Budget Could Take Backseat to Funding Gap When Town Meeting Resumes

Photo: Jim Williams.

The fiscal 2016 budget was suppose to be in the spotlight at the Belmont League of Women Voters’ Warrant Briefing at the Beech Street Center on Monday, May 18.

While the night’s agenda was an opportunity to ask questions aout financial and budget articles facing Town Meeting members when the annual Town Meeting reconvenes on June 1, the most interest and talk Monday revolved around four citizen petitions submitted when the majority of this winter’s record snowfall was being shoveled from driveways and sidewalks. 

With each petition related to the unfunded pension and retiree benefits on the town’s ledger was submitted by then Town Meeting member Jim Williams, it appears the now-Selectman is ready to push what he believes is an unsustainable financial future for the town’s taxpayers to the forefront of Town Meeting debate which will occur in less than a fortnight.

“We would be nuts not to start discussing this … when the budget is being discussed,” said Williams after the meeting.

It was Williams’ laser-like focus on more than 70 years of the town’s failure to fund its petitions and the effect it will have on town finances (in addition to groups as diverse as solar power supporters and liberal-leaning individuals) which propelled him onto the Board of Selectmen with a surprising 500-vote victory over incumbent Andy Rojas in April’s Town Meeting. 

The four petitions – read them here – is an attempt, Williams told the Belmontonian, “to increase transparency for Town Meeting [members]” as he and his supporters ramp up their effort to discuss the “growing” impact of unfunded pension obligations – including Other Postemployment Benefits (or OPEB) liabilities. 

The most significant of the petitions, if successfully adopted by Town Meeting, would require the town to produce a 20-year budget projection model with specific line items that would show the funding gap when calculating the standard difference of revenue and expenses.

But the petition would go further, identifying the gap between the revenue/expenses and the amortized unfunded petition and also the gap if the petition was kept at a fixed rate. And that’s just half of the calculations and analysis the petition calls for. 

In addition to the projection model, a second petition would require the town to establish a risk management function, which the town would evaluate “risk” it faces including “financial, operational, reporting, compliance, governance, strategic, reputational, etc.” 

The other two – a quarterly report on the town’s free cash account and requiring the Board of Selectmen, the Capital Budget and Warrant committees to provide Town Meeting 48-hour notice to explain why it takes a certain position on articles – rounds out Williams’ quest for clarity to the Town Meeting process. 

(The first petition article, on giving 48-hour notice, came under criticism by the Warrant Committee’s Bob McLaughlin, who said he would wait for Wednesday’s Warrant Committee meeting to battle Williams on what McLaughlin calls “busy work.”)

While Williams has supporters for his effort, he will in all likelihood be facing a formidable opposing viewpoint in the form of “Your Town Treasurer,” Floyd Carman. 

While the few times Williams and Carman – both men come into the debate after working decades in corporate finance – exchanged views Monday were always cordial (it appeared neither wished to show their hands to the other pre-Town Meeting), there was ample evidence how both will defend their positions.

When Williams noted that as of June 30, the town will owe $100 million to the OPEB account, he asked why the town was setting aside “arguably a token” amount of $366,000 into the account.

“Why not put $5 million” against the liability? queried Williams.

Carman responded that “our approach” has been to follow the Governmental Accounting Standards Board’s method of paying pension in a “pay as you go” basis which the bond-rating agencies, such as Moody’s, has enthusiastically backed.

“And it’s why we have kept our Triple A rating,” said Carman.

Carman noted that 351 other towns in Massachusetts are using the same modus operandi of paying down the remaining town pensions in 2028 before funding the OPEB debt. 

Yet by 2028, the town’s unfunded liability will reach $300 million, said Williams. “I consider this the major risk we face in the future.” 

Carman responded that the town can only move forward on tackling the unfunded pensions and post employment benefits by consulting the town’s 8,253 taxpayers, “our customers.” 

