Paolillo Seeks A Fourth Act To Help Beat Back A Pair Of Fiscal Challenges

Photo: Mark Paolillo

Mark Paolillo will try to prove – in the political sense – Thomas Wolfe wrong: You can return home to elected office.

Paolillo has taken out nomination papers for a return to the Select Board (it was called the Board of Selectmen when he last served) as he will seek a fourth three-year-term after current board member Tom Caputo announced he would not seek re-election, believing he has the background and experience to help Belmont beat back the twin adversaries of a long-term structural deficit and the budgetary impact of COVID-19.

A life-time Belmontian, Paolillo served three consecutive stints on the board beginning in 2010 when he topped a three person field with 45 percent of the vote. He decided in 2019 that nine years was plenty representing Belmont residents.

“Nine years is a long time and it’s time to move on,” he said at the time.

Not that Paolillo had completely retreated from local goverance. In fact, he was been busy around town hall (and on Zoom calls) since leaving the board, most notably serving on the influential Financial Task Force II – which last month recommended a $6.4 million override to be placed on the April 6 town election ballot – and as chair of the police chief search committee.

But when he heard Caputo was not running for a second term, Paolillo decided to place his hat once again into the ring. As Paolillo tells it, he wasn’t considering running this cycle.

“No, not at all. I was hoping Tom would run for re-election and told him that. I would have endorsed his candidacy,” he told the Belmontonian. In fact, he was attempting to recruit people he knew who might be interested in the job.

“When I learned about Tom’s plan prior to his announcement, I reached out to some individuals that have  strong financial and leadership skills that would bring diversity to the Board about running. They are not interested at this time.”

With no takers, Paolillo has launched a campaign with an eye on easing the pressures on the town finances.

“We are in a fiscal crisis as a community. I have the institutional knowledge, deep experience and financial skills to help our town navigate thru it,” said Paolillo, who pointed to three major issues that must be tackled.

“Clearly we are in a midst of a pandemic, so the health and safety of our residents is of paramount concern. [Belmont is] in a financial crisis which needs to be addressed and dealt with so we need to focus on long term financial and structural reform,” he said.

“And we need to work more closely with the School Committee and school administration to support their efforts in getting our students back on campus and learning in the classroom,” Paolillo noted.

COVID Update: Positive Cases in Belmont Nearing 1,000

Photo: Update on COVID-19 in Belmont

Belmont is closing in on a stark milestone of 1,000 COVID-19 cases, according to data from the state’s Department of Public Health.

As of Jan. 29, 914 confirmed COVID cases among Belmont residents have been reported, an increase of 64 cases since Jan. 22.

Due to the new case count over the past two weeks, Belmont remains in the state’s Yellow zone, according to the new color designation metrics in which there are 10 average cases for 100,000 residents or less than five percent positivity over two weeks. Currently, Belmont has a positivity rate of 3.01 percent.

In the school subset, a dozen people – including students and staff – were tested positive with the coronavirus over the past week. Those include nine at Belmont High School, five at Chenery Middle and four at the Wellington. The total positive cases associated with Belmont schools now reads 115.

After examining year end death certificates in the beginning of January , there have been a total of 74 COVID-19 related deaths in Belmont, confirmed by that data filed with the Town Clerk’s Office. 

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) continues to provide weekly reports on Thursday of COVID-19 data by city or town as part of its Dashboard for COVID-19 Cases, Quarantine and Monitoring

Belmont Under Winter Storm Warning ‘Til Tuesday Afternoon

Photo: Snow storm heading Belmont’s way

Upwards to a foot of snow is set to fall on Belmont and the rest of Massachusetts beginning Monday, Feb. 1 as the state has been placed under a winter storm warning by the National Weather Service.

Residents should anticipate the town issuing a snow emergency parking ban for all roadways and municipal and Belmont Public School parking lots.

Issued at 3:37 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 31, the Service’s Boston office is predicting heavy snow of between 7 to 15 inches with wind gusts as high as 45 mph. The storm is anticipated to begin 10 a.m. Monday with the heaviest precipitation Monday afternoon and evening. It’s expected to pass through the region Tuesday after noon.

