Welcome: Belmont Fire’s Newest Jak Pinned At Board Ceremony

Photo: Mark Thompson (right) pinning his son Alex’s firefighter’s badge during a Town Hall ceremony Aug. 15

With fellow firefighters, family and friends and town officials in attendance, Alex Thompson joined the Belmont Fire Department at the Select Board’s meeting on Monday, Aug. 15 at Town Hall.

A former Marine who completed his certificate at the Massachusetts Firefighters Academy, Thompson recently completed several weeks of evaluation, orientation, and training in Belmont and was recently added to the operation division and was assigned to Unit 2.

Fire Chief David DeStefano presented Thompson with his probationary helmet shield which will donate him as a probationary firefighter – or ”probie” – for the next 12 months and his father, Mark, affixed his badge on his son.

As I’ve said before, a firefighter’s badge should be earned and pinned by a person is important to that firefighter’s life,” said DeStefano.

Welcome Firefighter Thompson: (from left) Asst. Chief Andrew Tobio, Fire Chief David DeStefano, Beth Thompson, Mark Thompson, Firefighter Alex Thompson, Caroline O’Leary, Select Board’s Roy Epstein, Adam Dash and Chair Mark Paolillo.

Town Field Playground Renovation Begins In September After Construction Bid Accepted

Photo:The proposed project at Town Field

After being pushed aside for other projects and delayed by a worldwide pandemic, Monday night, Aug. 15, was Town Field’s time in the spotlight as the Belmont Select Board voted unanimously to approve a bid to begin construction on the renovation of the Field’s playground and courts at the intersection of Beech and Waverley streets.

“We are anxious and excited to say goodbye to our current Town Field Playground, and hello to the new one in the spring,” said Cortney Eldridge, co-chair of the Friends of Town Field.

And the project – which was first proposed by neighbors in 2016 and brought before the Community Preservation Committee in the fall of 2019 – is coming in at a bargain. Approved for $1,049,033 by Town Meeting vote in May, the town selected the low bid of $870,000 from M.J. Cataldo of Littleton, a potential $179,000 savings which will be returned to the CPC coffers.

Cataldo submitted the low bid of eight submitted with half exceeding the town’s price tag. Waterfield Design Group, the project’s design and landscape team, gave a thumbs up to Cataldo’s past work with the Winchester firm.

According to Jay Marcotte, director of the town’s Department of Public Works, the schedule calls for a start date in September with a completion of the job in June of next year. The project will begin with the demolition of the existing playground and court and the removal of the old and outdated playground equipment and relacing with modern and more accessible equipment. There will be four pickleball courts and a renovated basketball court.

It’s been a long and winding journey for what has been a popular proposal that joins several CPC-funded projects at the town’s playing fields. After receiving an initial $680,624 in 2020, competing CPC and town priorities and Covid-19 delays forced the proposal to the sidelines for two years. In that time, construction costs skyrocketed forcing the proposal to return to Town Meeting in 2022 for an additional request of $343,409.

Eldridge said she and the Friends group hopes Monday’s vote will be final big challenge before the opening of the new playground and courts.

“This was one of the last hurdles we needed to pass, and I am really hoping it’s smooth sailing from here on out,” she said.

Bob Reups: After Retiring, Upton Returns As Belmont’s Veterans Agent

Photo: Bob Upton, Belmont’s former/new Veterans Service Officer

You can’t keep a good person from doing what they love.

For Bob Upton, serving the veterans of Belmont was just that cause as the Veterans Service Officer who retired from his position just after Memorial Day is returning to his former post.

“I’m happy to say that Bob Upton has reconsiered retirement and is coming back,” Town Administrator Patrice Garvin told the Select Board on Aug. 8.

For Upton, being asked by the town to coordinate Belmont’s National Purple Heart Day activities held on Aug. 7 “gave me a chance to reflect upon the importance of service and sacrifice made by so many,” he told the Belmontonian via e-mail.

