Selectmen OKs Fire Chief’s New Contract

Photo: “Your Fire Chief” David Frizzell. 

It took some give and take and several executive sessions over the past five months, but on Friday, Feb. 8, the Belmont Board of Selectmen approved a new contract with the town’s longtime Fire Chief, David Frizzell. 

The town now has agreements with both of Belmont public safety heads, having signed off on a contract with Belmont Police Chief Richard McLaughlin in September. 

According to Jessica Porter, Belmont’s human resources director, the town agrees to pay Frizzell a base annual salary of $170,000 retroactive to July 1, 2018.

Over the next two years, on July 1 2019 and 2020, Frizzell will receive either a two percent cost of living adjustment or the general COLA pay increase for fire department heads, whichever is greater. There is also a performance raise as outlined in the contract. The new total amount will be the new “base pay” to calculate further adjustments.

Porter also noted that Frizzell will continue to have:

  • a take home vehicle, a taxable benefit, consistent with the police chief and others who have assigned take home vehicles,
  • various leaves as is compatible with other contracts/department heads,
  • a first responder stipend of $2,000 in year one, with a $1,000 increase each year after, and
  • the ability to sell back 56 hours (seven days) of unused vacation time to the town at the end of the year.

While McLaughlin’s contract was structured to end on Dec. 31, 2019 to conincide with his retirement date, there is nothing regarding retirement in Frizzell’s contact.

“[Frizzell] is required per the contract to give 30 days’ notice if he wishes to leave before the term of the agreement ends,” said Porter.

With HQ Under Renovation, Belmont Police Is Seeking A Temporary Home

Photo: The current Belmont Police Headquarters

Got an extra room you can spare? How about a spacious backyard that’s available to rent?

Than call the Belmont Police because the force will need a place to crash beginning this summer as its nearly 90-year-old headquarters undergoes a comprehensive renovation.

That’s the latest from the police brass and the building committee overseeing the expansion and modernization of both the police headquarters on Concord Avenue and the Department of Public Works facilities off C Street as they came before the Belmont Board of Selectmen for an update on the projects on Monday, Feb. 4.

And while the groups have been in talks with several groups in town to find an acceptable interim site, Anne Marie Mahoney, chair of the DPW/BPD Building Committee, said “we are not ready to articulate our list” of possible stopgap locations, although later in the presentation, Town Hall was mentioned as a “possible” replacement site.

According to Mahoney, bids for both projects will go out in March with construction beginning in June. She also noted while estimates call for a 10 month construction schedule, “if you ever [renovated] a kitchen … you know what takes 10 months can quickly become a year to 15 months.”

Mahoney told the board the original plan to keep the 55 member department – of which 48 are sworn officers – in the structure at the corner of Concord and Pleasant Street was deemed “not a good idea” by all parties due to safety concerns of police personnel working in a construction area and the acknowledgement that renovating an empty building would allow a quicker and more extensive restoration.

The question now facing the police and town is where the force will be relocated. Police Chief Richard McLaughlin said operational and organizational analysis performed by assistant Chief James MacIsaac placed safety, parking, accessibility and public access high on the list of requirements for a temporary site, all the while doing so with the minimum of disruption while not taking up space.

One unit already knows where its going and it’s not far. Communications, which includes the 9-1-1 operations, will be housed in a trailer in the front of headquarters since all its equipment will remain in the building. 

McLaughlin told the board the biggest potential headache is how to deal with 25 “marked” police vehicles that will need to be parked close to the temporary headquarters.

“Where do they go?” he said. There are also issues with security for officers and civilian employees, those arrested, processed and detained (“our visitors”) and storage of evidence and paperwork.

“Every issue around town revolves around parking,” quipped Mahoney.

The committee and police will be back before the board in two weeks with more definitive plans.

As State, MBTA Ease Community Path Obstacles, Final Decision On Route Set For Feb. 25

Photo: Jody Ray, the MBTA’s assistant general manager, pointing to the Brighton Street crossing.