Carman has said in the past that paying off the OPEB debt early via a large debt exclusion would make it impossible for Belmont to finance the big-ticket items before the town – a new High School, a Police station, a Department of Public Works building – as the new debt would take the town’s bonding capacity to near zero for more than a decade. 

And it’s uncertain exactly what the OPEB amount will be by mid-2020. Michael Libenson, chair of the Warrant Committee (which co-hosted the night’s event) said just days ago, the actuary estimate of the town’s OPEB liability for this year fell from $195 million to $171 million, a $24 million reduction due to no growth in health care costs this past year.

Libenson said OPEB costs have been pegged by actuaries with health care costs increasing at 8 percent annually. While no one is predicting zero percent growth over the next few years, if expenses are cut by 3 percent over the next five years, the liability will be reduced from $195 million to $90 million. 

“That’s the trick, what is the growth of health care,” he said.

Belmont Rugby Welcomes Back Rivals Bishop Hendricken in State Semifinals

Photo: The earlier match with Bishop Hendricken.

Belmont High School Rugby Club will be seeking its third consecutive trip to the state championships as the squad hosts tonight, Tuesday, May 19, the team it battled in the past two finals and defeated earlier this year in a historic victory.

Bishop Hendricken High School‘s rugby club will take on Belmont in a rematch of an earlier scrum which Belmont dominated, 25-5, back on April 1. The earlier victory was the first regular season win over the school from Warwick, RI. which holds a 5-2 edge over Belmont. The other win was in the 2013 Massachusetts Youth Rugby Organzation State Championship in Devens.

The match, on the Harris Field pitch, will start at 7 p.m. 

If victorious, Belmont will meet the winner of the Boston College High School/St. John’s Prep match in Worcester on Saturday, May 23. 

Belmont’s Pepperidge Farm Outlet Set to Close on June 18

Photo: The Pepperidge Farm Outlet Store on Blanchard Road. 

[Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly set the date of the outlet closing on Wednesday, June 11]

The Pepperidge Farm Outlet Store, the thrift store that supplied generation of children with Goldfish crackers and was a guilty pleasure for anyone seeking below-price Milanos, will be closing for the final time on Thursday, June 18. 

“They just told us that they are closing the store a few days ago. And that was it,” said a clerk on Saturday, May 16. 

A Belmontonian message for comment was sent to Camden NJ-based Campbell Soup, which has owned Pepperidge Farm since 1961.

The store located at 87 Blanchard Rd. was known for its discount days – for seniors, teachers and the military – and the overall cost savings in which a wide-selection of breads, snacks, frozen foods, gift packages and cookies and crackers were always on sale. 

Three Arlington-Belmont Crew Boats Heading to Rowing Nationals in June

Photo: The Arlington-Belmont crew at the Head of the Charles. 

They might be considered “lightweight”, but there is nothing insubstantial about the Arlington-Belmont Crew, the rowing club with students from Belmont and Arlington high schools that began in 2005.

At this weekend’s 2015 USRowing Northeast Youth Championships held on the Merrimack River in Lowell, three A-B “lightweight” boats qualified and will be traveling to the USRowing Nationals in Florida next month.

The term lightweight refer to the weight of each rower not exceeding 150 lbs for men and 130 lbs for women.

The A-B men’s lightweight four (four rowers using one oar each) took first, beating the Dublin School by four and a half second, crossing the line in 7 minutes, 4.9 seconds. 

The men’s lightweight eight took second (6:30.1) behind Boston Community Rowing, edging out Brookline High School by half a second. 

The women’s lightweight eight finished behind Saugatuck Rowing, finishing second in 7:27.3.

 The 2015 USRowing Youth National Championships will be hold on June 12 to 14, in Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla.

Belmont Town Day 2015: Overcast with a Chance of Fun

Photo: Town Day Belmont, 2015. 

When Eve Loncar heard there was going to be a dog show at Belmont’s Town Day festivities on Saturday, May 16, she thought why not enter her 10-month-old puppy Maxwell. She lived only a block away on Claflin Street and it would be nice way to spend the afternoon.

