Photo: Belmont Town Meeting approved the work of a special commission to change the Massachusetts state flag and seal (above) (credit: Commonwealth of Massachusetts)
The final two nights of Segment A of Belmont’s 2022 annual Town Meeting saw the creation of a new committee to oversee town and school capital projects, allow a group of dispatchers to retire under the plan they started with, and gave a thumbs up to updating the state flag.
The new Comprehensive Capital Budget Committee
Here was the opportunity for Town Meeting to merge the two existing committees overseeing the town’s capital process – the well established Capital Budget Committee and the two-year-old Long Term Capital Planning Committee – into an all encompassing oversight group of capital projects to be dubbed the Comprehensive Capital Budget Committee.
According to the article’s sponsor Chris Doyle, chair of the Long Term Capital Planning Committee, the new group will revise and expand the town’s capital budgeting and planning process. It will continue the work of the Capital Budget Committee which comes to Town Meeting with an annual appropriations list of projects or items requested by town departments – from fire trucks to roof repairs and everything in-between – with a new requirement to present to Town Meeting detailed one, five and 30 year plans that will evaluate major projects and financing options. The one year plan would be the annual appropriations which is voted on by Town Meeting while the five and 30 year plans will be recommendations by the CCPC provided to the annual meeting.
While there was no real opposition to the creation of the new committee – it has been under discussion and presented to the public for the past several months without much criticism – the article still came before Town Meeting with three amendments which Town Moderator Mike Widmer said was the most he’s seen at any one article in all his time as moderator. Two amendments were clearly ”housekeeping” alterations which were happily accepted by Doyle.
The third amendment from Bob McGaw, Precinct 1, sought to include language on how the three plans would be structured, by “endeavor[ing] to utilize generally accepted financial analysis tools and models in its evaluation and comparison of capital projects.” While the amendment’s suggestion on using “generally accepted” analysis models appeared to be innocuous enough, it could also be open to interpretation that troubled many as demonstrated by every board and committee reporting on it recommending “unfavorable action.”
While opponents to the McGaw amendment were OK with deep dives on the finances of capital projects – Ann Marie Mahoney, Precinct 1 and chair of the CBC, said what McGaw is seeking “is already happening” with her committee including analyzing purchasing vs. leasing and calculating life expectancy of renovation or reconstruction projects – they believed the phrasing was far too vague.
“This sentence is completely unworkable,” said Claus Becker, Precinct 5, as ”there is no list of ‘generally accepted financial analysis’ tool in the context of local governance.” Becker said if a resident doesn’t accept the work a committee or board has produced, it is their “civic duty” to do their own analysis and present it to the public for comment.
The McGaw amendment was set aside by Town Meeting and the article was approved by a wide margin, 244-8-3.
Retirement Classification of Certain Employees
Precinct 7’s Michael McNamara put it succinctly when he renamed the measure on the Retirement Classification of Certain Employees brought before Town Meeting as the “keeping them from being stiffed” article.
Tom Gibson, chair of the Belmont Retirement Board and the sponsor of the article, reported that the article came as a result of the latest three year audit by the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission – which regulates, oversee and guides the operation state’s public pension systems – which determined that Belmont’s dispatchers are misclassified in terms of their pension benefits. While they are placed in group 2 – which includes employees whose major duties are the care and custodial duties involving prisoners – the auditors said they should be group 1, which are for clerical, administrative, management and technical employees. That change would have an impact on the calculation of an employee’s retirement allowance which will eventual the final benefit.
Gibson said the PERAC-directed change would impact just eight Belmont employees and all future employees. Under the new group designation, the eight would be required to work more years to receive the amount they were expecting under the existing plan. The article would grandfather those under the existing Group 2 classification with all new employees be slotted into Group 1.
As both Gibson and Select Board Chair Mark Paolillo noted, voting yes on the article was to a measure of fairness for the eight dispatchers. While the majority of speakers supported the article, some who said they were fine with the measure were miffed that the Retirement or Select Board didn’t have an analysis of the ”added” cost of keeping the dispatchers in Group 2 available to members.
After a bit back and forth with members, Gibson revealed that there would be a $159,423 increase to keep the dispatchers where they are.
Fairness passes: 247-6-5
Changing the State Flag and Seal (non-binding)
This article was fairly self explanatory: Citizen petition sponsor Joseph Barnard, Precinct 3, hoped that the town would approve a resolution to support a special commission as it goes about the mission of changing the Massachusetts state flag and seal. Barnard said this is not a new issue, that indigenous people have been saying for generations that the flag and seal were ”offensive and harmful” and a yes vote ”is to uplift and amplify an indigenous led campaign for change.” Go here for more information.
Not much in terms of debate as nearly all speakers were enthusiastic in backing the measure, although one member did ask for the data that would support the contention that ”a large majority of native Americans find the current state flag offensive.” Barnard admitted he didn’t have a poll or survey to call on but said he believed the indigenous leaders who backed the commission would know what their constituents thinking on the matter. It passed 222-12-19.
Town Meeting Returns In June
Segment B of Town Meeting which articles involving the town and school budgets will be voted, will commence on Wednesday, June 1 at 6:30 a.m., likely via Zoom and on local cable access.