“It’s a great fit and a worthy effort. It made sense to me after reflecting upon my time serving as the Belmont VSO,” said Upton.

Mark Paolillo, chair of the Select Board, said the Health Department Director Wesley Chin reached out to Upton as he was coordinating the event and “he really missed what he was doing and he has such a passion for veterans and I’m thrilled to have him come back and serve with us.”

A Peabody resident, Upton – who was initially hired in Belmont in January 2015 – has been involved in supporting veterans for well over a quarter century.

“The decision to return to the position was one of personal values and appreciation of the gratitude I feel when serving our veteran community,” said Upton.

Talk On How Supreme Court Ruling Effects Gun Ownership in Belmont Friday At The Beech Street Center

Photo: The talk will take place at the Beech Street Center, Friday, Aug. 12 from 1:15 p.m. – 2:15 pm.

The decision in June by the US Supreme Court to loosen handgun restrictions in New York City will have an effect on Belmont residents seeking to purchase a weapon that they wished to carry on them in public.

Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac will host a conversation and discussion about the court’s gun reform ruling, gun reform laws in general and how it impacts Massachusetts at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St., Friday, Aug. 12 from 1:15 p.m. – 2:15 pm. Cost is free.

“I was approached by the senior center about … the court decision and what effect it would have in Massachusetts,” MacIsaac told the Select Board at its Monday, Aug. 8 meeting.

The June 23 decision struck down a New York law requiring people to show a specific need to carry a firearm in public. Gun safety advocates, however, emphasize that the court’s ruling was limited in scope and still allows states to regulate types of firearms, where people can carry firearms and the permitting process, including requirements for background checks and training. 

MacIsaac said the commonwealth had “pretty good gun laws” prior to the ruling: an applicant would need to present three letters of recommendation and then questioned on their need to carry a weapon in public. In Belmont, the police chief who was the issuing authority could then either reject the application or grant either a Class A license – which allowed for a person to carry a concealed at any time – or a Class B which allowed them to carry to and from a shooting range.

The Supreme Court’s ruling did away with the classification systems and the need for letters of recommendation, said MacIsaac. “It’s still up to the police chief in the community if there’s a reason that they find someone’s not suitable and we still have the statutory exemptions that prevent people from obtaining a firearm.”

New Skating Rink Proposal Secures $200K In ARPA Funds To Keep Project Moving Forward; Public Meeting On Aug. 17

Photo: The location of the new skating rink on Concord Avenue

In an effort to prevent the proposed Municipal Skating Rink project grinding to a halt, the Belmont Select Board approved on Monday, Aug. 8, the use of $200,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding to allow the design team to begin hiring subcontractors to allow work on the facility to continue.

This additional funding comes as the project awaits a debt exclusion vote on Nov. 8 to pay for the new 46,000 sq.-ft. skating facility on Concord Avenue adjacent to Belmont High School’s Harris Field.

“We’d like to have an interim fund that will get us to sometime in October,” said Mark Haley, chair of the rink skating committee told the board Monday.

A public forum on the new skating rink facility hosted by the rink will take place remotely on Wednesday, August 17 at 6 p.m. A Zoom link and the meeting agenda can be found here.

Haley reiterated comments from when the Select Board put the debt exclusion on the ballot on July 28 that the project would need additional funds. Preliminary work on the rink beginning in the spring of 2022 after the town secured $250,000 in state ARPA funding. As of the first week in August, $95,000 remain from that initial amount.

Haley told the board the additional funding will allow the design team – headed by architect Ted Galante of Ted Galante Architecture Studio – to hire structural and mechanical engineers to firm up the price tag for the rink, which all sides agreed is a critical component before the vote in November. Currently, the list price to replace the antiquated “Skip” Vigilrolo rink has been calculated around $32-$34 million.

More detailed schematic drawings – for plumbing and interior design – will allow Galante to firm up the price of the new rink. “It sounds like a lot of money, but we’re at a point where [Galante] needs to bring on all these outside people to get the information we need” on the building as well as the parking and landscaping,” said Ann Marie Mahoney, a member of the building committee.