Traveling will be “very difficult to impossible” in the many parts of the state as hazardous conditions could impact the morning or evening commute, said the Service. Gusty winds could bring down tree branches and may increase the risk for power outages, in addition to the gusty northeast winds.

If you are experiencing an outage, call Belmont Light’s Outage hotline at 617-993-2800. Do not call 911.

Upland Road Rage Charges Upped To Murder As Select Board Calls Special Public Forum For Wednesday

Photo: Participants in the rally to remember Henry Tapia.

The Belmont Select Board will be hosting a special community forum on Wednesday, Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. to discuss the death of Henry Tapia who was killed in an alleged road rage incident a week ago on Upland Road.

On Monday, Jan. 25, at Cambridge District Court, the assailant, Dean Kapsalis, saw an additional charge of leaving the scene of an accident causing death added to his existing charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and a civil rights violation.

He was ordered held without bail with his next court appearance on March 1.

Nearly 200 residents and citizens joined Tapia’s friends and family for a rally to celebrate Tapia’s life on Thursday, Jan. 21 in Cushing Square. Kim Haley-Jackson, vice chair of the Belmont Human Rights Commission, Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac, Middlesex DA and Belmont resident Marion Ryan, Select Board’s Adam Dash, State Rep. Rogers, State Sen. Will Brownsberger each spoke to the impact of a race-based killing in a town that at times seems, as one attendee said, “devoid in discussing” the racial issues affecting the country.

“What I want to say to everyone is: Yes, Belmont. You too,” said Haley-Jackson.

“What I want to ask from my town is to think about your everyday actions. You think about your neighbors who don’t look like you. We are a community and not everyone is the same. We don’t all have the same belief system, we don’t all live the same lives but we all live together,” she said.

An agenda has not been published for the community forum. People can attend by going to the Zoom site: Meeting ID: 822 4577 0498

Tapia’s friends created a GoFundMe page to help his partner, Courtney Morton, and his three children. It has raised $152,800 as of Wednesday morning.

Tapia, a Black/Latino Boston resident living with his partner in Belmont, was killed when Kapsalis, a 54-year-old from Hudson who was living with his girlfriend on Upland Road, hit and dragged the victim after the pair squared off during what is alleged to have been a road rage incident sometime after 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 19.

In court Monday, prosecutors from the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office said witnesses heard as well as an alarm system recorded as Kapsalis “yelled racial slurs” at Tapia during the confrontation.

“There was a Ring doorbell near the scene of this incident, and it captured the audio of the interaction between the victim and the defendant,” said prosecutor Nicole Allain.

“The defendant can be heard calling the victim a series of derogatory terms, which culminated in his use of the N-word. Seconds later, that’s when the vehicle accelerates. A loud ‘thud’ noise can be heard, and the defendant’s red truck can be seen on video driving [away from] the scene,” said Allain.

MacIsaac’s said the first responding officers found Tapia conscious but in distress, reportedly saying “I can’t breathe.” Tapia was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital where he died soon after arriving.

“My officers were shocked to hear that he had died,” said MacIsaac. “It has effected the department.”

Opinion: What’s Happening With Our State Government?Massachusetts’ Secret State House And How To Fix It

Photo: Massachusetts State House (Wikipedia)

By Maya Chandrakasan, Sherman Street

In a few months myself and my fellow Belmont High School seniors will walk across a stage and receive our diplomas. It’s safe to say this past year has been difficult for all of us. But these challenges are only the beginning of what lies ahead for my generation. As we enter college and the workforce in a world ravaged by the coronavirus, government inaction will be blamed on “partisan gridlock.” Federal legislators may use their precarious majority to defend themselves, but for Democrats in the state house there are no excuses for inaction. 

The Democratic party holds a veto-proof supermajority in the Massachusetts state legislature which they have had for more than three decades. So why haven’t we been able to pass any significant climate legislation since 2008?

Despite being a relatively progressive state, Massachusetts has one of the least transparent statehouses in the country: bills die in committee, the public has little time to object to a bill before it is voted on, and recorded floor votes on legislation are not guaranteed. 

