Belmont Voters To Decide Assessors Future As Town Meeting OKs Change To Appointed Board

Photo: Select Board Chair Roy Epstein

It will be up to Belmont voters to decide the future of the Board of Assessors when a special session of Town Meeting voted 156-87 with two abstentions to place a ballot question on this April’s annual Town Election to change the structure of the three-member board from an elected to an appointed body.

The vote, which took place virtually on Monday, Jan. 22, came nearly a year after a special Town Meeting voted 185-46 to change the town treasurer’s post to an appointed position, which town voters seconded in April 2023.

For Roy Epstein, chair of the Belmont Select Board, who shepherded the article through the public process and at the special town meeting, the article’s passage was a nod by the majority of Town Meeting Members on the willingness of town government to employ town resources to improve the town’s fiscal future.

“I would like to think people responded a little bit to what I said, but in a large sense, the vote was an expression of competence in the town administrator [Patrice Garvin],” said Epstein a day after the meeting. “It’s a vote of confidence of policy changes that the town will value and improve governance. That’s what people are looking for. And I think [Garvin] has been incredibly thorough in identifying ways to improve how government works, and I’m glad people are recognizing that.”

Supporters of the article were willing to agree that while there is a consensus the current assessors “operate at a very high standard” in determining the value of the real estate in town, said Epstein, there is an increasing need for the board to become a partner in the finance team – which includes the town’s appointed treasurer, the financial director, the town accountant and – that sets the town’s fiscal policy. The select board and town officials point to areas such as creating a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program and assisting in significant changes to the town’s zoning map in which the assessors’ knowledge and data will be the final critical piece in formulating “a more cohesive, collaborative working finance team,” said Garvin.

The select board or town officials expressed little confidence the current elected assessors are willing to support the town’s requests as both Epstein and fellow Select Board member Elizabeth Dionne each voiced their disappointment with the board’s response to numerous requests – such as establishing senior tax relief – from town committees and the board which were allowed to die on the vine.

“It didn’t happen and after four years of trying to make [senior tax relief] because it is a tax policy question. I just don’t think the collaboration between the Board of Assessors and the Select Board in the current form is working out. My view at this point is that there are better prospects for that type of coordination between different parts of town government if the board of assessors became appointed rather than elected, and that’s my principal reason for supporting the article in its current form,” said Epstein.

The Assessors’ long-time chair, Robert Reardon, defended the elected board in its current form since the town’s incorporation in 1859, calling it “an important aspect of checks and balances” in town finances with the prime role of the assessors “to set the [real estate] values independent of the budget process.”

While the assessors answer questions at public meetings and work with the town and committees on several fiscal areas, Reardon said the board rarely ventures beyond their core responsibilities of appraising real estate, deciding to grant or deny abatements, and voting on exemptions based on the person – such as seniors or disabled veterans – who owns the property. It has not expanded its reach into town fiscal policy due to state directives from the Department of Revenue.

“We don’t make policy,” said Reardon. “We have to take an oath to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and that oath is to uphold the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. And by doing so … we’re limited on what we can do. We cannot implement any new tax policies in the town without the approval of the state legislature.”

Reardon also said that an elected board of residents “shows a commitment and a dedication by the candidates to serve the town,” which would be lacking by an appointed body that doesn’t have a residence requirement.

For most of the meeting, Town Moderator Mike Widmer successfully limited the debate to changing the board’s structure rather than discussing how either variation would alter town policies or finances.

Cosmo Macero from Precinct 5 said he would vote against the article as “there is accountability in elections … and being an elected official.” As for the lack of collaboration with town boards and elected officials, “it’s possible that the Select Board may need to look elsewhere as to what the problem was with the collaboration.”

“As a non-policy making body, I want them to only collaborate a little on policy. I want them to perform their very important duty which is to measure and assess the value of our property for the purpose of tax information,” said Macero.

Angus Abercrombie, Precinct 8, who submitted the citizen’s petition to bring the article before Town Meeting, asked if changing the Town Treasurer to an appointed post had produced efficiencies in that department that could be replicated in the Assessors’ office. Garvin said Treasurer Lesley Davison’s experience and knowledge in the position have resulted in “finding efficiencies every day which will only benefit the residents of Belmont.”

