LIVE: Town Meeting, Segment B: The Budget, The Final Night

Photo: Town Moderator Mike Widmer.

Welcome to the final night of the 2017 Belmont Town Meeting.

After speeding through the first half of the financial articles on Monday, June 5, Belmont’s annual Town Meeting will only have seven articles remaining on this year’s warrant.

7:09 p.m.: Running a bit late but the meeting has started with the Pledge of Allegiance.

7:18 p.m.: Kathy Keohane, chair of the Library Trustees, is delivering a short report on the feasibility study for a new Belmont Public Library. The report is hereWhy does the town need a new library? Because it’s so well loved and used. There is a demand for library services and a new 38,000 sq.-foot building is needed. It will cost about $24 million for new construction which is the most efficient and cost effective. Private fundraising will be an important component of the financing of the new building.

7:27 p.m.: State Sen. Will Brownsberger is giving a report on making a few predictions. He said Belmont will still receive the local aid that has been estimated earlier this year by the legislature despite the fall-off in revenue. Brownsberger said there will be more congestion on roads and mass transit. He’s still concerned about changing local zoning laws to increase affordable housing types which died in the legislature. He’s working hard on mitigating aircraft noise over Belmont.

7:39 p.m.: Now off to the articles. Article 18 will establish a special education reserve fund to pay for unbudgeted costs associated with out-of-district tuition and transportation costs. Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan said this new account is different than the existing Stabilization Fund? Basically, it allows easier access to funds where the school committee doesn’t have to wait until June, it just means a favorable vote from the Board of Selectmen and the School  Committee. Jim Gammill, Pct. 2 and Warrant Committee member, who is in favor of the account said he doesn’t want to zero out the existing fund, rather keep about half of it where it is which will allow for policy discussion on SPED costs before the entire town. Phelan said he is only asking to establish the account this year with funding to be decided at next year’s Town Meeting. The article is approved with a few no votes/

7:59 p.m.:  Now the budget, article 13.

  • General government, $4.6 million – approved.
  • Employee benefits, retirement expenses, $7.3 million – approved.
  • Employee benefits, other reserves such as health insurance, $3.0 million – approved.
  • Public safety, $14.3 million – approved.

The school budget is now on the table, at $52.97 million. Phelan said he is “proud” to present this year’s budget. You can read the report here. The budget is on track to be balanced at the end of the fiscal year, “which is not always the case.” Challenges are enrollment projections and per pupil expenditures. Belmont spends $13,400 per student vs. the state with $15,500 and peer groups (level 1 districts and nearby towns) at $18,000, more than a third more. All the while enrollment is climbing by nearly 500 students by the 2024-25 school year. Personnel and space are needed. Phelan give a shout out to parent groups and the Foundation for Belmont Education. Gammill reads from the Warrant Committee report on the schools and comes up with an interesting fact: the town is likely paying too much for teacher salaries than peer communities. This issue could come back in future negotiations with the teacher’s union which is coming soon. 

Sue Bass, Pct 3, wonders what’s happening with later opening times for high school students. “I’m willing to pay for the schools but not if the students are sleeping the first two classes.” It could happen by Sept. 2018. Chris Doyle, Pct. 1, asked if any impact from Federal government funding with the new Trump administration which many believe will lower education funds in the coming years. Phelan said only $1.4 million comes from federal funds with $921,000 directed to SPED accounts. She also said the deficit on student spending vs. peer communities is “not sustainable.” Selectman Mark Paolillo speaks of the several financial deficits facing the town including paying for a high school.

Klaus Becker, Pct. 5, said the Gates Foundation found it’s not class size but high-quality teachers to have great outcomes. While he does agree with the idea, Phelan said size does matter to efficient teaching. Deb Lockett, Pct. 7, said “it’s startling” to see the cost-per-student deficit with other towns, that we are in a pit that we can’t get out. Lockett asked should the town/schools have a grant writer. Paolillo said while you can have a grant writer, it’s better to see if there is a different way to fund services. Steve Rosales, Pct. 8, said there is always a need for more money, but that doesn’t relate to the quality of the education. “It isn’t about money.” Anne Mahon, Pct. 4, said it is about the money, that people are coming to the town for education which you can’t do without paying for it.

The vote is taken and the $52.97 million budget is approved. 

9:16 p.m.: Town Moderator Mike Widmer said it will likely take two hours to finish the budget. UGH! And it’s starting to get really cool inside the auditorium.

  • Funding for the Minuteman Regional School, $910,185 – approved.
  • Public Service, $13.4 million – approved.
  • Human Services, $3.2 million – approved.
  • Debt and Interest on the debt, $4.5 million – approved.

Now the transfer of balances being read by Town Treasurer Floyd Carman. All approved.

This ends the budget.

9:24 p.m.: Now the citizen’s petition to transfer $1 million from free cash – the town’s piggy bank – into the General Stabilization Fund which was established after the 2015 Prop. 2 1/2 override which will then have $4 million. Petitioner Bob Sarno, Pct. 3, said this is a simple request, a fiscally prudent choice, as it will help delay the need for an override with town deficits rising in the next few years. While it will take a higher percentage (2/3 rather than the current simple majority) of town meeting members to approve the use of the $1 million as it’s in a stabilization fund, Sarno said any worthy expenses will be OK’d by the members.

Both the selectmen and the Warrant Committee voted “unfavorable” action.