Massachusetts is in a minority of states in the country that do not publicize or disclose how legislators vote in committees. While that may seem like a technicality, most lawmaking is done in legislative committees, and most legislation is killed in committees. A popular 100 percent Renewable Energy bill, which took six years to write, was killed in committee without ever making it to the House floor for a vote. All of these barriers inhibit action and change: our democracy is dying behind closed doors. 

This isn’t to attack some of the great state legislators, many of whom truly care about their constituents. This is about a broken state house rules system that both blocks constituents from holding their reps accountable, and reps from countering powerful house leaders for fear of retribution.

Last month, myself and other constituents in the 24th Middlesex district joined our state representative, Dave Rogers, on a call asking he sign onto the following three transparency amendments:

• All votes held in legislative committees be publicly disclosed so that constituents have the opportunity to see how their representatives are voting.

• Each bill be made public 72 hours prior to a final vote (extending the current 24 hour window) to ensure that anyone who wants to discuss the bill with their representative has that chance.

• The threshold for a vote to be publicly-recorded in the House of Representatives be reduced to eight from the current 16 representative requirement so that more bills can be publicly voted on. 

Unfortunately Rogers has not yet given a public commitment to voting for these transparency amendments. In the past, Rogers has proven himself to be a progressive legislator responsive to constituent concerns. We are fortunate to have a legislator who will disclose his committee votes despite House rules. However, just because Rogers votes the right way does not mean that other reps will, and in order to pass a veto-proof bill we need more than just his vote; in other words, to actually pass the legislation he cosponsors and introduces, we need transparency. 

In the coming days, the statehouse will vote on a new set of rules for the upcoming legislative session. The various crises of this past year have proven that state and local governance matter. From comprehensive police reform to climate bills to eviction moratoriums, there are numerous life-saving policies that can be implemented on the state level. Unfortunately, none of those have, or will be passed without serious change and accountability. 

The rules voted on will be law for the next two years and will influence what can get done in this crucial time. As we turn the page on a bungled federal response to the most pressing issues of our time, we must begin to repair our government from the bottom up. That begins with a transparent Massachusetts statehouse. 

I urge anyone who cares about virtually any issue to contact Rogers by email ( or phone (617-722-2637) and ask him to vote for these three transparency amendments to state house rules for the next legislative session. Learn more about our broken state house at and join our district team to get involved in our final push for a more accountable state legislature. 

Select Board Approves Placing $6.4M Override On April’s Town Election Ballot

Photo: An override will be on the April 6 town election ballot.

The Belmont Select Board unanimously accepted the Financial Task Force’s recommendation to place a $6.4 million Proposition 2 1/2 override on the April 6, 2021, town election ballot.

While the vote comes in the midst of a year long pandemic which has wounded the local and national economy, there is few alternatives other than huge cuts in town services – with massive layoffs – and a retreat on nearly a decade of investments in teaching and student growth.

“It’s never the right time or a good year to ask for this … but the situation has put us in a point where we have no choice,” said the Select Board’s Adam Dash.

Select Board’s Tom Caputo, who also chaired the Task Force, said working for the past two years using a multi-year financial forecasting modeling tool from the Collins Center at UMass/Boston to help make more precise results from projections and data allowed him to “appreciate the financial challenges ahead of us and the importance of an override to maintain fiscal stability for the town.”

I am very comfortable with the recommendation that we brought to the town,” he said.

If approved by voters, homeowners would see a $900 pop in property taxes on the “average” valued house pegged at $1.25 million.

The override amount is approximately half the $12.5 million the Select Board approved back in July.

“I think that’s progress,” said Roy Epstein, chair of the Select Board.

Flush with nearly $11.2 million in free cash certified by the state – an amount historically higher than most years through minimizing expenditures during last year’s COVID crisis – and the recent forecast of state and local revenues will be higher than pervious years, town will leverage the onetime windfall to help moderate the override’s size, said Caputo.