“We just walked right in,” said Loncar.

An hour later, she and her “Goldendoodle” left the annual event with the “Best of Show” prize (picked by the cheers from the assembled crowd) and a $100 gift certificate from sponsor Belmont Savings Bank.

“Wow, we got the house in the suburbs, the white picket fence and now a championship dog,” said Loncar, having moved to Belmont two years ago from Cambridge. 

The dog show was just one part of the day-long event hosted by the Belmont Center Business Association, now in its quarter century of existence. In addition to kids rides, businesses hawking their goods and services, and non-profits promoting causes, the day included an auto show, pony rides and plenty of food. Despite the overcast conditions, the rain held off and the day did not have the stifling heat of past years. 

Over by the dunk tank, special guest “dunkees” such as Belmont High Head Football Coach Yann Kumin, sat on the hot seat over a cold barrel of water to raise money for the Belmont Boosters Club. Coach “Q” had the misfortune of having the past head of the South End Youth Baseball Association throw a stinging fastball onto the target, sending him into the drink. 


This Week: Blacker Awards, Schools’ Art Show, Rugby Semis, Historical Society’s 50 Years, Concerts

Photo: Art work at the annual Town-Wide Spring Art Exhibit.

This week’s government meetings:

  • The Belmont Vision 21 Implementation Committee is meeting Tuesday, May 19, at 7 p.m. in the Flett Room of the Belmont Public Library. 
  • The Warrant Committee will review the financial amendments and budgets for fiscal 2016 at its Wednesday, May 20, at 7:30 p.m. in the Chenery Middle School. 

Music & Movement with Rubi, a movement and music program recommended for ages 3 to 5 (but 2 year olds are welcome) will be held in the Flett Room on Monday, May 18.  There will be two sessions: 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

• The Chenery Middle School Honors ensembles – band, chorus and orchestra – will performing in the school’s auditorium, Monday, May 18 at 7 p.m.

Tuesday is story time at both of Belmont libraries. 
• Pre-School Story Time at the Benton Library, Belmont’s independent and volunteer run library, at 10:30 a.m. 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 on Concord Avenue will be holding two sessions of Story Time for 2’s and 3’s, at 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. 

The second session of Belmont Public Library’s eCamp takes place on Tuesday, May 19, from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the Young Adult Room. Reference Librarian Joanna Breen and Technology Librarian Ellen Girouard will teach how to access the library from wherever you find yourself this summer, talk about Zinio and hoopla, and demonstrate other ways the library connects patrons to online media, in this free-flowing demonstration plus Q&A session. Enjoy snacks, practice with your device or a library laptop, and get connected to magazines, movies, music, and more.

Belmont Historical Society’s Viktoria Haase will take residents on a trip down memory lane, recalling Belmont in days gone by on Tuesday, May 19, at 1:15 p.m. at the Beech Street Center. The audience will be encouraged to participate and share their own stories and childhood memories of what growing up in this community was all about.

• The staff from US Rep. Katherine Clark will be holding office hours from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 19, at the Beech Street Center.

• The Belmont High School Rugby club hosts the semifinals of the Div. 1 Massachusetts Youth Rugby Organization High School championships against its great rival, Bishop Hendricken of Warwick, Rhode Island, on Tuesday, May 19, at 7 p.m. on the pitch of Harris Field. 

• The Belmont Book Discussion group will discuss Benediction by Kent Haruf on Wednesday, May 20, from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Flett Room. The third novel set the fictitious Colorado town of Holt, “a claustrophobic place, where secrets cannot be hidden,” Haruf’s “beautifully spare prose charts the events of [a] summer with unpretentious aplomb.” Everyone is welcome to attend. Copies of the book can be requested through the library catalog or call the library Reference staff at 617-993-2870.