“I believe, based on the town and [its] managerial structure, we will be able to implement efficiencies that have long been long wanted by the finance team,” said Garvin.

Ira Morgenstern, Precinct 7, advocated the belief first mentioned by Liz Allison, Precinct 3, at a public forum a week earlier: Don’t fix what’s not broken.

“It’s not needed,” said Morgenstern of the article. Calling the current board “a great team,” Morgenstern then suggested that a “yes” vote would be “a further concentration of power to the Select Board [who would have appointing powers] and the Town Administrator … while reduces the oversight and … our internal controls.”

But for Claus Becker, Precinct 5, giving the Select Board the final say in appointing the assessors’ is the correct step as residents voted for the three-member body to enact its vision of the town’s fiscal future.

And just like last year’s vote to make the Treasurer an appointed position, the tally wasn’t that close, with the “yes” category garnering 64 percent of members.

Select Board OKs New Three-Year Contract For Belmont Police Chief MacIsaac

Photo: Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac

The Belmont Select Board approved a new three-year contract for Belmont Police Department Chief James MacIsaac at its virtual meeting on Monday, Jan. 22.

According to Kelly King, the town’s Human Resources Director, MacIsaac’s new base annual salary will increase to $225,000 when the new contract begins on Jan. 1, 2025, and runs through Dec. 31, 2027.

King said MacIsaac is eligible for a cost of living adjustment (COLA) and a merit-based increase on July 1 of each contract year.

According to Roy Epstein, the select board chair, MacIsaac’s new salary “is certainly in the middle” of police chiefs salary range of comparable communities. “We believe it is reasonable,” he said.

School Committee Race Gets Competitive With Incumbent, Newcomer In The Mix

Photo: Meg Moriarty and Matt Kraft

It’s now three candidates seeking two open seats on the Belmont School Committee in the annual Town Election as the incumbent chair of the committee and a prominent professor in education submitted the necessary papers to the Town Clerk this past week.

Meg Moriarty is seeking a second three-year term on the board. While in her initial stint on the board, Moriarty has been chair since April 2022, garnering praise from her colleagues on her leadership and collaborative skills when negotiating educators and staff contracts, navigating the district through two budget cycles, managed the transfer to the committee of the new Belmont Middle and High School and helping in the hiring of Dr. Jill Geiser as Superintendent of Belmont School District.

The mother of two who attend Belmont Public Schools, Moriarty runs MegMor Research and Evaluation which helps organizations assess the impact of Science Technology Engineering & Math (STEM) programming. The Precinct 2 Town Meeting Member matriculated at Brown and earned her master’s and doctorate in education (science education) from Boston University.

Newcomer Matt Kraft enters the Belmont political scene from academia as a leading scholar in education economics. The St. Louis native is an associate Professor of Education and Economics at Brown University with a focus on efforts to improve educator and organizational effectiveness in public schools. He is also a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“I care deeply about Belmont public schools because my two children will be in the [Belmont schools] for the next decade,” Kraft said. The schools are at the heart of the town and I am excited tp serve and add a voice that brings experience and knowledge to addressing the challenges we face

Kraft received his B.A. from Stanford while earning a M.A. and doctorate from Harvard. Kraft taught 8th grade English as a long-term substitute teacher in Oakland, CA, while receiving his M.A. than teaching 9th grade humanities at Berkeley High School.

Moriarty and Kraft will join Emerson student Angus Abercrombie on the ballot for the annual Town Election being held on April 2.

Man Convicted In 2021 Murder Of Henry Tapia Sentenced To Life In Prison, Parole Eligible In 2036

Photo: Dean Kapsalis being sentenced in Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn (Credit: Pool photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via AP)

Nearly three years after running down and killing Henry Tapia on Upland Street, the convicted assailant was sentenced to life in prison for what prosecutors described as “a hate crime.”

On Wednesday, Jan. 17 in Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn, Hudson resident Dean Kapsalis, 58, was sentenced by Judge David Deakin to a life sentence after being found guilty in May 2023 of second-degree murder of Henry Tapia, 34, of Boston.

Henry Tapia (Credit: GoFundMe)

Speaking from the bench, Deakin said the sentence was “proportional to the crime,” adding that Kapsalis’ “record reflects essentially a lifelong tendency toward violence.”