Selectman Adam Dash said keeping the money in free cash will make it easier for the town to use the funds as it will need a simple majority rather than a 2/3 vote, especially since the money may be used to purchase much-needed modular structures.

Selectman Adam Dash said keeping the money in free cash will make it easier for the town to use the funds as it will need a simple majority rather than a 2/3 vote, especially since the money may be used to purchase much-needed modular structures in the fall. Selectman Chair Jim Williams said he is opposed to funding any capital expenditure with free cash – it should be bonded.

Both Selectman Paolillo and Treasurer Carman said while they support the idea, the time is not right to pass it. Wait until the October/November Special Town Meeting to realize the cost of the modular structures or some other issue. Several town meeting members voiced in favor of the petition all suggesting that it makes sense to place funds in reserve.

The motion was moved and the vote is taken. And it is adopted, 109 to 102.

9:55 p.m.: The final four articles are related to retirement issues: you can read the report here. The changes are made possible by local option from the state legislature, which the town’s Retirement Board brought forward to Town Meeting. Article 20 seeks to increase the cost-of-living-allowance base for 339 town retirees from $12,000 to $14,000 which turns out to be $35 a month/$420 a year. It will have the largest impact on the retirement liability of the four retirement articles, adding $235,150 to the fiscal 2019 budget and adding $1.7 million to the unfunded liability “and that’s a big climb to get out of” said Dash. “This is not small money we are talking about.” “We are meeting our legal obligation” if the town says put, said Bob McLaughlin, Pct. 2. It’s an issue of balance, said McLaughlin, and we don’t have the money. 

Jack Weis, Pct. 1, said the town needs to find a way to fund the two percent increase in the COLA as the town has an obligation to provide for retirees. Warrant Committee Chair Roy Epstein, said the COLA is a local option, it’s not a requirement; plenty of other well-funded towns are staying at $12,000. The higher expense of $235,000 to the town budget will have to come out of some other line item. 

The vote is being taken – and it fails 69 to 126. That was a surprise. 

10:42 p.m.: Now up is Article 19, to increase the stipend to the Retirement Board up to $4,500 from $3,000. Apparently, since they are fiduciaries and other new responsibilities set forth by the legislature, the retirement board believed it was appropriate to bring this local option to Town Meeting. The Selectmen voted 3-0 for favorable action while the Warrant Committee voted unfavorable action 9-1. McLaughlin said while the Retirement Board does a great job, so does the School Committee and the other 66 boards in town who don’t get paid. The vote is taken and its 22-164 in the negative. 

10:58 p.m.: Final two articles! Article 21 effects four spouses of employees who died while working by increasing the monthly benefit from $250 to $500 which will increase the 2019 budget by $13,805. Dash said he’s against the article on principal. Lubein said it’s a small amount of money and a unique case. Rachel Berger, Pct. 2, said workers do die young and it will help those who may have lost a breadwinner. The vote is taken and the article is approved 124 to 52.

11:04 p.m.: Here we go, the final article. Number 22, to increase the annual allowance of retirees who stopped working due to accidents or disability from $6,000 to $12,000. Only three retirees are effected with a small pool. It will take a bite out of the budget for $20,000 each year. The vote is taken – 60 in favor, 117 opposed.

And at 11:11 p.m., the annual Town Meeting is closed!

Is This The Final Night of Belmont’s Town Meeting? Bet On It

Photo: Town Meeting in Belmont, 2017.

Town Meeting can see the light at the end of this year’s tunnel.

After speeding through the first half of the financial articles on Monday, June 5, Belmont’s annual Town Meeting will only have seven articles remaining on this year’s warrant as it reconvenes tonight, Wednesday, June 7 at 7 p.m. at the Belmont High School auditorium.

Wednesday’s agenda includes approving the actual town and school budgets along with nine transfer payments to meet some operating expenses before the town’s legislative body takes up a citizen’s petition to transfer $1 million from free cash – the town’s piggy bank – into the General Stabilization Fund which was established after the 2015 Prop. 2 1/2 override.

It should be interesting to hear the debate on whether to set aside savings for the GSF that will hopefully defer a future override request versus those who believe the town needs the flexibility of free cash to pay for other needed projects and expenses such as modular structures for the schools and town functions. 

Another debate is expected on the final four articles concerning voting for additional funds to retirees and their survivors which will add up to a substantial expenditure in future years. 

Also on the agenda will be a report from Kathy Keohane, chair of the Library Trustees, who will be delivering a short report on the feasibility study for a new Belmont Public Library. You can follow along with the report by downloading it here.

LIVE: Town Meeting, Segment B: The Budget, Night 1

Photo: Mike Widmer (on stage) with Town Meeting member Jack Weis, Pct. 1

Welcome to the second session of the annual Belmont Town Meeting held tonight, Monday, June 5 at Belmont High School.

The meeting, known as Segment B, will involve all things financial: the town and school budgets, capital expenditures, transfers and all the other spare change the town takes in and spends.

The Town Moderator, Mike Widmer, said he would attempt to finish this final home stretch of this year’s meeting in two nights; tonight and Wednesday, June 7. He has asked Town Meeting Members to keep their questions to the motion and speeches short.

Tonight, the order of motions will be:

  • Appropriation of $1.4 million in capital expenses.
  • Budget appropriation and transfer balances to fund the fiscal year 2018 budget.
  • Borrowing appropriations
  • Authorization of revolving funds and funding stabilization funds.

