winters as a test to see “what kinds of changes that are able to be made and what we need to do and how we need to change the wording” to better adapt the regulations to real world conditions, according to Banker.

Belmont Town Administrator David Kale, confirmed the bylaw is set to be expire on April, 30, 2016. If the bylaw is not reintroduced at the 2016 Town Meeting, it will be struck from the regulations.

Early End: Belmont High Graduation June 1; Final Day of School, June 20

Sometimes, due to a quirk in the calendar, holidays are celebrated a lot earlier than what is customary. This past year Hanukkah – which is usually held in December – fell on Thanksgiving while Easter can come as soon as the third week in March.

And that phenomenon will occur this year for the graduating class of high school seniors as Dr. Thomas Kingston confirmed this year’s Belmont High School graduation will take place on Sunday, June 1 at 3 p.m. in the Wenner Field House at Belmont High.

“It’s the earliest day on the calendar that we can hold graduation,” said Kington at the Belmont School Committee meeting held on Tuesday, April 29 at the Chenery Middle School, who noted that the class of 2015 will have their ceremony on one of the latest dates, in the second week of June.

Kingston also announced that unless there is an emergency in town that would force the closure of school for a day (or with the current frigid spring, the possibility of another “snow” day) the final day for the Belmont school district will be Friday, June 20. That will also be an early-release day district wide with the High School ending its day at 10:30 a.m. and all schools “out for summer” before noon.

“So those folks anticipating camp dates and vacations can start making their plans” with a date certain finally set, said Kingston.

Things to Do Today: Revolutionary Art, Rugby’s Final Home Game, Bridge at the Beech

• As part of the library’s One Book One Belmont 2014 events program, Nicole Claris from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston will presents treasures from the MFA’s collection of Revolutionary-era art during her talk “The Revolution in Boston As Seen at the Museum of Fine Arts” from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the library’s Assembly Room. The talk will include portraits of the key leaders who author Nathaniel Philbrick portrays in “Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution,” this year’s One Book, One Belmont selection. Claris currently supervises and trains the 120 actively touring Gallery Instructors at the MFA.  She also leads regular gallery talks for visitors.

• The Belmont High School Rugby Club team is on its way for a return trip to the state championships. So come cheer on the boys and girl at their final home game of the season as the XV take on Boston College High at 7 p.m. at Harris Field on Concord Avenue.

Town Meeting members from Precinct 2 will be holding a meeting in the Board of Selectmen’s Room in Town Hall to discuss articles in the upcoming Town Meeting warrant. The fun starts at 7 p.m. 

• Duplicate Bridge Club meets from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Beech Street Center at 266 Beech St. Every Wednesday the club holds American Contact Bridge League-sanctioned games. All are welcome to play. Cost is $5. Phone: 339-223-6484 for more information.

• On this date in 1885, the Boston Pops was founded by Henry Lee Higginson, who was its director and financial backer until 1918. 


Belmont Fire Report: ‘Friendly’ Fire and Lots of Gas Leaks

Fire pit cooking cancelled

On April 20 at about 4:30 p.m., crews were sent to Dean Street for the report of an outside fire. Turns out that a resident was cooking on a fire pit he dug in his backyard. He was told that the fire department frowns on this activity. The homeowner put out the offending fire.

Their own marathon

It wasn’t only runners who had a marathon last Monday, April 21: Belmont firefighters were sent to Homer Road in Newton at 5:30 a.m. to support Newton Fire during the Boston Marathon. They finally got home just after 7 p.m.

Quick gas work

On April 22 just before 9 a.m., fire crews located in the Headquarters station crossed Trapelo Road to the VFW Hall for a gas leak.

Heat’s on and so is gas

Also on April 22, this time at 22 minutes past 4 p.m., firefighters were sent to a child care facility on Belmont Street as employees said there was a slight odor of gas when the heating system came on. The gas company responded to the employees’ call and the system was shut down.

Permits needed for welding 

A bit after a quarter past 11 a.m. on April 24, Ladder 1 was called to 350 Prospect St. regarding possible welding on a building under construction at the Belmont Hill School off of Prospect Street. With the tragedy of two Boston firefighters who died by a blaze started by welding sparks, the Belmont firefighters investigated and informed the contractor of town permitting requirements for welding operations. All the contractors on the site agreed to comply with Belmont’s requirements before any further welding commences.