In a significant concession to help push a final decision on a preferred route for the Belmont segment of a 102-mile bike trail, representatives from the MBTA and the state’s Department of Transportation said they could support a community path along either the north or south side of the commuter rail tracks from the Cambridge town line to Belmont Center.

At a standing room only Board of Selectmen’s meeting on Monday night, Jan 28, the two officials whose statements this past summer highlighting safety concerns at the commuter rail crossing on Brighton Street pushed Selectmen to revisit a north route to the consternation of Channing Road residents, noted their agencies consider the path a “high priority” and want to keep the project moving forward. 

When asked by Selectman Tom Caputo if both potential routes “were both fundable,” Jody Ray, the MBTA’s assistant general manager for Commuter Rail, said while the authority’s focus is on safety, “there’s no fatal flaw” for either a north or south path if a fix could be developed for the Brighton Street crossing.

But while the declarations would appear to allow the path to proceed along a southern route as the board decided more than a year ago, the reemergence of problems with several “pinch” points along the first several hundred feet of the southerly path could eventually keep the route on the north side. 

At meeting’s end, the Selectmen circled Monday, Feb. 25 as the date when it will declare which of the two routes – north or south – will be selected, a decision more than three decades in the making. 

At the Monday meeting, Belmont Town Administrator Patrice Garvin said Belmont would be seeking the maximum $300,000 from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s MassTrails Grants program, to be used for project development and design. Those monies will either supplement or defray the $1 million in Community Preservation Committee funds approved by Town Meeting in May. With a Feb. 1 deadline looming, the town would need to submit a plan that selected either one of the two routes. 

Ray and Michael Trepanier from the state’s Department of Transportation were asked by the board to attend the meeting to provide their view on which path option would receive a more favorable reading. 

The Board of Selectmen voted in Dec. 2017 to adopt the recommendation of PARE Consultants to build a pedestrian tunnel at Alexander Avenue and proceed along the south or High School side of the commuter rail tracks.

But that decision is now in “flux” according to Selectman Mark Paolillo, due to “serious safety concerns” the MBTA presented to the town’s attention in July that bicyclists would cut diagonally from the south side across the rail/road intersection at Brighton Street to engage the existing bike trail to Alewife Station. At the time, town and Belmont’s elected officials were told the state would be “reluctant” to fund a southern route.

In addition to the safety concerns, the MassDOT declared it would no longer require funding for the Alexander pedestrian tunnel to be linked with a south path. With the changes, town officials and elected officials determined the town should pursuit a north route, to the frustration of several Channing Road homeowners who have long complained of a lack of privacy and personal safety with a well-traveled trail.

Ray and Trepanier were asked to speak at the meeting as many residents sought a direct answer from the state and MBTA.

The DOT’s Trepanier put his cards on the table early: the state wants the Belmont section built as it will connect other sections and Belmont has committed sizable funds for design and feasibility studies to the project.

“A high priority corridor”

“The state recognizes this is the Belmont portion of the Mass Central Rail Trail, a high priority corridor for us working at the state level,” said Trepanier which will impact if the project is selected for a grant. But he said that if the MBTA’s issues with bicyclists safely cross the rail tracks at Brighton Street – cyclists would likely travel diagonally across the tracks rather than at crosswalks or sidewalks and would not encounter the safety gates when they close as a train approaches – were not resolved than possible future funding would be “negatively impact the favorability” of the project.

“Bicyclists don’t tend to make right corner turns, they’ll take the shortest distance” which is hazardous when a train is approaching, Ray said. 

Since the MBTA wanted gates to prevent residents from going into the crossing, Selectman Paolillo suggested a system in which additional gates onto the path to cutting all access to the intersection which incidentally is being discussed for an intersection in West Concord.

When asked by Selectmen Chair Adam Dash if such a design addition – which Trepanier called “a really innovated thing to do” – would change the MBTA’s concerns on the southern route, Ray said while the authority always wants a crossing away from the tracks, “we will consider it.” And Trepanier said, “the caveat would be that we’d want … to engage in national best practices on how we deal with these hazardous locations.”