7 p.m.: It’s cool inside Belmont High School as its a rainy, dreary late evening – perfect weather to talk about town finances. 

7:08 p.m.: Mike Widmer calls the meeting in order. Right on (Belmont) time. He asks members to be concise and brief so it can be finished in two nights. 

7:14 p.m.: State Rep. Dave Rogers gives a report on state government – legislation and the budget. He said the town schools got a big bump in state aid up to $7 million, up 10 percent. Nice earmarks for the town of a total of $150,000. But there is a budget crunch in the state, with MassHealth (the state’s Medicaid program) takes up 40 percent of the budget. A partial solution: make employers who don’t give their employees health care must pay the state tax. Rogers is also a co-chair of Marijuana committee – dude! He also is the sponsor of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act – which got universal support – and is pushing a paid family and medical leave insurance program, a safe communities act and a few environmental legislation including energy efficiency funds generated by municipal light plants, and a bill to protect bees.  

7:25 p.m.: The selectmen are now talking about accomplishments and goals.

Accomplishments: selling the municipal parking lot in Cushing Square, establishing a high school building committee, the Trapelo/Belmont corridor project, the Belmont Center reconstruction project, the completion of the construction and sale of the new electrical substation and more.

Goals: to implement a strategic planning process and coordinate goal setting session with the board of selectmen and department heads, hire a new town administrator, develop recommendations for providing vocational education to Belmont students, develop a capital plan for municipal buildings, a public/private partnership to build a new skating rink and a new garbage contract. 

7:38 p.m.: Anne Marie Mahoney gives a report about the new (created in Feb.) Major Capital Project Working Group, starting with a quip about adding music from the 60s to the presentation such as “Gimme Shelter” and “We Need to Get Out of This Place.” The committee was formed to finally create a comprehensive “sound” plan for the four outstanding capital projects in town: the police station, the DPW, the library and Belmont High School. It is trying to break the quarter century logjam to choice a one-at-a-time order for projects, recommend uses for the incinerator site and present a sequence and finance plan for each project. “All town employees deserved a basic, safe and decent place to work.” We will be back before you in the fall (at a Special Town Meeting) with a plan or die trying.” Mahoney hopes to be back with “Good Vibrations” or “I’m a Believer.” 

7:48 p.m.: Mahoney is back with the Capital Budget Committee’s recommendations. It sounded from Mahoney’s introduction that it was a battle to get this budget allocation done. $1.36 million was allocated from the Selectmen to the CBC. There is $2.4 million for roads and sidewalks. Good news this year: no “big” ticket allocation so most of the money goes to maintenance. This year there was a  balance the need to repair with the need to replace buildings – the library is the best example. Mahoney goes into the weeds of each line item. Read specific funding here. Mahoney also noted that the CBC will be coming back in the fall with possible requests for modular classrooms, expenditures for town buildings and other items. 

8:03 p.m.: Mahoney is reading each capital expenditures – some of the larger requests: $114,000 for fire staff vehicle 1 and 2; $200,000 for cameras for town-wide security, $45,000 to replace a truck for the DPW; $40,000 for new Chromebooks for the schools to take taxes; and $191,000 for building envelope “repairs.” 

8:08 p.m.: Now debate on the motion. Only two quick questions. The motion is approved by a voice vote. Good job, Ann Marie. 

8:09 p.m.: Glenn Clancy, the town’s director of the Office of Community Development, presents the road paving budget. The program was launched in 1996, there are 75 miles of roads, and the program has repaired 42 miles. The balance each year to fix roads is about $1.8 million. The roads are evaluated, the last full evaluation was in 2007 and a partial evaluation in 2014 of the worst roads. The selection process – which roads are restored – “couldn’t be any simpler – the worst roads get repaired first.” Utility work happens first before a reconstruction occurs “which will make the road even worse!” “But there is a method to the madness,” said Clancy. Sidewalk construction is set aside on school walking routes.

8:19 p.m.: The motion is open for debate. No questions. The $1.9 million for road repair is approved on a voice vote.

8:21 p.m.: Article 12, $7.5 million appropriated from the Water Enterprise Fund that will be funded from a transfer from water retained earnings and water revenues. Approved without debate.

The second part of the article, $9.3 million for the Sewer and Stormwater Enterprise Fund, is presented. Fred Paulsen, Pct. 1, asks Clancy about Belmont’s agreement with the Mass EPA to reduce pollution coming from Belmont’s sewers into the Mystic River watershed and if there should be some priority how the town mitigate the effects. Clancy said the town would follow the agreement and the town will get the job done in the five years that it has to meet the state’s guideline. 

The motion passes on a voice vote unanimously. 

8:29 p.m.: Article 14, to use $535,000 from the state to use to repair roads. Adopted unanimously.

8:30 p.m.: Article 23 is to “de-authorize” or rescind the unused borrowing authority of $27.6 million authorized by a special town meeting in 2012 to build the electrical substation and transmission line project. Jim Palmer, Belmont Light’s general manager, speaks about the project and its sale to Eversource which saves the town a ton of money. Sue Bass of Pct. 3 asks Palmer when will the three current substations be decommissioned. Palmer said the earliest those substations will be closing in 2022. “I wish it were sooner, but that is our plan.” Approved by a voice vote.

8:42 p.m.: Article 24: Another rescinding of borrowing authority for $255,000 for the purchase of radio transmission equipment. Approved. Article 25 is also repealing borrowing authority of $350 for a fire alarm system at the high school. You can guess how the vote went. 

