Photo: Belmont Town Meeting
7:08 p.m.: Mike Widmer, town moderator, has gaveled Section B of the annual Town Meeting into session.
It’s the beginning of all things budgetary including what to do with the rest of the override funds. That’s $1.6 million.
7:16 p.m.: A proclamation for Bruce Davidson, a long-time chair and member of the Warrant Committee and Town Meeting member, who recently died. He was also a long-time financial editor and columnist for the Boston Globe.
7:19 p.m.: Kevin Cunningham, Pct. 4, is seeking to change the order of the articles to place Article 12 to go before Article 13. Widmer believe that keeping it in the current order because if Town Meeting does not allocate the remaining $1.6 million of the override amount, then you would want Article 12 coming afterwards. If not, Town Meeting would need to have countless articles. Cunningham’s wishes are defeated.
7:29 p.m.: Sami Baghdady, Selectmen chair, is making the Board’s update. Here are some highlights around town: Belmont Center Recreation .
And some real news: the Belmont Center commuter rail bridge will be power washed this summer. “How nice it will be for the gateway to our community” to be brought back to its stone glory.
The Underwood Pool is on schedule.
Belmont Uplands project: 298 units/60 affordable units. The building foundations are in the ground. Look on the bright side: 60 units of affordable units but will be give credit for all 298 units s there will be 696 affordable units or 6.7 percent.
Cushing Village: The last two weeks, the new partnership has received the OK for construction financing so maybe something will be built there this summer. Maybe.
Woodfall Road: There is now a P&S agreement and a sale will be done in 90 days.
Pavement Management Program: The most money that can be used in one year.
Community Path Implementation: It’s on track.
Belmont Public Library: A new project feasibility study will get underway soon.
Solar Net Metering: A modified stage II within 60 days – looking for a compromise between solar advocates and Belmont Light.
Belmont remains a great place to live so let’s keep moving forward, said Baghdady.
7:42 p.m.: State Rep Dave Rogers is addressing the gathering. House passed its budget – $38 million, a small increase. The new budget does not draw on the stabilization fund. Good news for Belmont is a five percent increase to education and 4 percent for general government. And $350,000 increase in roads and sidewalks. Also fully fund sped circuit breakers and METCO will see a 5 percent increase. Rogers priorities includes funding for homeless families, DEP funding, and funding for Legal Aid. He introduced 26 bills with a focus on legal issues including criminal justice reform (solitary confinement for those 21 and under.)
In local projects, Alewife rotary reconstruction at routes 2 and 16 (public meeting on June 16, at 6 p.m. at 60 Acorn Park in Cambridge.)
7:54 p.m.: Back to business. Article 10 is up, the salaries of elected officials. It’s approved after Bonnie Friedman, Pct. 3, asked why the town doesn’t pay something to the school committee. Widmer recalled a vigorous debate on paying school committee members several years ago. It was defeated then and it has never come back up.
8 p.m.: Mike Libenson, chair of the Warrant Committee, is going over the entire budget. Fun facts:
- The budget is $100,293,295; nine figures!
- The total budget increased by 5.3 percent while the $84.5 million operating budget (other then pension, debt, the other stuff you don’t spend) increased by more than 6 percent.
- Fixed costs are $15.8 million with pensions is $6.5 million with debt at $4.4 million. Road spending is going up with debt is falling.
- Schools take up the most of the operating budget (58 percent) with public safety (15.2 percent) followed by public services (12 percent) then general government (5 percent).
- Municipal departments funded at level service or better.
- Healthcare costs is again flat, saving money.
- School have been saved from significant cuts, adding 16 full-time equivalent personal.
- Free cash: Belmont spent a lot: It started with $7.5 million in July last year, spending $1.3 million on Belmont Center, and fiscal 16 allocation at $1.75 million and OPED and snow and ice ending at $3.3 million, which is within the guideline of having at least 3 percent of the total budget.
There are four stabilization funds – SpEd, a new “general” fund (where to put the override funds), OPEB and capital/debt (for four projects).
Long-term trends: as a Town of Homes, growth can only be between 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent annually. Employee pay is 70 percent of the budget, school costs shooting up, lot of needs in capital and maintenance and infrastructure and pension and health care obligations.
Did you know that there is a different between pensions and other post employment benefits (OPEB)? Yes, there is. Pensions are being paid off by 2027 and OPEB has a $171 million unfunded liability (which is $21 million lower than what was predicted.)
8:23 p.m.: OK, up now is Article 13, the general stabilization fund to be funded with a transfer of $1,674,069. There are two amendments, both by Cunningham. He said he doesn’t care how members vote on the amendment, his objective is to start a conversation on “process.”
But before he could come to a point, Robert McGaw, Pct. 1, calls point of order, that Cunningham has gone beyond the amendment’s scope. Moderator Widmer said he would give Cunningham some “poetic license” on his comments. But Cunningham continues to make it a debate on process, which causes Widmer to ask him to get to the point.
After completing his presentation, Cunningham then removes his amendments after getting his point across.
During the debate, Adam Dash, Warrant Committee and Pct. 1; Jack Weis, Pct. 1; Ellen Schreiber, Pct. and Paul Roberts; Pct. 8, make the same point: allow the will of the voters who passed the override to be upheld even if members don’t like the idea that these funds are not targeted towards specific needs. Joe White, Pct. 4, said the voters would not have voted for the override if they knew there would be funds remaining.
The vote has been called and after a false start, the article passes easily, 214 to 32.
9:15 p.m.: Now is the real money, Article 12, the town’s budget, will be debated and voted.
Early on in the process, there is an amendment that will request the Warrant Committee to produce an update report on the town’s current pension funding schedule, which is $6 million in fiscal 2016 and will increase by seven percent annually until 2027. Sponsored by Julie Crockett, Pct. 5, the report will see if there are alternative schedules that are not “unsustainable” as the current plan.
The amendment passes 137 to 85.
9:55 p.m.: The school budget is up. At $49,660,070, it’s big. And it passes, unanimously, like most budget appropriations.
10:35 p.m.: Finally, all the department budgets have been approved.
10:36 p.m.: Just one more article, said Widmer. Groans. Article 17 is the OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits) Stabilization fund at $366,738. Town Treasurer Floyd Carman is masterful in explaining why this little amount of money is seen large by the credit rating agencies which allows the town to keep its AAA rating, a rare occurrence.
Baghdady said the Selectmen will create a similar committee to the Warrant Committee’s pension review committee to take a look at the town’s OPEB payments. Article 17 passes easily.
10:45 p.m.: Finally, the gavel comes down and the first night of the reconvened Town Meeting has ended. See you on Wednesday for the Capital Budget portion.