“So for us to have a really good and solid number to start advertising for the debt exclusion, we really need to do this and do it now,” said Mahoney.

In addition, the project will be able to quickly move from design to construction soon after the debt is “hopeful” passed by the voters, said Haley.

With a successful debt exclusion, the ARPA funds will be reimbursed to the town, said Haley. Even if the ballot question is defeated, this additional funding will be spent on necessary work such as the demolition of the White Field House and parking and field designs.

Initially, Haley sought $300,000 in ARPA funds which was reduced by $100,000 after the Select Board member Adam Dash said, while OK with providing this transfer, ”I’m just concerned that $300,000 was a little higher than I was expecting.”

In a compromise, the amount approved was lowered to $200,000 with the board placing on its Aug. 29 meeting agenda a possible vote on releasing an additional $100,000 for necessary design work. As part of the agreement, the building committee will inform both Town Moderator Mike Widmer and the Select Board on a biweekly basis “what we are spending and we’ll try to bring it in less than that,” said Haley.

”We want to be to the extent possible as detailed as possible in terms of what we report out to the community on this build,” said Mark Paolillo, select board chair. ”The more refined [the cost] we be on the expected cost and to inform the residents about that, the better.”

Historic Changes Proposed For Belmont Government, Budget Process As Town Facing ’Serious Financial Difficulties’

Photo: The Collins Center’s Stephen Cirillo

Stephen Cirillo did not mince words: an on-going structural deficit will result in Belmont “facing a significant financial challenge” in the next years.

Yet Cirillo’s statement was hardly a Cassandra-like message; everyone knows it’s only so true. In fact, Cirillo has been before the town for the past four years sounding that same alarm and voters passed a Proposition 2 1/2 override in 2015 to fill the town’s coffer emptied by an earlier fiscal imbalance. But in a damning review of the town’s financial structure by the Edward J. Collins, Jr. Center for Public Management at UMass Boston presented before a joint hybrid meeting of the town’s major committees and boards on Wednesday, Aug. 3, the ability of Belmont’s leaders to effectively face the current fiscal precipice is hindered by an antiquated governmental framework that mutes any opportunity to come to grips with the issues.

“We are concerned that underpinning the current financial challenges is an overall organizational structure that may be unable to meet these difficulties,” said Cirillo, a staff associate at the Center.

In one example that surprised the reviewers, no where in the town’s bylaws or special acts in the 162 years since the town was incorporated was the Select Board ever declared as head of the executive branch.

“Belmont is one of the most decentralized town structures” of its size existing in the Commonwealth, said Cirillo, in which varying committees, boards and elected officials deals with certain aspects of the town’s financial landscape but not the whole “in an inherently uncoordinated fashion.”

“Individually, none of these is necessarily unusual or problematic,” reads the report, but put together, “[it] creates a significant diffusion of responsibility and authority across the executive branch” which is unusual for a large town such as Belmont.

The initial reaction from the officials and the public was an acceptance with an acknowledgment that the recommendations must be seriously considered.

“I thought the report was incredibly well done. Very comprehensive and pointed,” said Mark Paolillo, chair of the Select Board. “So I welcome these recommendations. They are fairly robust.”

Seven months and 18 interviews

The review was initiated by Town Administrator Patrice Garvin and the Select Board which received a state grant 18 months ago to look at the town’s financial structure with the Collins Center which has assisted the town previously on developing financial policy and revenue forecasts. The report took seven months to complete with 18 of 19 town officials, employees, appointees and a resident on the Center’s interview list participating in hour-long sessions between November 2021 and February 2022.

While the review spotlighted the structure of town governance, it also pointed out the lack of fiscal “best practices” in its budgetary process. Belmont has been able, so far, to stave off the financial crisis of the structural deficit in the past seven years by using non-recurring funds such as free cash and state and federal and state grants, Cirillo said that approach is simply not sustainable “and you’re rapidly approaching the financial cliff” when one-time revenue will not fill the gap between recurring revenue and expenditures. When that occurs, the only option will require cuts to essential services – education, public safety, public works – or seeking a series of overrides to balance the budget.