But Trepanier added there needs to be some “amount of practicality and pragmatism inject here” and while the MBTA had “raised the red flag” on their safety concerns, “we recognize people can [cross at an angle] today. The path is there and we don’t want to exacerbate a safety issue because one fatality is a fatality too many.”

“There are details like this that need to be worked out in order to ensure that working with a partner that we could assuage their concerns or make the situation safer,” said Trepanier.

While the state and MBTA may have softened their objection to a southern path, it also brought to the forefront an issue of “pinch points” along the start of the route from Brighton Street towards Belmont Center. While both trails need to contend with buildings and right of ways to have the required width that will allow access for emergency vehicles, a southerly route would require the town to take a portion of two sites, the Purecoat structure and the building housing the Crate Escape, a dog daycare business, through a sale or by an eminent domain taking.

In fact, the analysis of possible routes by the Pare Corp. which conducted a near year-long feasibility study of the community path did not take into consideration the price of acquiring portions of the two businesses. Amy Archer of Pare said she would begin a new study to reevaluate how much the town will undertake in the additional costs.

And the price tag for a southern route could be significant upwards to several millions of dollars, according to resident and path supporter Paul Roberts. Resolving the pinches will be “at least as daunting” as solve the safety problems at Brighton Street. He said there is no such impediment on the north side of the tracks; the only reason the board will not declare its preference for the route has less to do with safety or cost but as a political decision to placate the Channing Road homeowners.

But defenders of the southernly laid out path challenged the price differential by proposing using town streets including Hittinger Road to avoid the buildings altogether.


Officially On The Hook: Selectmen Approve Bonding For New 7-12 School

Photo: The latest from Perkins + Will architects, facing Clay Pit Pond.

There was the debate, the vote by residents, the approval of Town Meeting. And on Monday, Jan. 7, the Belmont Board of Selectmen made it official in a five-minute signing: the town’s taxpayers are now on the hook to pay for the new 7-12 school building set to open five years down the road.

And the final dollar amount that’s on Belmont’s bill was calculated by Town Accountant Floyd Carman at (drum roll, please) $212,764,911. 

That number is the difference of the total project cost set by the architect Perkins + Will and general contractor Skanska at $295,159,189, subtracting $1,750,000 approved by Town Meeting last year for preliminary design and $80,644,278 in a state grant approved by the town’s partner, the Massachusetts School Building Authority, on Aug. 29, 2018. 

If for whatever reason, the project expenses overrun the projected cost, the selectmen will be required to seek the additional funds from Town Meeting, a prospect Carman believes would not be an enjoyable one. 

Carman told the selectmen the town is set to make its first borrowing of $100 million in March which taxpayers will see in February 2020. The second borrowing for $85 million will take place in March 2021 with its impact felt in February 2021. The final short-term borrowing of $27 million will be in March 2021. The borrowing will hike taxes on a $1 million home by $1,800 in February 2022.

Public Meeting On New Rink Set (Sort Of) For Jan. 22

Photo: A new facility will replace the “Skip” Viglirolo rink adjacent to Harris Field.

The public will get its opportunity to listen and speak up on a new skating rink as a tentative date was presented at the Belmont School Committee meeting Tuesday, Jan. 8.

“Now is the time to take the next step” on the future of a possible public/private rink which could be located on school department property, said Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan, as he proposed the committee to request the Belmont Board of Selectmen to conduct a joint meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 22. The meeting will likely take place at the Chenery Middle School.

But the date is tentative as it may change if more members of both groups can attend at an alternative date and time.

Phelan said the first part of the meeting will be a listing of the pros and cons of placing the rink along Concord Avenue across from the Underwood Pools or at the closed incinerator location on upper Concord Avenue near the Lexington town line, as well as an explanation of the RFP – request for proposal – process.

The meeting will then become an open forum for the public to participate and “can have some dialogue” that could influence what will be included as public benefits and what it will expect from a new rink design including parking and traffic access, said Phelan.