8:45 p.m.: Article 11: Salaries for elected officials. Three increases in salaries – with the moderator seeing a more than 100 percent increase – from $200 to $450. Paul Roberts, Pct. 8, asked if the town can see what other municipalities are providing their elected officials. There is some discussion of paying school committee members with a salary as they spend a great number of hours on the town’s schools for no pay. Article passes. 

8:51 p.m.: Up now is Article 17 the yearly authorization for the eight revolving funds. No debate and it passes.

8:52 p.m.: Article 16, which will appropriate and transfer $354,314 from free cash and to appropriate and transfer a total of $30,392 several enterprise funds to fund the Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) – which are health care costs to town retirees – Stabilization Fund. Passes with little discussion.

9 p.m.: No further votes will take part tonight. The last piece of business tonight is to hear from the Warrant Committee Chair Roy Epstein who is explaining the town budget; how it was developed, what it’s made up of and how it is spent. Read along with the Warrant Committee Report!

The town budget for fiscal 2018 will be $110.08 million, an increase of 3.5 percent, with schools up to $52.97 million up 5.7 percent (“because enrollment is exploding”) with the Town side at $38.55 million, an increase of 4.3 percent. Fixed costs up 3.5 percent to $17.2 million.

There is about $7 million in free cash (the town’s piggy bank) but will be drawn down to $4.4 million.

Beyond fiscal 2018 is shaky: while the town can expect growth of 3.5 percent but school expenditures will put a lot of pressure on spending priorities. “It will be a challenge” over the next five years, said Epstein. 

9:17 p.m.: And that’s it! We are out early. See you Wednesday. 

Town Meeting, Segment B: It’s All About The Money This Week

Photo: Belmont Town Meeting

It’s all about the Benjamins as the 2017 Belmont Town Meeting reconvenes tonight, Monday, June 5 at 7 p.m. in the Belmont High School auditorium.

Town Meeting will take up the town and school budgets as well as all things financial including capital expenditures, enterprise funds and fiscal transfers.

You can read all the documentation for Segment B here at the Town Clerk’s web page.

While Town Clerk Ellen Cushman, and Town Moderator Michael Widmer have reserved two weeks of days to finish the “town’s business,” Cushman said she and Widmer have heard from many Town Meeting Members that due to “significant conflicts” in the coming week, that “we make every attempt to conclude the business of the Annual Town Meeting on Wednesday, June 7, negating the need to meet the following week.”

While the pair have stated they will attempt to uphold the request of a two-night budget debate, Cushman is asking Town Meeting Members’ help to facilitate that wish by following these time-saving suggestions:

  • Although our custom is to allow five minutes at the microphone per Town Meeting Member, please consider using only two or three minutes instead; this would help us to finish in the two nights. Of course, if you require the five minutes to make your point, by all means take the full five. The Moderator will actively cut off speakers and Town Meeting Members who do not respect the pre-determined time limits.
  • The Moderator will describe the scope of each article as we approach the discussion; make your best attempt to remain within the defined scope.
  • If you have questions or plan to make a speech about a motion, please consider putting them in writing so they are as concise as possible for your turn to address Town Meeting.
  • The result of all of these actions could result in two longer sessions of Town Meeting. We’ll get started on time. If we do not complete our work on all warrant articles on Wednesday, June 7, we will meet again Monday, June 12.

“We all look forward to a productive couple of nights of Town Meeting,” said Cushman.

Town Meeting Overwhelmingly OKs ‘Welcoming Town’ Article

Photo: Michael Chesson.

On Monday, May 8, Michael Chesson came to the microphone at the annual Belmont Town Meeting to speak his mind on the contentious proposal to create a “Welcoming Town” for residents with questionable immigration status.

He finished to a standing ovation after expressing the heartfelt sentiment of many of his neighbors seeking to embrace those wanting to make the “Town of Homes” a place all can live without fear of apprehension.

The Whitcomb Street homeowner who served 35 years in the Navy – advancing from recruit to captain – said during his military tenure, he served with Americans of all races, genders and sexual orientation.

“We always came together as a team. Worked hard and played just as hard. We venerated the same flag as we pledged allegiance to tonight,” said the UMass-Boston instructor who wore a NAVY varsity jacket with patches from a lifetime of assignments.

“That flag is not a banner of exclusion; it is a proud symbol of enduring virtues and a reminder of us all of the sacrifice,” said the 29-year town resident. 

“If Belmont becomes a “Welcoming Community,” I’ll wear that on my sleeve,” he said.

By the end of the night, Chesson joined 197 Town Meeting members voting 198-59 to declare their hometown as a welcoming Town,” voting nearly four to one to approve a non-binding article restating current Police Department practices of not asking the immigration status of a person or resident they encounter. 

Belmont joined Arlington’s Town Meeting – which approved its “Welcoming Town” article Monday night – as the latest communities to pass measures reaffirming residents’ wishes to support all residents regardless of their national origin. 

Belmont’s vote counters recent actions by bodies which either rejected both sanctuary-like legislation and welcoming designations – Hull (Mass) Town Meeting – or requiring state and municipal police to inquire a person’s legal status during routine stops as was approved in Texas.

The article was one of the most controversial non-budgetary articles in recent Town Meeting memory. Opponents of the measure paid for robocalls denouncing the article as wrongheaded and potentially a financial drain and distributed stickers stating “No on 10.” Article 10 supporters and those in opposition rallied outside Belmont High School with signs in hand before Monday’s meeting.