The International Fiction Book Club will discuss at its monthly get together, An Unnecessary Woman, by Rabih Alameddine on Wednesday, May 20, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Belmont Public Library’s Flett Room. Join the club on the third Wednesday of the month for fun conversation, tea and snacks. Everybody is welcome. If you have questions, or need help finding a copy of the book, contact Kylie at ksparks@minlib.net.

• The Belmont Gallery of Art welcomes the Belmont Public Schools Fine Arts Department faculty who will install a collection of works by students in Kindergarten through High School seniors for the annual Town-Wide Spring Art Exhibit which opens on Wednesday, May 20, at 6 p.m. A wonderful sampling of work is showcased from the visual arts program and curriculum within the schools. Featured are pieces in a wide variety of media including paintings, ceramics, prints, drawings and three-dimensional work. The exhibit runs through June 8. 

• The Belmont High School English Department will present the annual Lillian F. Blacker Prizes for Excellence in Writing on Wednesday, May 20, at 6:30 p.m. in the Peter Holland Library at Belmont High School.

A celebration of 50 Years of the Belmont Historial Society will be held on Wednesday, May 20, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Assembly Room of the Belmont Public Library. Viktoria Haase, curator of the Belmont Historical Society’s collection of historical documents, images, and artifacts, will present a special program commemorating the anniversary of the rejuvenation of the society in April 1965. Come and test your knowledge of local history in a fast-paced fun-filled “Jeopardy”-style game show. In addition, the society will announce this year’s honorees of the David R. Johnson Preservation Awards and the distribution of the latest set of the Society’s Historic House plaques.

• The Grade 6 Band, Chorus and Orchestra Concert, led by John McLellan and Sharon Phipps(band), Margot Reavey (orchestra) and Christine Servilio (chorus) will take place at the Chenery Middle School auditorium on Thursday, May 21 at 7 p.m.

• The Powers Community String Orchestra’s Spring Concert takes place on Thursday, May 21, at 8 p.m., at All Saints’ Church, 17 Clark St. Admission is free. The orchestra is comprised of advanced adult string players from Belmont, Arlington, Lexington, Cambridge, Boston, Newton, Watertown, and surrounding communities. Conducted by Channing Yu, the ensemble performs baroque, classical, romantic and contemporary masterpieces from the string orchestra literature. 

Tuxes and Gowns Set the Standard at Belmont High’s Promenade

Photo: Belmont High School prom.

Tuxes with bow ties, black dresses and strapless, colorful gowns were the standard for the nearly 450 students and guests attending the Belmont High School Promenade and Prom held Friday, May 15.

A massive crowd of parents, students and families filled the High School auditorium to see singles, couples and groups stride across the stage to cheers and applause.

Unlike last year, all the buses taking the students for a night of dancing and dining were waiting for the student. But the final bus did not leave until the final prom attendee, stuck in Boston traffic, got to the school a bit late, having to run to make the formal. 

Belmont Yard Sales, May 16, 17

Photo: Yard sales.

60 Channing Rd., Saturday and Sunday, May 16 and 17, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

25 Clark St., Saturday, May 16, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Antiques/vintage collectibles, books, original art, antique and vintage numbered prints.)

• Somewhere on Creeley Road, Saturday, May 16, from 8 a.m. to noon.

29 Stults Rd., Saturday, May 16, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

This Weekend: Town Day Saturday; Plants,Books for Sale; Curtain Call for Charlie Brown

Photo: Town Day in Belmont.

• Food, animals, kiddy carnival rides, a dog show, classic cars, live music, a dunk tank and thousands of residents on Leonard Street can only mean one thing: the 25th annual Belmont Town Day is Saturday, May 16, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Sponsored by Belmont Savings Bank and run by the Belmont Center Business Association, the yearly event closes down Belmont’s largest business hub so families, friends and gaggles of kids (and especially teens) can wander up and down the High Street to eat samples from the Center’s eateries, listen – and dance – to a live rock band, view classic cars at Belmont Savings (and vote on your favorite) and visit approximately 60 tables set up by businesses, schools and local groups and organizations, several with interesting raffles items.