Appliance out of whack

Also on April 24, at a quarter past noon, Belmont fire crews were sent to a two family on Linden Ave. for a problem with an appliance. Firefighters were met by a National Grid representative who said the kitchen range/oven was defective as a high level of natural gas (500 parts-per-million) was found in the area. The unit was shut down. The resident who called said the only CO detector in the building was one National Grid left the last time they came by for a problem.

Putting out ‘friendly” fire

On April 25 at about 9:30 p.m., Engine 2 responded to a house on Thomas Street for a reported outside fire. On arrival a “friendly” fire was at the rear of the house. The resident was informed of the fire regulations and that a complaint had been made. He agreed to and preceded to extinguish the fire.

Natural gas on the street

On April 26 just before 9 p.m., Engine 1 was dispatched to Payson Road to investigate the outside odor of natural gas. Crews from Engine 1 reported a slight odor of natural gas that was intermittent in the air in front of the above address. They also found gas company markings on the street. Neighbors report that an odor has been present for several months and the gas company has previously investigated. The fire commander requested the gas company be notified and respond to the scene.

Things to Do Today: Apollo at the Beech, Toddlers in the Libraries, Track on the Track

• The Apollo Club men’s chorus returns to the Beech Street Center for its annual concert at 7:30 p.m. The free concert is open to everyone in the community so everyone can enjoy this popular choral concert by the second oldest continuously performing men’s chorus in the United States. Founded in 1871, the Apollo Club performs all over the country with a repertoire that includes folk songs, love songs, sea chanteys, show tunes, classical and semi-classical compositions. Their director, Florence A. “Flossie” Dunn has been with the chorus for over 50 years.

• Spring break is over and the School Committee is back, holding its scheduled public meeting at 7:30 p.m. at the Chenery Middle School.

Two for the toddler set:

  • Pre-School Storytime will be held at the Benton Library, Belmont’s independent and volunteer run library, at 10:30 a.m. Seasonal stories and crafts for children age 3 to 5. Parents or caregivers must attend. Siblings may attend with adults. Registration is not required. The Benton Library is located at the intersection of Oakley and Old Middlesex.
  • The Belmont Public Library’s Children’s Room is holding Storytime for 2’s and 3’s.  Due to overwhelming popularity, this storytime is offered both at 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. Bring your little ones for stories, songs, and more. Both programs will take place in the Flett Room, across from the Children’s Room. 

• Belmont High School’s Boys’ Track and Field will host Woburn High at Harris Field with the first events getting underway at 3:30 p.m.

• The musical “Hair” opens on this day in 1968 at the Biltmore Theatre on Broadway. What was seen as the height of the hippy counterculture and the emerging sexual revolution entering mainstream entertainment, the musical today is seen as quaint in its depiction of the 60s.

Recount Comes Up a Vote Short for Veteran Town Meeting Member

At the start of the day, Marty Cohen was only four votes away from keeping his seat on Belmont’s town meeting after serving on the town’s legislative body for 39 consecutive years.

And over two hours in the spacious Town Hall auditorium, as a small army of volunteer town election officials viewed each ballot cast in Precinct 3 on April 1 at the annual Town Election, Cohen sat quietly hoping that the day’s recount would see him overcome fellow Precinct 3 representative David Chase’s three-vote margin of victory, 323 to 320, for the 12th and final precinct seat.

“I wouldn’t have asked for one if not for the discrepancy in the count,” said Cohen, referring to the difference between the ballots placed into the optical-scanning voting machine and the number from election officials checking off names in the precinct book of registered voters.

It was a small number – less than five ballots – but enough that Town Clerk Ellen Cushman said she would support Cohen’s request for a second look at the votes cast.

The recount, the first in about a dozen years, was run by the four-member Board of Registrars of Voters under rules specified under state law. Cushman, who along with assistant Town Clerk Meg Piccione and staff member Nancy Casale, assisted the 14 volunteers on how to read each ballot, which to deem “blank” (fore instance, a voter selecting more than the 12 votes they are limited to) and those that would require a vote of the Board to decide.

What the readers would be seeking “is the intent of the voters,” Cushman told the voters.

The box holding the paper ballots was opened, the votes placed into piles of 50 and brought to tables where a pair of volunteers recorded each valid vote cast in the third.