Inside the auditorium, Belmont Moderator Michael Widmer asked despite the “strong feelings on both sides” that “we air our differences in a respectful and dignified fashion.”After presenting her article to the members, Mahon thanked the Belmont Police command staff for helping to craft the article which was complete with “complicated issues and [its] input and assistance was critical.”

After presenting her article to the members – the complete article is at the bottom of the page – Mahon thanked the Belmont Police command staff for helping to craft the article which she noted does not make Belmont a “sanctuary city.”

“We at Town Meeting are often asked to weigh on matters which we do not have specific jurisdiction,” said Mahon.

“The goal of this resolution is to voice Town Meeting’s support for the continuation of the Belmont Police Department practices …, so residents feel safe approaching Belmont Police without fear they will be detained or questioned about their status,” she said.

The fear that Belmont Police will seek the status of any residents will likely prevent those individuals or families from reporting crimes such as domestic violence, which Mahon’s co-presenter Paul Roberts, Precinct 8, said: “makes us all less safe.”

“Belmont is a safe community in part due to the heroic effort of our police officers. But it is also safe because we work alongside our police to keep the community safe” which include native residents, green card holders “and, yes, undocumented residents,” said Mahon.

Mahon said the article reaffirms the values of a cohesive community “that welcomes and accepts without prejudice those of all races, religions, and nationalities.”

During the subsequent debate, many residents gave personal insight why the declaration was necessary for Town Meeting to pass.

Mark Carthy, Pct. 1, “and an immigrant,” said regardless of anti-bias laws, there is “discrimination out there” and resolutions such as the welcoming article “is to make sure people’s behaviors goes beyond the laws we have.” 

Mike Crowley, Pct. 8, whose ancestors who arrived in America 350 years ago “were certainly illegal” said the diversity of national origin of residents and businesses just in his precinct is broad and varied. “I am not in the position of adjudicating what their immigration status are. I’m in the business of treating them as a neighbor.” 

Marty Cohen, Pct. 3, said when he arrived in Belmont half a century ago, “there was a certain amount of antisemitism” but it has changed for the better so that the town is a welcoming community “and we should say that with pride unless we are too modest to say so.” 

The proposal’s opponents expressed their concerns, focusing on the “slippery slope” which the article will lead to increasing demands on police procedures to impede federal immigration efforts.

Tomi Olson, Pct. 5, said the town is already a welcoming town as noted by numerous proclamations and statements by town official and committees. The article presumes that “the town and Belmont Police are … in need of being told how to be welcoming to immigrants.”

Olson noted many negative statements directed towards the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency remain in the article despite an attempt to include language from Belmont Police to “nullify” Mahon. 

“Town officials with businesses and residents have told me that they fear to oppose this article because they fear retribution, being demonized and being called ugly names,” said Olson, who called the article “a Trojan horse” that will eventually lead to sanctuary city status. 

Both Selectman Mark Paolillo and Belmont Police Chief McLaughlin reiterated the article would unalter current law enforcement practices.

It was Chesson, whose direct narrative captivated the 300 members and residents in the auditorium.  

While admitting the non-binding measure is a symbol, a “feel good” measure “like my new puppies or the children on Whitcomb,” Chesson said Article 10 makes explicit statements on “who we are and what we believe. It lays down a marker; It proclaims community values.”

Belmont can not wall itself off from so-called high crime cities like Boston, Somerville or even Watertown. Defeating Article 10 will not make us safer, he said. Passing it will not mean immigrants will be flocking to Belmont; “they can’t afford it.”

Volunteering at a food pantry in Chelsea, he comes across “many good people in that immigrant community, just like those immigrants who worked on the farms in Belmont;” the town’s prosperity until the first part of the past century “relied on immigrant labor,” said Chesson.

“Town meeting members ancestors fought the Alien and Sedition Acts or struggled to find jobs with INNA [Irish Need Not Apply] signs everywhere, who resisted the Fugitive Slave Law or endured anti-Italian slurs, survived the Armenian genocide or the Nazi Holocaust. And went through two Red scares after two World Wars.”

“Like them, we should stand for what’s best, the good in all of us.” said Chesson, who received a standing ovation from a good portion of Town Meeting. 

After the vote – he was surrounded by admirers in the school’s hallway – Chesson told the Belmontonian said while he is “basically a curmudgeon, I have a tremendous response for underdogs” such as people who will travel thousands of miles so that they can work hard and make a living.  

“When frightened, desperate people are being persecuted or chased; I have to respond. Yes, they may have broken the law to come here, but a lot of rich people break the law on Wall Street and Washington. Why single out the desperate ones? We can do better than that.” 


MOVED: That the Town adopts the following resolution: 

1. Whereas, Historically Belmont has welcomed immigrants from many regions around the world, including the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America; and 

2. Whereas, Immigrants have enriched the fabric of this community, adding new life and great potential to Belmont; and 

3. Whereas, Assumptions made about a person’s legal status in the United States that are based on the person’s religion, ethnicity, or national origin, and discrimination, harassment, or bullying of people based on those assumptions, have no place in our community. 

