Pair Of Public Meetings This Week: Belmont Middle/High Building Committee And American Rescue Act

Photo: Two public forums will be held this week

The Select Board will be joining several committees and groups for two virtual joint public meetings that will effect the lives of every resident in Belmont.

On Tuesday, Aug. 17 at 7 p.m., the Select Board will be joined by the Belmont Middle and High School Building Committee and the School Committee to discuss aspects of the construction of the $295 million 7-12 school that has been in the news. One area that will be brought up will be design and construction concerns at Concord Avenue and Goden Street, the new traffic lights at the intersection, site design review as well as public comments on the evaluation of construction impacts to neighboring properties.

The Transportation Advisory Committee and the High School Traffic Working Group have also been invited to join the meeting.

The meeting will be conducted Via Zoom Meeting. By computer or smartphone, go to:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89055600185?pwd=alNQLzVHOFM3bEZuU2dUWjczaTVYdz09 and follow on-screen instructions.

On Wednesday, Aug. 18, the public is invited to join the Select Board’s joint meeting with the School, Warrant Committee, and Capital Budget Committee also at 7 p.m. via Zoom to discussing the how the town will distribute the approximately $7.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding the town received earlier in the year.

By computer or smartphone, go to: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84474554147

Both meetings can be seen live at the Belmont Media Center:
Channel 8 on Comcast
Channel 28 or 2130 on Verizon
Or watch online at belmontmedia.org/watch/govtv

If you have any questions, please reach out to the Town Administrator’s Office at townadministrator@belmont-ma.gov or call 617-993-2610

Public Meeting On Federal COVID Funds And State Aid Set For Wednesday, March 31

Photo: Poster to the meeting

The $8.6 million Belmont will receive from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan has been the topic of a heated debate ever since it was signed into law by President Biden on March 11.

In one corner are those who are attempting to defeat a $6.2 million Proposition 2 1/2 override who see the money filling town coffers with more than enough funds to render the override moot.

On the other side, proponents of the override contend that most of the cash is restricted to reimbursing town revenue lost due to COVID-19 and can’t be used to as a one-time stop gap for the town’s structural deficit.

And in the past three weeks, “I am seeing some things that are being misreported in regards to those numbers,” Town Administrator Patrice Garvin told the Select Board Monday, March 29.

In an attempt to provide a clearer picture of the funds and how they can be used for, the Financial Task Force II and Warrant Committee are inviting the public to a virtual presentation to share the latest information regarding the new Federal Aid Bill and also provide an update on projected state aid in the coming fiscal year 2022.

When: Wednesday, March 31
Time: 7 p.m.
Zoom: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87434286149

Questions will be taken at the conclusion of the presentation period
through the Q&A function. The meeting facilitator will inform those
attending when questions can be submitted.

Belmont To Receive $8.6M From American Rescue Plan … With COVID Strings Attached

Photo: President Joe Biden signing the American Rescue Plan. Creator: Adam Schultz | Credit: White House

Not only will most Belmont residents receive a $1,400 check from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law by President Biden on March 11, but their Town of Homes is also set to be a beneficiary from the same stimulus package created to lessen the economic repercussions of COVID-19.

According to State Sen. Will Brownsberger, preliminary information from the state shows Belmont will receive approximately $8.6 million from the Rescue Plan with $1 million of the total targeted to Belmont schools.

“I would just like to underline that most of this money is coming from the federal government,” Brownsberger told the Belmont Select Board at its meeting held virtually on Monday, March 15. “This is rain comes falling from US Sen. [Elizabeth] Warren, Sen. [Ed] Markey and US Rep. [Katherine] Clark, so credit to them.”

In addition, both Brownsberger and State Rep. Dave Rogers, also at the meeting, said due to revenues coming into state coffers stronger than expected despite the pandemic’s economic downturn due to the pandemic, state aid to cities and towns will be greater than earlier forecast.

But before anyone in Town Hall or the school department begins spending this one-time windfall, Brownsberger told the board “that aid comes with a number of strings in terms of … how it can be used.” And nearly all of the threads have to do with COVID.

Brownsberger said the funding comes with defined eligibility criteria that will determine “how much of that money can be used for general government purposes and how much of it can be used only for particular projects” related to COVID relief.

According to preliminary reports, the money can be spent on one of four categories which includes:

  • Reimburse town funds spent responding to the public health emergency of COVID,
  • Lessen the negative economic impact on the community, (“So it could be broadly used to provide aid to small businesses, households,” Brownsberger said.)
  • Replace town revenue lost to the COVID recession, and
  • Make investments in water, sewer, or broadband.

To receive the funds, the town will commit to a certification process – rather than applying for the money – in which the town tells the state (which is running the program for the federal government for municipalities smaller than 50,000 people) that it understands the constraints of how the funds will be used.

Rogers said regulations are still being written by the US Treasury “on how the money can be spent as much of it is earmarked and targeted in very specific ways.”

Patrice Garvin, Belmont’s town administrator, said she has “not received enough information on how this money can be used.”

On the state side of the fiscal ledger, Rogers said the state budget is “in reasonably good shape given everything that has happened” and the legislature is now expected to have the ability to fund Chapter 70 general education aid formula at a level above Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s estimate for state aid announced on Jan. 27.

“We’re very committed to funding the Student Opportunity Act designed to increase local school aid to a level that’s really commensurate with a town’s need or actual spending, particularly for Belmont on the cost of health care and special education,” said Brownsberger. The end result is Belmont could see “maybe a few $100,000” more in Chapter 70 aid in fiscal 22.

One area the state is advising cities and towns not to do is make concrete fiscal decisions using these figures.

“[The Secretary of State’s office which distributed the data] said the information … should be viewed as preliminary and subject to change,” said Brownsberger reading from notes. “We’d strongly advise against the town making plans based on this preliminary information as the US Treasury will ultimately calculate the final amounts. So towns should not make plans about overrides based on these estimates.”

And that is the word coming from the campaigners seeking to pass the override on April 6.

Unfortunately, the stimulus money “doesn’t change the fundamentals concerning Belmont’s structural deficit, which is projected to be almost $20 million over three years even after spending down our cash reserves,” said Nicole Dorn, co-chair of Yes for Belmont which is advocating for the passage of a $6.2 million Prop 2 1/2 override on the April 6 town election ballot.

“This one-time infusion of funds won’t cover our operating expenses because it is restricted to certain programs or needed for COVID-related expenses. Every year we delay addressing our budget issues only makes our structural deficit worse, and means we’ll need a bigger override that is more expensive for taxpayers,” she said.