After setting aside portions of free cash according to decade long town guidelines, the town will take $8.2 million in free cash and spread it over three years from ’22 to ’24. Include $3.2 million in additional state aid in fiscal ’22 split between fiscal years ’23 and ’24.

The task force forecasts that Belmont would be facing a debt of $8.3 million by fiscal ’24 on an annual budget of $166.7 million.

The override would allow the town to support a “minimal level service budget” as it will maintain town services with “very very small additional positions” such as a social worker at the Senior Center, said Dash.

But for several residents who commented during the public comment portion of the meeting, just the tiniest jump in taxes would be devastating to many.

“Any dollar increase for us right now is too much considering the thousands of dollars in revenue that we’ve all lost and the percentage of business down,” said Deran Muckjian, a lifelong resident and owner of The Toy Shop of Belmont on Leonard Street.

Dawn McCarren said a lot of good ideas have come from the task force “but the town will survive without an override.”

“I realize that there will be cuts but families are at stake and this is extremely difficult pill to swallow, forcing some to sell homes where residents lived for multigenerationd,” she said.

No short-term solution

But the Board contend the town has not other short-term option but to back placing the override on the ballot.

“I recognize that we have a lot of folks in the community that are in economically challenging times as a result of COVID, that are on fixed incomes for which this tax is an incredible burden and it’s hard for us to solve,” said Caputo.

“At the end of the day, this override is indicated by the facts and the realities and as such it needs to be put on the ballot,” Caputo said.

A delay, said Epstein, would made a bad situation even worse, as cuts would be made to services, nearly the entire free cash account would be used in one year which would imperil the town’s “gold standard” AAA bond rating and ultimately require a much more robust override amount in 2023.

Epstein also wanted to dampen down any suggestions that, as one resident said in an email, voters suspect the funds raised through the override would be spent on “grandiose capital projects.” The reality, he said, was the additional funds will be directed to operating expenses such as paying for teacher salaries while continue vital infrastructure projects.

Epstein did acknowledge the fiscal ’22 education expenses accedes what he believes is a minimal level but that is due to the district introducing a new school – the Chenery Middle School at the high school location – in the next two years and to maintain “considerable progress” its has invested in over the past five years.

School costs will continue to lead the way adding more than 32 FTE (Full-time equivalent) positions in the next three years “to address increase in enrollment, grade configuration and what the school committee’s vision for the future,” said Patrice Garvin, town administrator, at last week’s meeting of the Select Board.

Enrollment changes FY ’20 to FY ’24

Yet also noting that an override will have little impact on the town’s structural deficit in which revenues are unable to match expenses due to annual limits on property tax increases while education costs due to students entering the district – a 1,000 new pupils in just the past few years – has far outpaced revenues.

Dash said the town has created two new committee, the Structural Budget Impact Group and Long-term Capital Budget Planning Committee, which will look for opportunities to increase revenues and decrease expenses. Around March, the town will open a portal on the town’s web site where people will be able to put in any structural change suggestions for the boards to review.

“There are no stupid ideas, every idea will be looked at and vetted, put into a matrix and analyzed,” said Dash.

Looking into the horizon, Epstein believes Belmont may finally see by 2026 some stability or even slight decrease in the decade of sky rocking enrollment – greater than 10 percent over the past 10 years – in town schools which will in turn decrease the need to hire teachers, staff and other expenses.

“As soon as there’s stability in the number of schoolchildren instead of this continuous very rapid growth that will give us a lot more flexibility in managing the budget,” he said.

Greater detail on the budget planning for the next three fiscal years can be found in the documents at the Town of Belmont website.

In addition, Belmont Media Center has recorded Financial Task Force meetings.

Breaking: Caputo Will Not Run For Re-election To Select Board

Photo: Tom Caputo

Citing time away from his family and work demands, first term member Tom Caputo will not seek re-election to the Belmont Select Board.

“I am making this decision to not seek reelection so that I can prioritize my family and my full-time work,” he said.

Caputo’s announcement, made Friday, Jan. 22, comes with less than a month remaining for residents to submit nomination papers to the Town Clerk’s Office by the deadline, Feb. 16 at 5 p.m.