4. Whereas, National policies that discriminate against immigrants because of religion or country of origin run counter to our values; and 

5. Whereas, In some communities, local law enforcement agencies are used to collect and deliver immigration status data to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”); and 

6. Whereas, ICE may issue voluntary information or detainer requests that could subject individuals who are in local custody to prolonged detention; and 

7. Whereas, It is believed in some communities that when local law enforcement officials indiscriminately comply with all ICE civil immigration information and detainer requests, including those that target non-criminal undocumented residents, public trust is eroded, immigrants are less likely to cooperate with local law enforcement and are less likely to report serious crimes, thus making the work of local law enforcement more difficult to address serious crimes; and 

8. Whereas, The Belmont Police Department will continue its long-held practice of not asking any individual about immigration status when that individual is seeking help from the police or is stopped for a minor infraction, and will provide assistance and protection to any member of the public without regard to immigration status; and 

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: 1) The Belmont Town Meeting hereby expresses our solidarity with displaced persons and migrants from around the world.

 around the world. Motions for 2017 Belmont Annual Town Meeting Page 2 of 2 

2) The Belmont Town meeting affirms its support for these Belmont Police Department practices: 

(a) Belmont Police officers will not detain persons solely to investigate their immigration status; 

(b) Belmont Police officers will not inquire into the immigration status of persons seeking help from the police unless the information is relevant to prosecuting the reported crime or for the person’s protection; 

(c) The Belmont Police Department will not keep an index or list of persons suspected of being aliens or deportable aliens; 

(d) The Belmont Police Department will not seek to have any officer receive a delegation of the powers of an immigration officer ; 

(e) The Belmont Police Department will cooperate with federal, state, and local criminal and civil investigative agencies in the accomplishment of their lawful objectives by providing such information as the Police Department maintains; 

(f) Upon the presentation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement of a detainer and an administrative warrant for the detention of a person arrested by Belmont Police Department in the course of enforcing state and local laws and currently in custody, the Belmont Police Department will maintain custody of the person for sufficient time to bring to the attention of the court officials responsible for decisions upon bail. (The Belmont Police Department will continue this practice until such time as a court with authority over the Belmont Police Department finds the practice to be contrary to law.); and 

(g) The Belmont Police Department will continue to investigate reports of hate crimes, criminal discrimination, and criminal harassment of persons based upon their religion, ethnicity, or national origin without regard to the person’s known or suspected unlawful status within the United States. 

(Majority vote) 

REPORTING: Anne Mahon, Precinct 4, Petitioner

2017 Belmont Town Meeting, Night 3 LIVE

Photo: Town Moderator and Town Clerk before tonight’s meeting/

Belmont’s annual Town Meeting reconvenes tonight, Monday, May 8 at 7 p.m. to take up the last warrant articles remaining in the meeting’s first segment.

Those articles are:

  • Article 8: Refer to a study committee the article that would increase the membership of the Board of Selectmen from three to five members.
  • Article 9: Empower the Board of Selectmen to consider all options for waste management in the town, including waste metering such as pay-as-you-throw systems, as part of their ongoing role as financial managers of the town.
  • Article 10: Welcoming Town designation. 

There has been a bit of an exciting time before the meeting as the two sides of the Article 10 issue are holding signs and asking members to vote for or vote down the now controversial non-binding measure which would reiterate the town’s police department policies of not requesting the immigration status of residents who they come in contact with. 

Unofficial word is that Article 10 will be given its day, Wednesday, to be debated. Seems fair.

Mike Widmer, Town Moderator, said the hope was that most people want to see the three articles are completed tonight – to cheers – but with Article 10 be started by 9:30 p.m.

We’ll see.

Jay Marcotte, the DPW director, is giving an update on the town’s solid waste/recycling program. Here is the push for automated trash collection which many towns have transitioned, such as Wakefield. “We are doing well” as a town with unrestricted on the curb collection. There are three collection options before the town: traditional, automated or pay as you throw. Lots of pros and cons. Did you know that a typical Belmont household creates nearly 1,500 lbs of trash annually? Pay as you throw is the best method to limit trash. But there are a lot of cons. The Selectmen will decide the best option by July 2018, a year away.

The first article of the night: Article 8, that called for expanding the number of selectmen from three to five. This is not about expanding the number but purely on the formation of a committee to discuss the matter. The original article is not being debated because it was putting the cart before the horse; the state legislature needs to approve the addition of the members of the board before it can be voted on by the Town Meeting. The original article was a citizen’s petition by Selectman Jim Williams. 

Williams said the benefits of a larger board is now needed because the town is much bigger – $160 million and 460 employees – than a three-member board can accomplish. Williams said the Open Meeting Law limits any discussion on any sort without a formal meeting. “It’s simply not enough time” to do what needs to be done. It’s been proposed in 2002, 2000 and 1967 and many similar-sized towns like Arlington, Lexington and Wellesley have five. Five selectmen will allow for two selectmen to deliberate, speak and communicate. Williams said a five-member board is just more efficient. While there will not be a vote tonight, Williams is seeking a 13-member study board to make a recommendation and a possible town meeting vote in 2018.

Williams created an ad hoc committee with many prominent Town Meeting members to discuss the issue. Jack Weis, Pct. 1, and a member of the ad hoc committee said you would vote on the 

Steve Rosales, Pct. 8, and former Selectman said he wants to nip this in the bud and wants to vote no on the study. He said don’t fix it if it’s not broken. If you have a five-member board, it is a greater likelihood that deals will be done in secret and there will be no debate.

