Leaf Blowers, Elected Vs Appointed Treasurer To Be Tackled At Late November Special Town Meeting

Photo: An off-cycle Community Preservation Committee funding request to finish the Town Hall roof will be an article at Belmont’s Special Town Meeting in November 2022.

Town Meeting Members can expect three long, drawn-out nights as the agenda for this year’s Special Town Meeting was revealed to the Select Board at its Monday, Sept. 12 meeting.

Members will vote on 13 articles over three consecutive nights; Nov. 29, 30, and Dec. 1 that includes changing how the town treasurer is chosen, the creation of a bylaw to end the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in town in the next five years, providing additional funds to the Recreation Department and send free cash into rainy day funds. 

“There is concern at the number of articles … that Belmont can take a considerable amount of time in discussing some of the articles,” said Town Administrator Patrice Garvin presenting the agenda to the board and the Warrant Committee at its organizational meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 14.

“I will be meeting with the Town Moderator [Mike Widmer] to look at the list in a realistic way and hopefully try and get through the articles,” she said.

The Special Town Meeting could also be the first in-person meeting since 2019 if Widmer determines the meeting can take place safely in the new Belmont Middle and High School auditorium.

The index of warrant articles include:

  • Article 1: Reports
  • Article 2: Appropriation Belmont Library, Authorization to Borrow
  • Article 3: Belmont Municipal Ice-Skating Rink, Authorization to Borrow
  • Article 4: Establishing a Capital Stabilization Fund
  • Article 5: Transfer from Free Cash to Capitalization Fund
  • Article 6: Transfer from Free Cash to General Stabilization Fund
  • Article 7: Establish a Recreation Enterprise Fund
  • Article 8: Leaf Blower Bylaw
  • Article 9: Elected Treasurer to Appointed/Hire
  • Article 10: Extension of Contract Term for Electric Vehicle Buses
  • Article 11: Off Cycle Community Preservation Project – Town Hall Roof
  • Article 12: Current Year Supplemental Payment for Recreation Department
  • Article 13: Appropriation of Opioid Settlement

Looking down the plan, Garvin noted that articles 2 and 3 would only be taken up if one or both debt exclusion votes on building a new library and municipal skating facility were approved by voters at the Nov. 8 General Election.

The middle articles, 4-7, is the establishment of several funding line items. For example, Garvin said her office is proposing to transfer a portion of fiscal year ’22 “free cash” – the amount certified by the state will be announced on Sept 15 – into a pair of accounts; capital and the general stabilization funds.

The newly created capital fund will be for future capital needs and projects such as roofs on municipal buildings. Article 6 is a straight transfer from free cash into the established general fund that sets aside monies to be available for future spending purposes.

Garvin said the impetus for this approach was that each year a significant amount of free cash is carried forward to the next fiscal year. “[The town’s finance team] felt that it might be good to start storing [free cash] into stabilization funds for future appropriation and try and figure out a way to use that in a more productive way rather than keeping it aside for the operating budget,” said Garvin.

Garvin reminded the board on Monday that Article 7, establishing a Recreation Department enterprise fund, “has been talked about for a few years now.” And even now, “we’re still running down whether or not this is something that town should be doing.” An alternative is a potential revolving fund, “so we are running that down with Recreation Department.” The article is a placeholder until a firm decision is decided after discussions with Recreaction Department Director Brendan Fitts.

Article 8 is the leaf blower bylaw which the board talked about extensively since the beginning of the Covid-19 shutdown “when we first started getting complaints from residents about the noise level for leaf blowers.” Negotiations between small landscaping businesses and environmentalists have created a blueprint for ending gas-driven machines in the next few years.

“The Select Board discussed at the last couple of meetings … the possibility of making the elected treasurer an appointed/hired treasurer,” said Garvin, which will be before Special Town Meeting as Article 9.

Article 10 is an extension of a contract term for electric vehicle buses. Garvin said while there has been a great deal of discussion at the School Department, and when they put out their bid for buses, it will likely include electric – or EV – powered versions, there has been no formal “ask” by the district.

“The article is just a placeholder because, under Massachusetts’ procurement law, you can only have a three-year contract with a vendor … and some require a 10-year contract,” said Garvin. Under the law, such a contract has to be approved by a Town Meeting vote, she said. This article will be used to set up the district when it wants to go to these buses, said Garvin.

Article 11 is an off-cycle Community Preservation Project request to finish the repairs to the slate tiles on the Town Hall roof which received CPC funding. On Wednesday, Sept. 14, the CPC approved the extra funding.

Article 12 is a current year supplemental for the Recreation Department which is seeking additional funds to allow “Rec” to provide the programing that is town residents are demanding.

“Covid-19 has been tough to estimate receipts for Recreation. Garvin told the board that any surge in demand could decimate a program. “So we are looking to potentially change what those estimates are because our concern is Recreation is going to run out of money for FY ’23.”

The final article, 13, is Belmont’s appropriation of the state Attorney General’s Statewide Opioid Settlements. “I don’t know if people watch the news, but the town added itself to the settlements. So we have an opportunity to receive money, and this is something that we’re looking at to see if it would benefit the town,” Garvin said. The town would have to create a separate account to accept the settlement funds, which, Financial Director Jennifer Hewitt noted, would be $200,000 in the first year. “But the payments would fall significantly” over the next 16 years,” she added.

With the warrant open for only two days – Sept. 13 and Sept. 14 – it’s unlikely the Town Clerk’s office will have accepted any citizen petitions for certification, which was just fine with board member Adam Dash.

“I’ve always perferred to keep Special Town Meetings to the [agenda] because we have a special need for these meetings. Citizen petitions and all that are more [suited] to an annual Town Meeting,” he said.

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