While the conditions creating the structural deficit remain, Cirillo presented a list of recommendations that would bring historic change to Belmont’s governmental model and budget process since the town’s founding in 1859. The 19 recommendations [see a copy at the bottom of the page] are not radical in any sense, said Cirillo. In fact, they would bring Belmont in line structurally with nearly all cities and towns in the Commonwealth including comparable towns.

Read the 40-page Financial Organization Structure Review here.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Cirillo pointed to three key recommendations as essential to put Belmont on the path towards. One is to revamp the town’s current annual budget process into a formalized financial planning cycle by adopting guidelines and best practices developed by the state’s Division of Revenues’ Department of Local Services.

Calling the new planning cycle ”very simple,” Cirillo said each player – be it the town administrator, the select board or department head – has a specific timeline to do their specific tasks and move it forward to the next step. ”And each person, each committee has their responsibility to make their decisions themselves, independent of a group meeting,” he said.

Another main recommendation is to define and strengthen the powers and duties of the Select Board and Town Administrator via new bylaws, changes in policy and through special legislation so that “everything should flow through the Select Board and the representative Town Administrator,” said Cirillo.

“We believe that the Town’s executive branch is not configured in a way that aligns authority, responsibility and accountability,” said the report.

The third recommendation is for the Select Board to take the lead in determining what policies will guide the budget process. Cirillo said once the agreed-to revenue expenditure forecast is presented and reviewed, the board would issue policy directives such as how much should be spent on capital projects, set department hiring freezes to forestall layoffs or call for draft budgets that show the effects of reductions to their assigned revenue.

”These budget guidelines would flow to the town administrator who would then send a directive to the department heads, including the school department, at the beginning of the budget process,” said Cirillo.

Once the department budgets are returned at a date certain, the Town Administrator will prepare a budget recommendation back to the Select Board and Warrant Committee both who will meet with the individual departments “which should have the right to advocate for revenue … for the services they deliver,” said Cirillo.

”Ultimately, the Select Board will make their budget recommendation to Town Meeting with the Warrant Committee making their own budget recommendation to Town Meeting,” said Cirillo, noting it’s likely those recommendations will be very close in their final numbers ”because all budgeting is incremental in nature.” If there are differences in opinion, the board and the committee should seek to reconcile their differences. If not, the Warrant Committee can bring its budget to the town’s legislative body and the Select Board can ask for an up or down vote, he said.

New finance director to lead new financial management team

Cirillo was happy to see one of the 19 recommendations has been implemented with the “excellent” hire of Jennifer Hewitt as the town’s assistant town administrator and finance director who will chair a new Financial Management Team. The team will hold regular meetings to “create opportunities to develop new ideas and analyze the impact of upcoming fiscal events … and offer early strategies to deal with anticipated areas of concern.”

Other recommendation calls for the transition of the Town Treasurer position and the Board of Assessors from elected to appointed posts as well as finding other sources of revenue from economic development that will attract an appropriate level of commercial and industrial activity.

The Warrant Committee’s Jack Weis said his concern was the school district makes up 60 percent of the town’s budget and while town and schools have worked collaboratively, “there’s no guarantee that could work and there’s been examples where that didn’t work.” While Cirillo said the school committee does control the school department, it remains a department with the town of Belmont and the Select Board and Warrant Committee are responsible for creating the budget for the town.

“They should be working with the superintendent of school … or make every effort to do so and they succeed more times than not,” said Cirillo, noting that the schools will be part of the budget process every step of the way and they will know the fiscal reality the town is working in.

”The budget is driven by the executive and the executive is the Select Board represented by the town administrator and the warrant committee represents the Town Meeting,” said Cirillo.