AnnMarie Mahoney, Pct. 8, and former Selectman said there is a concern that a larger board could be done to circumvent the Open Meeting Law. 

The question “Why now?” Williams said he wants to look forward and sees a lot of risks facing Belmont in the next three to five year from a new High School, community path, and his favorite concern, OPEB retirement funding. It’s just more efficient. Claus Becker, Pct. 5, said any company the size of the town is never run by a three-member board. 

Claus Becker, Pct. 5, said any company the size of the town is never run by a three-member board. 

Reed Bundy, Pct. 1, asked if the board could just meet and discuss the issues at any time, which the selectmen said that is an option right now.

The vote has been moved, and the ending of debate was approved. The vote to establish a committee creation is passed 192-67. 

Up now is Article 9, the Pay As You Throw discussion which is not about the issue itself, but about encouraging the selectmen to consider it as a viable option in future contracts.

Kim Slack said he submitted his citizen’s petition as an environmentalist and a fiscal conservative, giving the selectmen more options and leave a cleaner planet.

The issue before the town is the 1990 override which paid for curbside trash collection. And since then, the town has not considered “all options.” Slack said PAYT would be more environmentally sensible and could cut costs which help local financial challenges. Only 11 percent of municipalities have what Slack called “free” curbside collection, a phrase that did not go over well with quite a few members. 

Pat Brusch, Pct. 2, was on the ballot question committee back in 1989, which supported the 1990 override for the collection of solid waste (for $2,094,946) said she has concerns this vote will have a detrimental impact on voters when they are asked to finance other important projects around town.

The debate is a great give and takes between competing concerns: the environment and keeping a promise to past voters. There are 14 members waiting to speak on the issue. 

The question is moved and debate has been terminated 242-22.

And now the motion on article 9: it passes 162-99. It is non-binding.

Now Article 10, Ann Mahon’s citizen’s petition to make Belmont a Welcoming Town. After reading the article, Mahon explains what the article will do including reaffirming current Belmont Police Dept. practices and reaffirm our values as a cohesive communityh that welcomes and accepts without prejudice those of all races, religions and nationalities. 

“Do not listen to rumors or heresay,” said Mahon. It does not make Belmont a sanctuary town or ask Belmont Police not to cooperate with ICE. It will continue Belmont Police Department practices 

“This is a way to unite the town with its police department,” said John Roberts who is speaking  for the article.

About 20 members waiting in line to make comments. 

Three Articles Remain In 1st Half of 2017 Town Meeting

Photo: Belmont Town Meeting.

Seven down, three to go as Belmont’s annual Town Meeting convenes tonight, Monday, May 8 at 7 p.m. to take up the last warrant articles remaining in the meeting’s first segment.

Town Meeting is traditionally broken up into two segments, A  and B with the first sessions dealing with non-financial articles – except for the five projects being presented by the Community Preservation Committee.egment B sessions will deal with the financial articles and will be held in June.

Segment B sessions will deal with the financial articles and will be held in June.

The final trio of non-budgetary legislative actions Town Meeting will debate and vote on are:

  • Article 8: Refer to a study committee the article that would increase the membership of the Board of Selectmen from three to five members.
  • Article 9: Empower the Board of Selectmen to consider all options for waste management in the town, including waste metering such as pay-as-you-throw systems, as part of their ongoing role as financial managers of the town.
  • Article 10: Welcoming Town designation. 

2017 Belmont Town Meeting, Night 1 LIVE

Photo: Belmont Town Meeting

And welcome to the first night of the 2017 annual Belmont Town Meeting being held in the Belmont High School auditorium, Monday, on May Day.

I have been told by Town Clerk Ellen Cushman that tonight’s meeting will attempt to vote on the first six articles in the warrant. That will include setting a standard 25 mph speed limit throughout town (article 3), revamp the Demolition Delay Bylaw (Article 4), update and codify a “signs” bylaw (Article 5) and accepting a temporary moratorium on the establishment of retail marijuana stores in town (article 6).

7:05 p.m.: Town Moderator Mike Widmer calls the meeting to order. The invocation is read by Pastor Cheryl Minor of All Saints Church.Boy Scouts Troops 304 and 377 along with Girl Scouts from Troops 62578, 79207, 85470 and 72490 present the flag while Girl Scouty Clarice O’Neil, a Butler 2nd grader, leads the meeting in the Pledge of Allegiance. The national anthem is sung by the Belmont High School senior A Capella.

7:22 p.m.: The new and re-elected town meeting members are sworn in by Town Clerk Cushman.

The Town Meeting honors the long-serving members. Mark D’Andrea (44 years) gives some practical advice to Town Meeting: Speak up when you come to the microphone.

7:28 p.m. A wonderful appreciation of Ruth Kaplan, who died at 98 in February.

7:30 p.m.: Town Moderator Mike Widmer said that there is “significant confusion” about the difference between an article and the motion. He also spoke about “scope” of an article under debate. It will be important when getting to articles such as pay as you throw and the Welcoming Town amendment. It will not be a debate about the Trump administration and its policies or be making any conjecture on the impact on the town’s finances by passing the article, he said. 

7:40 p.m.: And we are underway: Article 3 which is the speed limit article. Should Belmont reduce the “statutory speed limit” in thickly settled areas (basically all but three stretches or road in Belmont) or where there are special speed regulation; about 12 streets such as Goden, Lexington, School, and Clifton, to 25 mph.