The incident took place on Jan. 22, 2021 after both men exited their vehicles during what police and prosecutors described as a “road rage” incident. After a brief verbal altercation and as each returned to their vehicles, Kapsalis called Tapia a racial slur before entering his pickup and then struck and ran over Tapia, who was visiting his fiancee and child.

Belmont Police responded to a 911 call reporting that a man had been struck by a car in the area of 39-45 Upland Rd. Police located Tapia conscious but suffering from life-threatening injuries. Tapia was transported to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he died from his injuries.

Having served three years in Middlesex County jail since his arrest, Kapsalis will be eligible to petition the state parole board in 2036 when he turns 70.

Pair Of Historic Wins For Belmont High Grapplers At Annual Brendan Grant Wrestling Tourney [VIDEO]

Photo: Ava Suistunov and Jaden O’Connor with their first place medals at the 2024 Brendan Grant Memorial Wrestling Tournament

A pair of Belmont High wrestlers made history by winning their weight divisions at the Brendan Grant Memorial Tournament held on Saturday, Jan. 6.

Sophomore Ava Suistunov powered through the competitors to win the 106 lbs. weight division in the inaugural girls’ division competition. Wrestling since she was in kindergarten, Suistunov came to the finals having pinned her first two opponents before scoring early against Jailyn Edmonds of Boston’s Joshua Quincy Upper School, giving up just a single point in her 6-1 victory.

“It was good. Tough competition, obviously,” said Suistunov. “I didn’t give up, and I stuck to my plan in the matches,” she said, as she is looking forward to competing in the postseason.

Senior Jaden O’Connor became the first Belmont wrestler in the long history of the competition to win consecutive Brendan Grant titles as he prevailed at 150 lbs., defeating Seamus Olohan from Catholic Memorial via a pin in the second stanza. Last year, O’Connor took the 145-pound crown.

“It really feels good because last year a lot of people told me the first time was a fluke … and to win the whole tournament again is [great],” O’Connor said.

According to Casey Grant, this year’s contest attracted nearly 600 athletes, the most wrestlers to participate in the annual event over 14 hours in the Wenner Field House.

Belmont first-year student Eva Cohen was Belmont’s third finalist in the meet. A football team member who also plays the sousaphone in the band, Cohen took the final distance, losing to Logan Murray of Woburn, 11-1. The Ava/Eva partnership secured third place in the girls’ high school team competition with 44 points.

The Marauders’ varsity scorers included O’Connor, Luke Coelho (3rd place at 132 lbs.), Andre Sweet (4th at 138 lbs.), and Michael Wessman (4th at 120 lbs.), racking up 92 points for 11th place in the team event.

Belmont’s junior varsity squad placed a strong fourth, with Darmir Neal winning the 153.6 lbs. category, Ben Warinner (197.6 lbs.) and Shayan Rostamnezhad (135.9) taking home seconds, and Fergus Williams placing third in the 153.6 weight division.

What’s Open/Closed On The Martin Luther King Day Holiday; Trash/Recycling Pickups Delayed A Day

Photo: Dr. Martin Luther King (credit: National Archives and Records Administration)

Now celebrating its 38th year as a federal holiday, Martin Luther King Day – observed on the third Monday in January – honors the civil rights leader and (the youngest at 35) Nobel Prize for Peace recipient who advocate for nonviolent social change leading to the enactment of such landmark federal laws as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. His writings and speeches continue to inspire people and groups to strive in promoting racial equality and humanitarian rights for all.

Belmont will be holding its 30th Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Virtual) Community Breakfast on Monday, Jan. 15, at 9 a.m. Sponsored by the Belmont Human Rights Commission in support of the METCO Program and METCO Support Fund, this year’s keynote address will be by Danielle Johnson, founder/CEO of Spark FM Online and a Belmont Public Schools alumnae. Register for this free event here.

Trash and Recycling Pickup is delayed by a day

What’s open and closed on MLK Day:

  • Belmont Town Hall and town departments/offices are closed
  • Belmont Public Schools: closed
  • United States Postal Service Offices at 405 Concord Ave. and 492 Trapelo Rd.: closed
  • Federal and state offices: closed
  • Banks: closed

MBTA schedules:

  • Buses, subway and The Ride: Saturday schedule
  • Commuter rail: Weekday schedule


  • Most retail and drug stores, pharmacies and businesses will be open on the holiday.