At Monday’s, Jan 7, Board of Selectmen meeting, member Tom Caputo – the board’s liaison to the rink discussions – said while two locations remain in the running, past discussions and analysis of the upper Concord Avenue site by an environmental consultant revealed the incinerator parcel “might not be the best site” for a building housing a rink as it would be “more challenging” to build on ground that first needs to be capped.

In addition, a rink could not be built at the incinerator site for up to five years as the land will be used as a staging area for the construction of the new 7-12 school building.

Phelan said if the school committee – which last month agreed to move forward towards a possible acceptance of a rink– votes to accept an RFP utilizing school property, it will advantageous that “everything is ready to go” involving the project such as having a partner selected and a list of public benefits written out when a proposal is presented to Town Meeting in May.

While the RFP has yet to be written or placed out for a bid, the leading contender to run the facility is Belmont Youth Hockey which has been guiding  the effort to build a replacement for the “Skip” Viglirolo Skating Rink adjacent to Harris Field for the better part of a decade. It has released draft architectural designs and a list of public amenities such as locker rooms that can be used by home and away teams playing at Harris Field.

The site will be constructed as a public/private partnership in which the school department land would be leased at no cost for 30 years to the entity running the rink with specific language in the RFP requiring an allotment of time for youth hockey, both high school teams, and public uses. The town would be given the opportunity to take ownership of the structure at the end of the lease.

Now There Are Two: Warrant Committee’s Epstein Pulls Selectman Papers

Photo: Roy Epstein

It didn’t take long for the race to fill the open seat on the Board of Selectmen to became a real contest.

Warrant Committee Chair Roy Epstein picked up nomination papers at the Town Clerk’s Office on Friday morning, Jan. 11, two days after Town Meeting member Jessica Bennett obtained hers, setting up a particularly interesting town election with two – for now – possible candidates with strong views on the direction the town should take.

A well-known member of numerous boards, working groups and committees – he currently serves on four and sat on five others in the past – the 24 year resident touts his extensive knowledge working on the financial and policy nuts and bolts of Belmont’s town government.

“Why me?  I have the professional background and actual town experience that has an unmatched record of solving the hardest problems and saving the town millions of dollars,” said the adjunct professor of finance at Boston College who earned a PhD in Economics for Yale after matriculating at Wesleyan University.

“I think I will do the best job for the town as a whole. I will continue to be an independent, reliable voice and will always welcome public input from everyone; left, right, or center,” said Epstein who lives with his family on Cushing Avenue.

(The Belmontonian will conduct detailed interviews with all candidates after nominations close on Feb. 12).

Look Who’s Running: Why Bennett Won’t Likely Be The Only Candidate For Selectman

Photo: Jessie Bennett receiving her nomination papers on Wednesday at the Town Clerk’s office. 

It’s the photo all candidates – or potential candidates – should take, when they make the leap and take out nomination papers for local office. On Wednesday morning, Jan. 10, Jessica Bennett got “the shot” as she was handed her papers at the Town Clerk’s office for her run to occupy the seat of retiring selectman Mark Paolillo.

“I’m running for the Board of Selectmen because the work of local government is vital and touches all of our lives every day, regardless of age, race, income, political affiliation, and citizenship status,” said the 11-year resident who lives with her family on Trowbridge Street.

“We all bring the trash to the curb and have to get across town in traffic, and turn on the lights and expect that electricity to be there. I know that none of this happens magically and that the Board of Selectmen is an integral part of that process,” she said in an email interview.

While Bennett is the first out of the gate – less than two days after Paolillo first told the Belmontonian after Monday’s Selectmen’s meeting he would not seek a fourth term – to seek a seat on the important three-member board, she’s is almost certainly not the last to see Town Clerk Ellen Cushman seeking their own nomination sheets and the reason comes down to simple math: do it now or end up in the political equivalent of the Registry of Motor Vehicles waiting room.

The selectman’s race in April will be a contest for an “open” seat, so there is no pesky incumbent with a slew of supporters ready for a re-election campaign. Everything (meaning every vote) is up for grabs without having to craft a message and a campaign around the person who already has the job. Everyone who enters the race this year is starting from square one in this political game of Candy Land.