Much what the Collins Center is recommending is not new. In fact, many of the suggestions were first proposed in a 2011 financial management review conducted by the state’s Division of Local Services. ”We implemented a handful of recommendations, many which we did not,” said Paolillo. ”When reading the report, I was not surprised to see that a lot of the recommendations from 11 years ago were in this report.”

While Wednesday meeting was the release of the report, a subsequent public meeting on Aug. 29 will be used to plan a path forward, said Paolillo.

”We can’t make changes in a vacuum” it will need consensus of town and elected officials as well as the public ”because some of the recommendations, I would say, are maybe controversial,” said Paolillo.

”It’s not the end of the discussion,” said Paolillo. ”It’s the beginning of our deliberations. This will be an ongoing dialogue … so we need your thoughts and input.”

Town Opens Belmont Library As Cooling Center During Weekend Heat Wave

Photo: The Belmont Public Library will be a cooling center over the weekend

Due to the current period of high heat and humidity, the Belmont Public Library at 336 Concord Ave. will open as a Cooling Center over the next few days, according to a release from the town.

The hours will be as follows: 

  • Friday Aug. 5: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Saturday Aug. 6: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Sunday Aug. 7: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

“We encourage everyone to stay cool and hydrated,” said the release. “We ask you to check on elderly friends and neighbors, and others who may need help, during this period of high heat and humidity.”  

Be A Friend To Newly-Planted Trees: Give Them A Weekly Drink!

Photo: A weekly watering will help newly-planted trees thrive during the heat and draught

Is there a newly-planted tree in front of your home?

Please help the Town of Belmont by watering those trees during the current draught and extended days of hot temperatures to help it thrive. What residents can do is fill the attached green bag just once a week. The water will slowly drip to the tree’s roots.

Here’s are the Instructions:

  • Insert hose directly into the bag, fill until the bag is full.
  • Please do not fertilize.
  • Weeding is not necessary but is helpful.

Belmont thanks residents for their help!

Registration Now Open for 10th FBE Apple Run With Chances To Race For Free

Photo: Go Register, Go Run, Go Belmont! 

Sunday, Oct. 2 • 9:30 AM: Apple Run 5K • 10:45 AM: Apple Run 2K

Now in its tenth year (six years as the Dan Scharfman Memorial Run), the Foundation for Belmont Education Apple Run has brought thousands of  runners to the streets of Belmont to support public education and innovation in the Belmont Public  Schools. Since its inaugural event in 2013, the Apple Run has raised more than $200,000 for the Foundation. Please visit our website to see how these funds have been put to great work in the Belmont  Public Schools. 

We are excited to make our 10th FBE Apple Run the biggest and best yet! To help celebrate 10 lucky  registrants will run for free! A name will be drawn weekly from our pool of registrants to determine who the lucky winners are – sign up now to increase your chances of getting your registration fee back! 

As in past years, the first 400 registered runners in the 2022 run will receive a hi-tec short sleeve ‘quik-dri’ running shirt. Adult and youth sizes are offered. 

Our Couch to 5K Program is available online only this year: Visit the Run page to view and use the 2021  training articles. 

Compete in the team competition this year? Just enter your team name when you register on RaceWire. Visit our run page to see what the team awards are! 

REGISTER NOW FOR THE FBE APPLE RUN 2022

THANK YOU Cityside Subaru of Belmont – PLATINUM SPONSOR FOR 10YEARS!!!

Follow on Facebook and Instagram to stay up to date with run news and learn more about the race.

Questions? administrator@fbe-belmont.org

’Une Nouvelle Sœur’: Belmont Reaches Out To French Town To Be First Sister City

Photos: Orsay, France’s Deputy Mayor Frederic Henriot and Belmont Select Board Chair Mark Paolillo pointing out the similarities between the two municipalities during the French official’s visit to Belmont.

Bonjour, Orcéens. Bienvenue à Belmont, ville de maisons!

It’s not everyday a foreign dignitary stops in Belmont to say hello. But 198 years since the Marquis de Lafayette was feted in what is now the Town of Homes during his grand tour of the United States in 1824, a second French official arrived bearing gifts with the goal of forging a friendship between the two communities.

