So Long, Mike … And Welcome Back! Long Time Town Employee Retires, Than Is Appointed Belmont’s Tree Warden

Photo: Recently retired DPW Highway Department Director Michael Santoro receives a gold ceremonial shovel from Select Board members Mark Paolillo (left) and Roy Epstein as Belmont acknowledged Santoro’s 42 years of service.

It’s not everyday when the word “beloved” is used when speaking about a town official. But it is when talking about Mike Santoro, Belmont’s manager of the Department of Public Works’ Highway Division and assistant Public Works Director, who retired Dec. 31 from his post.

Mike Santoro

The soft spoken, life-long resident has served the people of his home town for 42 years, advancing from his first position as a laborer in 1981 to becoming, in 2005, the head of a department responsible for the repair, patching, and maintenance of Belmont’s 78 miles of public streets and roads and 97 miles of paved sidewalks, caring for the town’s sewer lines and storm drain system, and assisting in the care, removal, and replanting of Belmont’s 10,000-plus public shade trees.

And when a winter nor’easter deposited tons of snow on the town’s byways, it was Santoro who would spend days in his cramped, cold office in the pre-renovated DPW building directing an armada of town-owned vehicles and heavy equipment along with dozens of contractors in keeping the roads open.

“First of all, Michael, thank you for your exemplary service for our community. It’s been outstanding and we are going to truly miss you,” said Select Board Member Mark Paolillo at Monday, Jan. 8. “You always had an answer, you always returned our calls and you always have been incredible helpful.”

The proclamation noted Santoro was instrumental in the successful consolidation of the highway, water, cemetery and the parks and recreation departments into what today is the Department of Public Works, all the while working “long tireless hours” taking leadership roles on numerous projects that required a steady hand and a calming voice of experience.

“Michael has set a high standard of commitment and dedication that serves as an inspiration to the citizens of Belmont,” read the proclamation.

So it wasn’t surprising when those attending the meeting gave Santoro a standing ovation.

Santoro was presented with a going away gift from the town; a gold-colored commemorative shovel with an inscription on the shaft: “Michael Santoro. For his many years of Dedication and Commitment to the Department of Public Works. 1981-2023.”

“As I’ve been saying to everyone, it’s not goodbye, it’s ‘I’ll see you later’ because there are other things that I’m gonna try to do around town,” said Santoro, who was accompanied to the meeting by his wife, Susan, children and family.

No truer words were spoken as the next item of business before the board was naming a new town tree warden: Mike Santoro.

“There is no rest for the weary,” said Board Chair Roy Epstein.

After the retirement of Tom Walsh in July 2021, the warden post had been vacant with DPW Director Jay Marcotte acting as interim tree warden with Santoro assisting in the field. In the past months, Santoro completed the necessary training to be certified by the state to hold the position.

Residents Bring Tons of Cardboard During Saturday’s Drop Off Event

Photo: Cardboard drop-off remains a popular event in Belmont

The line of cars and other vehicles stretched down C Street and out onto Waverley Street this past Saturday, Jan. 9, all driven by Belmontians with a single goal in common: take our cardboard – PLEASE!

With holiday shopping favoring the use of online sites, residents were undeterred by a first-time ever fee or the anticipated long waits to have someone to take away all the empty boxes and packages that were piling up in garages and basements.

In just five hours on Saturday morning into the afternoon, the Department of Public Works’ Highway Division collected 22 tons of cardboard filling five 40-yard long containers, two truck bays and six 6-wheel dump trucks, said Jay Marcotte, Belmont’s director of public works to the Select Board at its Monday, Jan. 11 meeting.

In total, 348 vehicles came through the DPW Yard at the new year’s first drop off event and the town’s inaugural fee-based service. Marcotte said 211 residents paid the $5 fee using the on-line registration (another 20 paid early but didn’t show up) resulting in the town pocketing approximately $1,750. With cardboard selling for something like $50 a ton, Belmont’s coffer will all told take in about $3,000.

With expenses such as a police detail and overtime for DPW personnel, the revenue taken in meant that “we’ll break even,” said Marcotte.