Discussion: (lots of members already in line on this one) Joel Semuels, Pct. 6, worries that a minor traffic ticket could cause a $200 surcharge for six years on their insurance. Glenn Clancy, director of Office of Community Development, basically admits that the police has a great deal of “discretion” on giving tickets, admitting that if you are going just a bit over the speed limit, it’s unlikely you’ll be getting a ticket.

Bob McLaughlin, Pct. 2, (a proud owner of a Porsche) said he wished he could travel faster than second gear. He said he didn’t believe raising five mph isn’t that much safer. “What governs best, governs least.”

Rachel Berger, Pct. 2, while supporting the amendment, believes that it is enforcement not speed limit that will make roads safer.

Sue Bass, Pct. 3, agrees that it’s is enforcement that is important, especially signs that tell the speed limit.  She would also like to see more raised crosswalks.

Clancy said many communities are taking action in reducing speed limits which he believes will “recondition” how drivers throughout the region to drive at lower speeds, and if it takes ten years, will make roads safer.

Brooke McKenna, Pct 5, said lowering the speed limit may “not be a perfect solution,” – there could be more enforcement – but it is the first step towards safer roads. Slower speeds would result in higher survivability rates to victims of car accidents 

Paul Roberts, Pct. 8, said the way roads are used have changed – more bikes and pedestrians sharing the road – and smartphones putting more cut-through traffic onto local roads. “Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

Corinne Olmsted. Pct. 1, also brings up the issue of cut-through traffic that is sent through Belmont via traffic-avoidance software. Reducing the speed limit could make the town less attractive to those drivers.

Jack Weis, Pct. 1, said he’s opposing the amendment because it’s a “one size fits all” solution which doesn’t work on the major “commuter” roads that crisscross the town. If drivers don’t believe the speed is “practical” they will see how much above the limit they can go.

The question has been moved! One hour of debate. Whew!

And for some reason the vote was not registered, which had one member quip, “It’s the Russians.” 

So we go to a voice vote. It’s almost quaint to hear the yeas and nays. And the ayes have it. The speed limit in Belmont will soon be 25 mph with a few exceptions.

Next up, the Demolition Delay Bylaw amendment. Widmer reminds anyone who has a financial interest in a property impacted by the bylaw must mention it.

The bylaw, which originally passed in 2013, is being renewed due to a sunset clause. It only applies  to a limit number (182) of specific buildings, there is an appeals process, and it does not prevent demolitions, said Lauren Meier, the co-chair of the Historic District Commission. The most significant change is increasing the term of the delay from 6 to 12 months. “It’s not an undue financial burden,” Meier said.

You can read about the 2017 bylaw here.The Board of Selectmen and the Planning Board gave unanimous support to the renewal of the bylaw.

Some real opposition to the amendment by several members – many who opposed the bylaw in 2013 – who are aspirated by increasing to 12 months the delay.

The complains includes a restraint of private property rights, using the bylaw as a “lever” against a homeowner, there is a financial penalty on the property and, really, if some developer wants to tear down a historic building, he’ll just thumb their nose at the town, six months vs. 12 months. Meier said the bylaw isn’t perfect but it does give public notice and provides the community a way to have a voice on these issues. Good give and take on an issue that effects only two percent of the housing stock.

The motion called and here is the vote: 183 to 72 in favor – the bylaw passes.

9:55 p.m.: Now the “signs” amendment, sponsored by the Planning Board. Barbara Fiacco, vice chair of the Planning Board, presents the amendments briefly to the old bylaw which are 30 years old. Standing signs would be reduced to being no more than five feet high; window signs would be reduced from 50 percent to 20 percent of the total window area; there was no regulations and awnings and sandwich board sign; temporary signs will be reduced for 60 days; flashing signs and string of lights would be prohibited and you will have to maintain your sign. Non-commercial signs would be allowed in all zoning areas just to keep in within a recent Supreme Court ruling. What’s non-commercial? Schools, non-profits, religious 

Small business owners and some members feel some of the restrictions – strings of lights, a sign saying “Drive slow” – are nitpicking. What about those commercial signs for landscaping firms in the strip of land between the sidewalk and the street – known as the town’s right of way? It now has to be removed after 90 days or after the work is done, whatever is shorter. 

Vince Stanton, Pct. 3, then Bob McGaw, Pct. 1 and later Jack Weis, Pct. 1, were acting as copyeditors to the article, changing the wording for clarity.

What about the farmers market? The smaller ones in people’s yards have to be taken away after 90 days (it’s currently 100 days). 

Finally the questions end and the vote takes place. And it’s a big “Yes” margin, 186 – 46.

The meeting is now adjourned until Wednesday, May 3. 

Town Meeting Preview: Warrant Briefing Monday Night at the Beech

Photo: Warrant Committee Chair Roy Epstein

The Belmont League of Women Voters and Warrant Committee is co-sponsoring the annual warrant briefing to acquaint Town Meeting members and residents with the non-financial articles on the Town Meeting warrant.

The meeting will take place Monday evening, April 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St.

This is an opportunity for Town Meeting members and the general public to ask questions of town officials and department heads concerning any of the warrant articles prior to the 2017 Town Meeting beginning in one week on Monday, May 1. 

Warrant Committee Chair Roy Epstein will preside.

This year, Town Meeting Moderator Michael Widmer will hold an orientation/information session for new Town Meeting members at 6:30 p.m. immediately prior to the warrant discussion. All Town Meeting member is welcome to attend this session.