“Let the games begin,” said Cushman as red pencils and rulers began counting and recording as observers hovered close by to  view the recount.

When the recount finished and the numbers tabulated, the new vote count came out in favor of Cohen … but by not enough. The second look total gave Chase 324 votes to Cohen’s 323, a margin of a single vote deciding the last representative from Precinct 3.

“The voters have spoken,” said Cohen who went over to Chase to chat a while on if he should run next year.

“I feel so bad for Marty. It doesn’t feel like a victory,” said Chase, who has been on Town Meeting for approximately 15 years.

As for the recount process, Cushman had no complaints.

“Everything worked out well. I want to thank my staff and the volunteers for the work they did,” she said.

IMG_4462 IMG_4463 IMG_4464 IMG_4465 IMG_4469 IMG_4473 IMG_4482 IMG_4490 IMG_4493 IMG_4499 IMG_4503 IMG_4506 IMG_4510 IMG_4515 IMG_4522 IMG_4528

Liquor, Beer & Wine Licenses to be Heard Thursday, Beech Street Center

The Belmont Board of Selectmen will hold a public meeting on Thursday, May 1, at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St., at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the four applicants for the full-liquor and beer and wine retail licenses.

These are the first new permits to be made public after the State Legislature voted to approve a 2013 town meeting bylaw increasing the number of licenses.

The meeting is a continuation of the hearings held at 8 a.m. on April 22 that brought more than 50 residents to show their interest in the four applicants.

There are three applicants for the single all-alcohol license available this year are:
• Nicolas Market and Deli doing business as The Loading Dock; 11 Brighton St.
• Craft Beer Initiative doing business as Craft Beer Cellar; 51 Leonard St.
• D&L Wine and Spirits Inc. doing business as D & L Wine Shop; 334 Pleasant St.

For one of the two wine and beer licenses available this year is:
• Shri Manohar Corp. doing business as LC Variety; 326 Trapelo Rd.

Those interested residents are invited to attend the meeting and provide public comment on the retail liquor licenses under consideration.

If an individual or organization is unable to attend the hearing but wishes to express a comment or concern for the record, they must do so in writing, send it to the Selectmen’s Office, 455 Concord Ave., Belmont, Ma or via e-mail to: selectmen@belmont-ma.gov.

Written comments and concerns must be received in advance of the hearing if they are to be included.

Get to Know the Town Meeting Articles Monday Night

You just may want to miss viewing “The Voice” or “Dancing with the Stars” to come over to the Beech Street Center tonight, Monday, April 28, for a briefing of the Warrant articles set to be debated in one week’s time at the annual Town Meeting. 

The briefing – which is open to the public and is a great primer for Town Meeting reps – will start at 7 p.m. at the Center, located at 266 Beech St., 

This is an opportunity to ask questions about the 27 warrant articles with town officials and department heads present to provide information on items such as the general and school budgets, Community Preservation grants (including $2 million for the new Underwood Pool), dog kennels, the placement of medical marijuana dispensaries and repealing the snow removal bylaw. 

Michael Libenson, chair of the Warrant Committee – the fiscal watchdog group for the Town Meeting – 
will preside. 

This now annual event is cosponsored by the Warrant Committee and the Belmont League of Women Voters. 

Town Clerk’s Office Closed Monday for Recount Vote

The Belmont Town Clerk’s office is closed today, Monday, April 28, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. to perform a recount of the April 1 town election results.

“We will not be monitoring e-mail or telephones during this time,” said Ellen Cushman, town clerk. 

The recount will begin at 9 a.m. in the Town Hall auditorium on the second floor. The public is invited to come watch the proceedings inside a designated area in the hall. 

Cushman said the Belmont Board of Registrars of Voters received a valid petition signed by the requisite number of registered voters seeking to recount the votes cast in Precinct 3 for town meeting member seeking a three-year term. 
While the Town Clerk’s office did not release the name of the person seeking the recount, it appears that long-time Town Meeting stalwart and frequent speaker at the biannual event Martin Cohen is seeking the recount. Cohen came in 13th with 320 votes, three behind another current Town Meeting representative, David Chase.
Cohen will be seeking a four vote swing to recapture his three-year term.

Residents having an emergency that requires immediate attention by the Town Clerk should call the Town Administrator’s office at 617-993-2600.