Once A Holiday Tradition, Cardboard Drop Offs Are No Longer A Gift That Gives

Photo: Cardboard stacked for recycling (credit: Marek Ślusarczyk or

In recent years, the end-of-the-year holidays in Belmont meant festive meals, family get togethers, presents and cardboard drop off, where the town would take away all their cardboard packages at one for a small fee.

And the drop offs were once as popular as Santa. In January 2021, nearly 350 vehicles waited an hour at the Department of Public Works’ Yard as the town collected 22 tons of cardboard filling five 40-yard long containers, two truck bays and six 6-wheel dump trucks. Just last year, the Belmont Select Board proposed three drop off days before and after Christmas with the expectation of a similar high demand for the service.

Well, this holiday, it appears the Select Board is declaring “bah, humbug” to a new set of drop offs. While there has been initial discussions between the DPW and the town on holding a single event, the Select Board has squashed those plans.

“Cardboard? We’re not going to do it,” said Roy Epstein, chair of the Select Board, who overheard a conversation on the subject before the start of its scheduled meeting. To have that declarative statement coming from Epstein was a bit of a surprise as he himself said, “I was the original advocate of the drop off.”

Epstein pointed out that while the high point of the drop off program occurred during the height of COVID restrictions, circumstances have changed to where “the program has failed the market test ever since.”

Pointing to the most recent events, Epstein said barely 250 of Belmont’s 10,000 households participated in the program as residents have become increasingly happy to cut up or fold their cardboard in the green/blue recycling carts.

“As [DPW Director} Jay [Marcotte] has said many times that people get very personal about their trash. This is one example,” said Epstein.

And the town was not seeing a financial pop from collecting cardboard. While the Wall Street Journal has reported late in 2023 a modest “cardboard comeback,” the limited number of participants and expenses placed on a small producer such as Belmont would require the town to increase the $5 per vehicle fee just to break even, according to Patrice Garvin, Belmont’s town administrator.

“Remember, Select Board members reached into their own pockets to fund the deficit the last few times we had drop offs,” said Epstein. “I don’t see what the advantages are for the town.”

So Long, Mike … And Welcome Back! Long Time Town Employee Retires, Than Is Appointed Belmont’s Tree Warden

Photo: Recently retired DPW Highway Department Director Michael Santoro receives a gold ceremonial shovel from Select Board members Mark Paolillo (left) and Roy Epstein as Belmont acknowledged Santoro’s 42 years of service.

It’s not everyday when the word “beloved” is used when speaking about a town official. But it is when talking about Mike Santoro, Belmont’s manager of the Department of Public Works’ Highway Division and assistant Public Works Director, who retired Dec. 31 from his post.

Mike Santoro

The soft spoken, life-long resident has served the people of his home town for 42 years, advancing from his first position as a laborer in 1981 to becoming, in 2005, the head of a department responsible for the repair, patching, and maintenance of Belmont’s 78 miles of public streets and roads and 97 miles of paved sidewalks, caring for the town’s sewer lines and storm drain system, and assisting in the care, removal, and replanting of Belmont’s 10,000-plus public shade trees.

And when a winter nor’easter deposited tons of snow on the town’s byways, it was Santoro who would spend days in his cramped, cold office in the pre-renovated DPW building directing an armada of town-owned vehicles and heavy equipment along with dozens of contractors in keeping the roads open.

“First of all, Michael, thank you for your exemplary service for our community. It’s been outstanding and we are going to truly miss you,” said Select Board Member Mark Paolillo at Monday, Jan. 8. “You always had an answer, you always returned our calls and you always have been incredible helpful.”

The proclamation noted Santoro was instrumental in the successful consolidation of the highway, water, cemetery and the parks and recreation departments into what today is the Department of Public Works, all the while working “long tireless hours” taking leadership roles on numerous projects that required a steady hand and a calming voice of experience.

“Michael has set a high standard of commitment and dedication that serves as an inspiration to the citizens of Belmont,” read the proclamation.

So it wasn’t surprising when those attending the meeting gave Santoro a standing ovation.

Santoro was presented with a going away gift from the town; a gold-colored commemorative shovel with an inscription on the shaft: “Michael Santoro. For his many years of Dedication and Commitment to the Department of Public Works. 1981-2023.”