Caputo has worked with current members Adam Dash and Roy Epstein for approximately two years serving as the steady moderating element of an efficient team, relying on his business acumen and good nature to find compromise in tackling issues before the town. He also chaired the Financial Task Force II whose recommendation for a $6.4 million override was accepted unanimously by the Select Board earlier on Friday.

Caputo won his seat on the board with 94 percent of vote in 2018. The year previously, he won a full-term on the school committee topping the ballot with 51 percent of the vote. Caputo served as chair of the board in 2019-2020.

Caputo entered elected office when he joined the school committee in November 2014 as an appointed member to fill the interim vacancy left by the resignation of Kevin Cunningham. He won the election to serve the two years remaining on Cunningham’s term in 2015 with 99.3 percent of the vote.

“It has been a privilege to serve the Belmont community as a member of the Select Board for the last three years, but I have decided that I will not seek reelection in April.”

Below is Caputo’s press release:

“The time requirements of the Select Board role in the last year have become increasingly demanding, and I anticipate that pace will continue for the foreseeable future. I am making this decision to not seek reelection so that I can prioritize my family and my full-time work.”

“This was not an easy decision. I have always been committed to community service, and it has been rewarding to work with our deeply committed Town and School staff and volunteers. We have accomplished a lot together – building a new school and renovating the police station and DPW facility; rezoning the McLean parcel for development and affordable housing; advancing the community path design; financial modeling and planning for the town’s future; and much more. It is challenging work filled with purpose, and I will miss it.”

“I particularly want to thank everyone I have met along the way. It has been an honor to get to know you and serve as a member of your Select Board.”

“I hope that I can continue to play a role in the town in the days and months ahead. But for now, I look forward to maximizing the time with my family before my teenage daughters head off to college.”

DeStefano Selected To Be Next Belmont Fire Chief

Photo: David DeStefano (Linkedin)

David DeStefano, the Battalion Chief for the North Providence Fire Deptartment in Rhode Island was offered the position of Belmont’s next Fire Chief by the Belmont Select Board on Thursday, Jan. 21.

DeStefano, who replaces David Frizzell at the post, will now go through contract negotiations for being sworn in the next few weeks.

A veteran of 31 and half years on the North Providence force, DeStefano is also an instructor and coordinator at the Rhode Island Fire Academy and is the author of a number of publications and manuals on fire services.

State Fire Union’s ‘Threatening’ Letter Limited Candidates For Belmont’s Chief Job

Photo: Fire Headquarters on Trapelo Road.

Belmont missed out on a number of outstanding candidates to be its next fire chief after the state’s fire fighters union sent a “threatening letter” to its membership in the fall, according to town and elected officials.

The allegation of outside interference was revealed at the end of Wednesday Jan 20 Warrant Committee meeting as the group discussed the nationwide selection process to find the replacement for David Frizzell as chief of the department.

“There was a letter that was sent by the state fire union discouraging applicants” to apply in Belmont, said Town Administrator Patrice Garvin referring to the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts. Select Board Chair Roy Epstein said the letter’s ‘threatening tone” caused several applicants to withdrew their resumes while others simply did not submit applications.

“There were people who dropped out because of it,” said Garvin.

But the approach by the PFFM of “warning” possible applicants from applying for leadership positions was not used to single out Belmont. In fact, the state union uses its muscle to secure the selection of a specific type of candidate into the job.

And the union would have been interested in Belmont’s search. Discussing the selection process, Daniel Halston, a member of the Warrant Committee and Fire Chief Screening Committee, said 21 applicants responded to the initial job notice: 8 from Massachusetts, 2 from Rhode Island and 10 from states across the US.

All then proceeded to an assessment center where each was graded on five “exercises” – role playing with different sets of real life scenarios – over three days. The Screening Committee, working hand-in-hand with a consulting firm who led most of the process including setting up the assessment center, then interviewed each applicant who also submitted an essay.

“It was extremely rigorous process for the candidates,” said Roy Epstein, chair of the Select Board which will choose the next fire chief. “And I can say that the three survivors are all extremely qualified candidates.”