Even the most casual of town government observers that the current collection of selectmen – made up of Paolillo, Tom Caputo and Chairman Adam Dash – is one of the strongest bodies in terms of policy and process in recent memory. Whether it is the community path, the future of the incinerator site, attempting to militate (or just mitigate) the Gordian knot of local traffic along with the myriad of the important ongoing issues such as budgets and planning for revenue shortfalls, there has been an acknowledgment that its service along with no-longer-new Town Administrator Patrice Garvin has Belmont on the right course.

So, let’s say you’re a person interested in taking the leap and run for selectman. If you decide this is not the “right” time to throw your hat into the ring, look at what faces you. Over the next two years – if the longtime trend of selectmen likely to seek a second term – you will likely first have to challenge Dash (who won his first election with 64 percent of the vote against a well-known conservative) and then Caputo (94 percent against token opposition), both well-liked and well-known to voters, a deadly combination for anyone to attempt to unseat incumbents. And the third year will be the winner of this year’s race. And it could be longer for an open seat to arise again if Dash and Caputo decide to match Paolillo’s nine years of service.

In many ways, if not for a better job out of state, retirement to Florida or burnout that could produce an open seat sooner, it’s now or never for those who envisioned themselves spending alternative Monday nights – and at least one other night talking to residents or being a liaison at the Warrant/Capital Budget/Community Preservation committees – at three hour meetings.

Bennett is an attractive candidate with an inspiring back story – she left college (she would graduate later) to assist her parents financially, working as a teller then rising through the banking ranks before changing fields to high tech before moving to the Boston area when her wife was appointed a professor. If just going by Facebook “likes” and comments, Bennett has her supporters.

(The Belmontonian will conduct detailed interviews with all candidates after nominations close on Feb. 12)

Keen observers of town going-ons will have noticed Bennett’s increasing presence at Town Meeting and involvement with causes such as Yes for Belmont, parent/teacher groups and the Foundation for Belmont Education and at meetings including the Belmont High School Building Committee and the various traffic boards – she lives just a slingshot away from the new 7-12 school building. She was recently appointed to the High School Traffic Working Group. No surprise that she was in attendance at the most recent Selectmen’s meeting on Monday, Jan. 7.

Bennett is at the starting line, now it’s who’ll join her for the race.


BREAKING: Paolillo Stepping Down As Selectman

Photo: Mark Paolillo

It was a tough decision, but in the end, Mark Paolillo decided that it was a time of a change in his life and the political life of his hometown.

The three-term member of the Belmont Board of Selectmen told his fellow members after the end of its scheduled meeting Monday, Jan. 7 that he would not seek re-election to the three-person board in April.

“Nine years is a long time and it’s time to move on,” said the life-long Belmont resident.

Paolillo had been wavering between staying for a fourth term –  which would have been the longest-serving member since William Monahan

“I’ve been conflicted because it’s been a great board (comprised of selectmen Tom Caputo and chairman Adam Dash) this past year and I enjoy thoroughly working with Patrice [Garvin, Town Administrator] and there is still a lot of issues and there always will be. But I think it’s the best decision for myself and my family.

“I sought the counsel of many in town and I did call some of them privately and told them my decision. It was a really tough, tough call because it’s been a fun year,” said Paolillo. 

“It’s not that [the work] has worn on me but I think new ideas are important as well. I only thought I would do two [terms] but I did nine [years]. And I will continue to support these two guys,” said Paolillo of Caputo and Dash.

“I am sorry to see him go,” said Dash, noting the importance of having Paolillo on the board who had the institutional history and policy heft when taking on major concerns facing residents.

“I understand your decision but you will be sorely missed and look forward you staying involved,” said Caputo.

Paolillo will still be involved in town governance as he will seek a Town Meeting seat this April and has talked about joining one of the myriads of boards and committees. “I will give it a little bit of a breather before deciding.”