“As I’ve been saying to everyone, it’s not goodbye, it’s ‘I’ll see you later’ because there are other things that I’m gonna try to do around town,” said Santoro, who was accompanied to the meeting by his wife, Susan, children and family.

No truer words were spoken as the next item of business before the board was naming a new town tree warden: Mike Santoro.

“There is no rest for the weary,” said Board Chair Roy Epstein.

After the retirement of Tom Walsh in July 2021, the warden post had been vacant with DPW Director Jay Marcotte acting as interim tree warden with Santoro assisting in the field. In the past months, Santoro completed the necessary training to be certified by the state to hold the position.

Belmont World Film’s 21st Family Festival from January 13-21: ‘A Shared Experience Children Will Never Forget’

Photo: A still from Tony, Shelly and the Magic Light, an award-winning original, stop motion animated film which is receiving its US premiere at the Belmont World Film 21st Family Festival.

For the 21st time, Belmont World Film presents a cinema festival that children from 3 to 12 – and their parents – can enjoy!

Films from around the world in English and multiple languages, including Chinese, Czech, French, Dutch, Norwegian and sign language will be presented this holiday weekend as Belmont World Film hosts its 21st Family Festival, a four-day celebration of international culture from January 13-21, guaranteeing an immersive and culturally rich experience for young audiences.

The trailer for the 2024 Belmont World Film Family Festival

The lineup includes a carefully curated mix of animated and live-action feature length and short films, offering something for every age group.

“Films from abroad are known for telling wonderful stories rather than relying heavily on special effects, and they are often set in fascinating locations outside the US, or feature eye-popping hand-drawn and stop motion animation,” says Belmont World Film Executive Director Ellen Gitelman. “Being able to watch these adventurous films on a big screen as a shared experience is something children will never forget.” 

The festival kicks off Saturday, January 13 at Apple Cinemas in Cambridge (168 Alewife Brook Parkway, followed by screenings at West Newton Cinema (1296 Washington St.) on Sunday, January 14, the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge (40 Brattle Street) on Monday, January 15, in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Day, and the Regent Theatre in Arlington (7 Medford Street) on Sunday, January 21. Three shorts programs will also be available online from January 20-21, geared to children age 3-8.

See the complete program of films here:

Subtitles for films in languages other than English will be read aloud through headphones, ensuring an inclusive experience for children with difficulty reading. Many films are making their US or New England premieres; most films are also based on classic and contemporary children’s books, which help reinforce an interest in reading and literature, while supplementing the Massachusetts Public School System’s Curriculum Frameworks.

Belmont World Film is grateful to the Family Festival sponsors including Dutch Culture USA, the Norwegian Consulate General in New York, the Quebec Delegation of Boston, and Belmont Day School for their generous support, enabling the realization of this culturally enriching festival.

Tickets are $12 for feature films and $8 for shorts programs; Three shorts programs (Celebrating 70 Years of Weston Woods Studios, LOL with Mo Willems Films, and Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) will also be available virtually for $15 per program from January 20-21. 

Festival Passes, which include admission to all films are $40. VIP Festival passes are $120 and include all films, the workshop, two t-shirts, and recognition in all of Belmont World Film’s programs for a year. EBT, WIC, and ConnectorCare cardholder tickets are half price. Tickets and more info are available at or by calling 617-484-3980.

Precinct 1 Voters New Polling Location At Temple Beth El During Belmont Library Construction

Photo: Beth El Temple Place

Beginning with the Massachusetts Presidential Party Primaries on March 5, voters reciding in Precinct 1 will be casting their ballots at Temple Beth El Center located at the corner of Concord Avenue and Blanchard Road on the Cambridge/Belmont line.

The move is required with the pending demolision of the Belmont Public Library, the tradition home for Precinct 1. Speaking before the Select Board on Monday, Jan. 8, Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman said the two had considered two possible locations, Beth El and All Saints’ Church on Common Street, to relocated the polling place. But it was soon evident that Beth El, at 2 Concord Ave., was a superior site as it has ample parking and a large community room to accomindate the voting stations. The temple is declining a fee and will provide signage during elections.

“There is great handicapped access … and nice and secure separate spot for us. So we’re thrilled that they were so kind [to become a polling place,] said Cushman.