When Christine Doyle, the Warrant Committee’s vice chair, asked about the track record of the consulting firm in forwarding candidates with diverse backgrounds, Halston said he was told not many females or minority applicants apply for the Belmont job “and that’s unfortunately somewhat consistent with what they’ve seen in other [situations].”

The three finalists – Belmont acting Fire Chief Wayne Haley, Waterbury Conn. Battalion Chief James Peplau and North Providence RI Battalion Chief David DeStefano – are white males.

Elizabeth Dionne brought up the issue of doing away with Belmont’s civil service requirements – which the town broached in the fall only to retreat due to resident concerns – by doing so would allow the town to “diversify the pool of … women or minorities who can get into fire or police departments to gain that experience” to gain the opportunity to reach elite positions.

It was here that Garvin revealed the letter from the PFFM, noting that she didn’t know the full extent of it on the candidates who though of applying.

“But a letter did go out and it was sent out widely to [local] fire unions across the state,” she said, acknowledging that once the letter was issued, some strong candidates dropped out of the process.

Asking what promoted the letter in the first place, Garvin said the union sought by keeping away strong applicants to give any internal candidate a significant advantage in the selection process.

And the PFFM – which is considered one of the most active and effective public service unions in the state – doesn’t try to hide its intentions.

In its notice (which can be found on the union’s Facebook page), the PFFM says it believes “there are worthy and qualified candidates within the Belmont Fire Department who could fill this vacancy.” And to secure that outcome, “we ask the PFFM members … refrain from applying for his position in Belmont.”

The PFFM sent a similar letter in October concerning the chief’s opening in Haverhill and a letter calling for a protest at Lowell City Hall in August when the mayor selected an outside candidate for the Fire Chief’s post.

Once hearing the letters resulting impact on the process surprised and worried several members of the committee.

While both Halston – who helped whittle the candidates down to three finalists – and Epstein – who will possible select the new chief at Thursday’s Select Board meeting – said they were never threatened by the letter, they believe the letter was threatening to its own members, resulting in a reduced pool of applicants and depriving the town of a true choice.

Racial Slurs Used By Defendant During Deadly Road Rage Incident In Belmont

Photo: Dean Kapsalis being arraigned in Cambridge District Court (Credit: Pool video provided by WHDH)

A Hudson man was allegedly yelling racist slurs at a Black and Latino man before running him down and killing him with his pickup during a road rage incident on Upland Road on Tuesday, Jan. 19.

Dean Kapsalis, 54 of Hudson was arraigned in Cambridge District Court on Wednesday, Jan. 20 on charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, a civil rights violation causing injury and leaving the scene of an accident causing personal injury in connection with striking and killing Henry Tapia, 35 of Boston.

Henry Tapia, killed in a road rage incident on Upland Road. (Credit: GoFundMe)

Judge Robert Harnais ordered the defendant held pending a dangerousness hearing scheduled for Jan. 25.

A vigil is being organized to remember Tapia at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 22 in Cushing Square. A GoFundMe account has been set up to assist Tapia’s partner and three children.

The Middlesex DA investigation reported witnesses heard the defendant and the victim engaged in a verbal altercation in the roadway near 39-45 Upland Rd. where Kapsalis was yelling racial slurs at the Taia. Witnesses told police the victim allegedly began to walk back to his vehicle, a Honda Civic. At that time, the defendant allegedly entered his vehicle, a Dodge Dakota pickup truck, and drove it at the victim striking him by the driver’s side of his vehicle and dragging him a short distance before fleeing the scene.

Belmont Police located Tapia conscious but suffering from life-threatening injuries. First responders provided emergency assistance until Belmont Rescue arrived on the scene. Mr. Tapia was transported from the scene to Massachusetts General Hospital where he later died from his injuries.

The defendant ultimately turned himself in to police about a half-hour later.

While both men officially reside outside of the town, each has family or have lived in Belmont. Police report that neither party knew the other.

This is an active and ongoing investigation being conducted by the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office and Belmont Police. A reconstruction of the crash will be conducted by the Massachusetts State Police Crash Reconstruction and Analysis Section and additional charges are possible.