After serving on numerous boards including the Warrant Committee, Paolillo was elected selectman in 2010, defeating Dan LeClerc and Anne Mahon with 45 percent of the vote. He ran unopposed in 2013 and beat back challenger Alexandra Ruban with 65 percent of the voters backing him in 2016. 

While always looking for a “win-win-win” solution (a favorite Paolillo phrase) to challenging issues facing the town, Paolillo was not a shrinking violet when confronting opposing views that he felt were specious or misinformed. 

Paolillo said he hopes candidates will step up, noting that “we need diversity on the board and hopefully they are up to that task.” 

School Committee Says ‘Yes’ On Interest To Host New Rink Along Concord Avenue

Photo: A new rink would likely be built in this location near the present rink (in photo).

The pieces are beginning to fall into place pointing to a new skating rink coming to Belmont in the next two years.

And while there are a pair of locations where the replacement for the ancient “Skip” Viglirolo rink is expected to be sited, there is growing support over the past month pointing to Belmont School District property along Concord Avenue across from the Underwood Pool as the likely spot, beating out a facility at the former incinerator site on upper Concord Avenue on the Lexington town line.

In an important step that would keep the rink adjacent to Harris Field, the Belmont School Committee vote unanimously at its Tuesday, Dec. 19, meeting to proceed with a Request for Proposal (RFP), which will solicit proposals through a bidding process.

“This is a town project, not just a schools project,” said Belmont Superintendent John Phelan at the meeting.

The School Committee Chair Susan Burgess-Cox said while moving forward with a RFP, the committee would be open to all suggestions and comments from the public on developing the site which will have its chance to express its opinion at a January community meeting on the future of the incinerator site that will impact the rink development.

While hardly the size of a new public/private venture in New York City that will house nine skating rinks, Belmont Youth Hockey in a presentation before the School Committee in April proposed a space with an ice sheet-and-a-half (with the half ice sheet covered for nine months and used by spring, summer and fall youth and high school sports teams) with recreational open space, an indoor track and locker rooms that can be used by indoor and outdoor sports teams.

(A public/private rink to replace the aged “Skip” is not a recent concept as it has been talk about around town since 2015.)

While no decision has been made by either the School Committee – which owns the property – and the Board of Selectmen which has final say what will go on the incinerator land, recently presented analysis of the two locations appearing to give the clear edge to the school’s site.

At the school committee meeting Tuesday, Phelan presented a pro and con comparison of the two sites. Noting that the 1970s-era “Skip” is well-passed its useful working life and is only kept running with “McGyver”-style hacks to the ice-making machinery, Phelan said a new rink built through a public/private partnership – in past schemes, Belmont Youth Hockey would manage the rink that is constructed on land provided free of charge by the town or schools – would provide local access to ice time for the community and the Belmont High School ice hockey teams. Under this scenario, the direct cost to town ratepayers would be zero.

As for the pro’s of the high school site, it would be convenient for the school’s teams, it would increase locker space for boys and girls teams who play at Harris Field, it would not need state regulatory approval and just town zoning permits and there would finally be on-site parking as opposed to using  Concord Avenue and several side streets.

“There’s a nice energy of uses if it was on the high school site that would complement the new fields,” said Phelan.

One big con would be the potential loss of playing field space during and after the building is completed, additional traffic and the possible congestion created as the rink will be constructed while the 7-12 school is being built less than a quarter mile away “would be challenging,” said Phelan. 

The incinerator site does have its pro’s as in less traffic impact on the local neighborhood, doesn’t interfere with new school’s construction site and there is enough land to build a rink with two full-size ice sheets.

But the cons at the incinerator are steep: school teams would need to take one bus to and from practice at a cost of approximately $400 daily or $2,000 each week for up to 14-16 weeks. Because there are state-issued conditions on what can be placed at the incinerator location and environmental issues, it is expected to take up to four years before the first shovel is put into the ground, which will also require the town to pick up maintenance costs and likely repairs at the old rink until construction is completed. There is the issue of capping the toxic landfill site which will cost the town approximately $3.5 to $4 million, an amount a non-profit rink organization would find daunting to help pay and would force up rental fees. Finally, there are concerns that a foundation for the building and ice sheet on ground that is infill and close to wetlands could be prohibitively expensive.

