Photo: Andy Rojas.
Beginning today and on every Wednesday leading up the Town Election on Tuesday, April 7, the Belmontonian will be asking a “Question of the Week” to the candidates running for a seat on the Board of Selectmen: incumbent Andy Rojas and Glenn Road resident Jim Williams.
This weekly feature will allow the candidates seeking a three-year term on the board to answer topical questions concerning Belmont and help demonstrate their ability to lead the town.
This week’s question: Why are you running for selectman?
The position of the answers will alternate each week with Rojas having the top spot this week.
I am running for re-election as Belmont Selectman to build on my first term achievements — significant results based on an in-depth understanding of the job, experienced leadership and excellent community-Selectman communications.
Belmont is truly a wonderful town but, in common with other towns, it faces many challenges ranging from the effects of increased use of town and school services, to the need for thoughtful residential and commercial development that preserves our green space. These challenges require experienced leadership, in-depth knowledge and skills in many areas — not merely a focus on one or two issues. I bring the right qualifications to the table.
My wife, Allison Miele Rojas and I have lived in Belmont for over 20 years. This is where we raised our two children both of whom are graduates of Belmont High School. Our son, Samuel, is a senior at St. Michael’s College. Our daughter, Lucy, is a sophomore at the University of Hartford. Smudge, our pug, rounds out the family.
Allison and I own Rojas Design, Inc., an architectural firm. I am a professional landscape architect with significant, sustainable building and site design experience. Allison is an experienced interior architect who is a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Accredited Professional.
I have a Master of Landscape Architecture from Harvard University, studied Real Estate Development & Management at the Harvard Business School, received a Bachelor of Media Arts (Honorary) from the Massachusetts Communication College, and have a Bachelor of Science from the City College of New York School of Architecture.
My extensive knowledge of the issues that Belmont faces comes not just from living here for many years but from actual service to the town. This service includes, but is not limited to:
• Board of Selectmen — 2012 – present, Chair, April, 2014 – present;
• Warrant Committee — 2014 – present;
• Community Preservation Committee — 2012 – present;
• Planning Board — 2006 -2012, Vice Chair — 2010 – 2012;
• Capital Projects Overview Committee — 2007 – 2009;
• Capital Endowment Committee — 2012 – present;
• Benton Branch Library Re-Use Committee — 2007 – 2010;
• Police Station Feasibility Committee — 2007 – 2008;
• Harvard Lawn Fire Station Re-Use Committee — Chair – 2006 – 2007;
• Shade Tree Committee — 2005 – 2012;
• Town Meeting Member — 2007 – present; and,
• Coach for Belmont Youth Basketball and Baseball teams.
Allison and I have made it a practice to use our professional expertise to help the town. We’ve donated professional design services to the Butler School Playground, the Belmont High School Language Lab as well as the Winn Brook School Basketball Courts. I introduced the Grove Street Playground Master Plan concept and advocated for the study that is currently underway.
I have the experience, proven leadership, demonstrated commitment and knowledge of Belmont needed to meet the challenges we face. I respectfully ask for your vote for Selectman on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. Thank you.
Dear fellow Belmontonians, did you know that Belmont’s Management states in the current Annual Report that our town does not have the reserves necessary to “meet its ongoing short and long term obligations to its citizens or its creditors”?
Did you know that we will need to come up with nearly an additional $400 million over the next 13 years to meet these obligations unless we change our financial strategies?
Did you know that the current $4.5 million override proposal is inadequate to meet the current scheduled unfunded pension assessments beyond 2019 and that another even larger override will be needed to cover the remaining payments thru 2028?
Did you know that the Town projects costs of a new high school, a new police station, and a new DPW Facility to be an additional $200 million which makes “planned” expenditures total $600 million under current strategies?
If you don’t, you are in the majority and it’s not surprising since Town Management has not engaged us in a frank discussion of these looming obligations as they developed or provided sensible and timely strategies to address them.
Jonathan Birge says
Thank you for running, Jim. Reading your answer is the first bit of hope I’ve had that this town isn’t just going to be long term decline punctuated by the occasional reactive panic. You’ll have my vote.
Jim Williams says
Thank you, Jonathan, for your understanding and confidence. Running for Selectman is not quite as lonely or unforgiving as it can be when one’s true purpose is recognized by an informed reader. I’m not running to be a Selectman or “against” Andy Rojas. I’m running for Belmont and it sounds to me that you are just as concerned as I am about the Town’s future. Since 2012, Town Management has reported in our annual review that the Town doesn’t have the reserves necessary to meet its short or long term obligations to its citizens or its creditors.
For the past 4 years, payments to the Town’s pension obligation have been taken out of the yearly operating budget (approx 100M/year or the sum total of our tax revenue) — 5M in 2012, 5.2M in 2013, 5.4M in 2014, 5.8M for 2015, for a total of 21.4M. This is money that is badly needed for schools and town expenses, services, and infrastructure. For 2016, $6.3 million from the town operating budget is going towards the pension, which is the culprit behind the necessary school cuts and the proposed override. Passing the $4.5 million override means avoiding unnecessary school and other operations cuts totaling $2.8 million, but the future is still bleak.
Putting an override on the ballot every few years, as you correctly note, can cause occasional reactive panic, but unfortunately, given the current BOS trajectory, that is our reality – we will likely need another override in 4 years. As Selectman, I will face our biggest financial problems straight on. Under my plan, I will work to refinance the unfunded pension obligation, resulting in fixed payments of $4.0 million per year thru 2035 as well as begin to fund our retirement healthcare obligation at $2.5 million in 2016. Making the cost $6.5 million per year, compared to current plan which starts at $6.3M in 2016, and escalates at 7% per year through 2028 (6.8 in 2017, 9.2 in 2022, 11.4 in 2027). Further, if we use bonds and debt exclusions (which should be the case for any long-term financial obligations), these funds will not come out of the general operating budget. My plan shows promise and an optimistic outlook. Returning 6.3M (and eventually 11.4M) to our operating budget is the only way we are going to “save our schools” and keep Belmont from digging a deeper financial hole.
However, the true risk we face is not financial, but the loss of the Belmont that we cherish! I want Belmont to be a green community with high quality-of-life and the best schools. To achieve these goals, we need real solutions now to stabilize our finances. My proposed changes will allow us to invest in Belmont’s and our children’s future. Thanks for your vote. Please spread the word and urge your friends to support our campaign (www.williamsforbelmont.org/volunteer-opportunities/) and to vote for me on April 7th.