And there will be a dunk tank near il Casale. Three chances to throw a strike and knock a kid into freezing water. I understand a certain head High School football coach will be a participant around 1 p.m. 

• The Belmont Garden Club holds its annual plant/herb sale today from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 16, in front of the Belmont Lion Club at the intersection of Common Street and Royal Road just outside Belmont Center.

• The Benton Library, Belmont’s independent and volunteer-run library, is holding a Saturday Book Sale from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 16. The library has reasonably priced books for readers of any age. All proceeds benefit the library. The latest additions to the collection are on the shelves. The Benton is open on the third Saturday afternoon of every month.

• The curtain falls on the Chenery Middle School Drama Group’s annual musical, “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown,” tonight, Saturday, May 16 at 7 p.m. at the school’s auditorium. Tickets are $10 for adults in advance/$12 at the door, students $8. 

Belmont Police Unveil Traffic/Parking Plan for PGA Tournament

Photo: Belmont Police Capt. Peter Hoerr talking with a resident during a public meeting,

When suggesting what residents in and around Winter Street can do to assist police when a PGA golf tournament come to the Belmont Country Club next month, Belmont Police Assistant Chief James MacIsaac said that week might be “a good time to open the summer house and go to the Cape,” to chuckles in the room. 

The good natured quip to the 15 residents who attended the community meeting at the Belmont Hill School on Thursday, May 14, spoke volumes about some of the challenges facing homeowners in what is being called “the triangle” of streets and roads adjacent the club and Marsh and Winter streets beginning Tuesday, June 9 and lasting (weather permitting) until Sunday, June 14, when 8,000 people will descend daily on Belmont attending the PGA Tour Constellation Senior Championship.  

“There are a lot of moving parts in this plan and along the way there has been challenges for the PGA to do the plan correctly,” said Belmont Police Chief Richard McLaughlin to the residents.

“So I want to know your concerns and we’ll work to alleviate those [issues],” McLaughlin said. 

The most significant of the week-long change will be the closure of Winter Street, a main thoroughfare from Belmont into and out of Lexington and Route 2. The street, according to BPD Capt. Peter Hoerr (who has been coordinating the effort between the town and suppliers), will be closed from:

  • Tuesday, June 9 – 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. 
  • Wednesday, June 10 – 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, June 11 – 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • Friday, June 12 – 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, June 13 – 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, June 14 – 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Closing Winter Street will also result in the popular Route 2 Exit 56 East to be shut down, with traffic being directed to use Exit 55 onto Pleasant Street in Lexington. This detour will result in traffic that usually travels on Winter will shift over to Concord Avenue. 

In addition to Winter, Marsh Street will be closed to non-residential motorists who are looking for Winter, Route 2, Lexington or Concord and Robinwood Road will be posted “Do Not Enter” at Concord Avenue. Hough Road residents will also be impacted.

While there will be restrictions to through traffic, residents in the impacted area will still be able to get to their homes by flashing a Mass Driver’s License with the current address visible.

“Residents will have easy access to their homes,” said Hoerr, who added that the department is developing a system of visitor passes for residents to have guests during the tournament. 

During the tournament, there will also be temporary “no parking” restrictions on the following streets:

  • Concord Avenue
  • Country Club Lane
  • Dundonald Road
  • Greenbrook Way
  • Grey Birch Park
  • Greybirch Circle
  • Hough Road
  • Marsh Street (between Concord Avenue and Country Club Lane)
  • Partridge Lane 
  • Rayburn Road
  • Robinwood Road
  • Winter Street 

Ticketholders will park at Bentley College in Waltham and arrive at the tournament via shuttle bus. Volunteers who need to park will be picked up at Minuteman Regional High School in Lexington. VIP and players parking will be at the club and at St Camillus in Arlington. There will also be shuttle buses from Alewife station.