While a number of committee members voiced some concern about the loss of fields for high school sports teams (depends what the winning RFP bid specifies) and would a new rink replace the locker room space lost when the White Field House is demolished (“yes,” said Phelan), they also felt the added transportation costs and far-off location of an incinerator-located rink were less than attractive.

By the end of the presentation, the committee was ready to put the school district’s stake in the ground for new rink. But while interested in building on the property, the district and committee “[are] not yet committed to doing so,” until the public process is completed, said member Andrea Prestwich.


Next Year’s Property Tax Rate Falls But Bill Continue Skyward As ‘Average’ Belmont Home Nears $1.1 Million

Photo: An “average” Belmont home that recently sold for $1.1 million (and it’s a ranch!)

Belmont Board of Selectmen Chair Adam Dash said that next fiscal year’s property tax rate approved by the board Thursday morning, Dec. 13 isn’t that onerous compared to charges imposed in other Massachusetts city and towns.

“It’s our housing values that are high,” said Dash, focusing on the annual dichotomy of where lower tax rates result in raising taxes for Belmont’s property owners after the Belmont Board of Assessors presented its analysis of Belmont real estate valuation during its annual tax classification hearing before the Selectmen.

Robert Reardon, long-time chair of the Board of Assessors, announced that Belmont’s fiscal ’19 property tax rate – which begins on July 1, 2019 – will be set at $11.67 per $1,000 assessed value, a reduction of nearly half-a-buck from the fiscal ’18 rate of $12.15.

But the average quarterly bill isn’t shrinking with the new tax rate as the total assessed value of property in Belmont shot up to $7.947 billion from $7.497 billion in fiscal ’18 as home buyers continue to clamor into the “Town of Homes.” 

The healthy increase in Belmont property values also pushed up the average residential home value to $1,090,000, a jump of a little more than 8 percent or $86,000 in 12 months. “Incredible,” said Selectman and lifelong Belmont resident Mark Paolillo upon hearing what the new “average” has become.

With home prices increasing at a steady clip, the annual tax bill in fiscal ’19 on an average assessed valued property ($1,090,000 x $11.67) will be $12,720.30, an increase of $525 from the $12,195.56  in fiscal ’18.

And the town is squeezing every last drop of taxes from the levy; by taking in $89.25 million, it is leaving only $4,003.08 of excess capacity “on the table,” said Reardon. 

When Selectman Tom Caputo asked how the new 7-12 school building on the site of Belmont High School will impact tax assessments, Town Treasurer Floyd Carman said the nearly $215 million debt exclusion will be phased in over three years beginning in fiscal 2020. The town is expected to borrow between $85 to $90 million in long-term borrowing in the first two years with taxes on an average home increasing by $680 each year. The final year will be short-term bonds in the $25 million to $30 million range.

“Think $1,800 plus” total increase on the average property in taxes by the start of fiscal 2022, “assuming we keep our [triple A] bond rating,” said Carman.

As in past years, the assessors’ recommended, and the selectmen agreed to a single tax classification and no real estate exemptions. Reardon – who is director of Cambridge’s Assessing Department – said Belmont does not have anywhere near the amount of commercial and industrial space (at must be least a minimum of 20 percent, said Reardon) to creating separate tax rates for residential and commercial properties. Belmont’s commercial base is 3.9 percent of the total real estate.

“Every year, the layperson ask us why we don’t increase the commercial rate, and the reason is that is such a small, small impact,” said Reardon. If Belmont increased commercial rates to the maximum limit under the law, those tax bills would jump on average by $6,350 while residential taxes would fall to $381, placing an unfair burden on commercial owners and their renters “and make Belmont a less desirable town.” 

“People always assume there’s more money if you go with the split rate when it really is just shifting the cost to the commercial side,” Reardon said.