Frederic Henriot, the deputy mayor of Orsay, France was welcomed to Belmont by the Select Board on Monday, July 20 as the towns are taking the initial steps to establishing a Sister City relationship, which would be a first for Belmont.

A national initiative begun by President Eisenhower in the 1950s, the Sister Cities movement was created ”to boast exchanges in arts and culture, business and trade, youth and education, and community development that not only bring them friendship, but help them to tackle the world’s most pressing issues at the local level,” according to Sister Cities International.

The lineup: (from left) Belmont Select Board’s Roy Epstein, Orsay, France’s Deputy Mayor Frederic Henriot; Select Board’s Adam Dash and
Chair Mark Paolillo.

Representing his fellow Orcéens, Henriot – who just so happened to be in Boston on holiday with his family – sees many similarities between the two communities. “I think we got some things in common because we are nearby big universities … and we also got our big high school like yours,” said Henriot.

Settled 860 years before Belmont was incorporated in 1859, Orsay (pop. 16,000) is a suburb of Paris on the commuter rail line 13 miles to the southwest of the City of Lights. It’s best know as home to the Université Paris-Saclay, one of Europe’s leading science research universities (rated first in Mathematics in world rankings), which has attracted high tech firms to its R&D infrastructure.

The genesis of a potential sister city partnership started with a connection between the two high schools. As both Henriot and Belmont school officials noted, over the years several families from Orsay resided in Belmont while in Boston on business or academic assignments. On their return to belle France, “the students say, ‘yes, they are doing the same thing [in education and the arts]. So perhaps we can start something between the town and the schools together and hope we can share something,” Henriot said.

One of the Belmont educators who is initiating a cultural swap is Allison Lacasse, the high school’s band director and Francophile. She met the representatives from Orsay early in the school year when they visited Belmont’s Director of Visual and Performing Arts Arto Asadoorian to discuss a future collaboration with the performing arts departments of Belmont High and Lycée Blaise Pascal d’Orsay, initially via Zoom and later a possible school-based arts exchange.

“Arto mentioned to them that I travel to France often, and that we should consider connecting the next time I was overseas,” said Lacasse. ”I booked a trip for April break in 2022, and then contacted the folks from Orsay to potentially set up a visit.”

“We worked out a day to meet, and they planned a beautiful itinerary for me to visit Université Paris-Saclay, cultural institutions within the town of Orsay, their public middle school, and the arts conservatory (Conservatoire à Rayonnement Départemental Paris-Saclay),” she said.

Allison Lacasse, Belmont High School’s Band Director, with Herve Dole, vice-president of arts, culture, science at Universite Paris-Saclay on her April 2022 visit to Orsay, France

After these initial interactions, Board Member Adam Dash and Town Administrator Patrice Garvin recently spoke with Orsay’s Mayor David Ros. ”[The meeting] went very well and we were talking about moving forward into more of a formal relationship,” said Dash.

Henriot came prepared for the function by putting on his official l’écharpe tricolore – the tricolor sash (red, white and blue, of course!) – with silver tassels (mayors have gold tassels) before an exchange of gift baskets and books with the board accepting a guide and history to Orsay (“Sorry that’s in French,” said Henriot) with an inscription from Ros while Henriot was given Richard Betts’ opus on the naming of Belmont’s streets (“That one is in English,” said Mark Paolillo, Board Chair.)

A video presentation of Orsay was viewed by board and public with members of Belmont’s Council of Aging noting how many activities seniors are involved in the town while others pointing out the good working order Orsay’s municipal facilities were in.

And Orsay’s connection with Belmont could go beyond just cultural. As he was leaving town hall, the high school rugby coaches – who with their players were recognized by the town for winning their state championships – button hold Henriot on possible introductions with the established CA Orsay Rugby Club.

“We hope to see you in France, yes?” asked Henriot at the end of his stay.