“So you’ll be off the hook,” said Select Board member Adam Dash referring to Select Chair Roy Epstein’s pledge to pay off any deficit saying he was confident that people would not be troubled by a small fee.

For Epstein, the more important outcome of Saturday’s event is that it has “shown its proof of concept.”

Cardboard Drop-Off Fee Could Be Coming To Belmont, Just Not Now

Photo: Questions to the DPW concerning cardboard collection spike during the holidays

Will Belmont residents have to pay to get rid of the glut of cardboard coming their way this holiday?

That was the suggestion from the Department of Public Works as it came before the Select Board on Monday, Nov. 9, to discuss setting dates for the annual holiday season collection of cardboard by the town’s Department of Public Works.

Saying the subject of cardboard produces the largest number of calls to his department, DPW Director Jay Marcotte said the town is scheduling a handful of cardboard events in the next few months to collect the excessive amount of corrugated material many residents collect especially during the holiday season.

(Cardboard drop offs is a relatively new event, starting after the introduction of automated trash pickup in 2018 when residents discovered they “had no space in their new recycling bin” to place the excessive amount of cardboard they were acculating, said Marcotte.)

And if past events are the norm, Public Works is expecting upwards of 300 hundred vehicles jam packed with cardboard along Waverley Street and C Street attempting to enter the DPW Yard originally scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 5.

But as Select Board Chair Roy Epstein said during Marcotte’s presentation before the board there is “a new wrinkle” to upcoming events: a fee.

The call for a “pay as you throw” scheme for cardboard stems from this spring when the town froze overtime spending due to the reduction of town revenues associated with COVID-19 pandemic.

Marcotte said cardboard can’t stake itself in the five truck-sized containers ready to be filled. The DPW needs a crew.

“We usually have one foreman with three to four workers along with one of the administrative assistants working between five to eight hours,” he said. Add to that expense the likely need for a police detail – yes, cardboard drop-off is like holding a rock concert in Belmont – due to the expected overflow of participants for the upcoming event.

“I’m anticipating that high number for this event because we did not have any drop offs during the spring. Usually by now we would have had two to three events,” said Marcotte. After speaking with the town’s Health Department, the DPW will need additional staff to take down contract tracing information due to the pandemic.

By the end of the day, such an event is expected to cost the DPW up to $2,400 for a Saturday event running from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Without overtime, “this will have to be a self-sustaining event, said Epstein. The cardboard will bring in $400 so the net expense to the town will be in the order of $2,000. A quick back of the envelope calculation came out to approximately $8 to $9.

The initial plan was for residents wanting to drop-off cardboard to head over to the Recreation Department page on the town’s web site to sign up with their contact info and prepay the fee as the event will be cash-free due to COVID-19 and just the ease of making everyone pay online.

“That will probably be the biggest hurdle, getting the documentation,” said Marcotte.

But the fee proposal quickly earned pushback from Board Member Tom Caputo. “I get the principle when it relates to overtime but I also wonder if we are … creating a great deal of resident frustration,” Caputo asked. By forcing the public to pony up for a previously free service on top of requiring them to use a new payment system in the knowledge that many will show up having not paid the new fee “[i]s going to generate a great deal of ill-will,” he said.

A compromise, suggested Caputo, would be to hold the event on a weekday and thus taking overtime out of the equation, a solution fellow board member Adam Dash was amenable to try.

“The whole cost of $2,352 … is such small money that your going to get $2,300 worth of trouble charging $5 or $10 for this,” said Dash, saying that many residents will note the town passed an override a quarter century ago to establish free curbside pickup.

“I’m not happy taking $2,000 away from something else for a repeated event because we’ll have to do it two more times. That’s $6,000,” said Epstein.

And a weekday solution would create its own issues, said Epstein, with long lines of vehicles likely to impede traffic on a busy roadway, annoy the neighbors and clogging up the Town Yard during a busy work day.

While proposals such as drop-offs on consecutive Friday and Saturday one-paid and the other free were bantied about, Marcotte told the board his department simply could not conduct the service “if we don’t charge. I don’t have a budget for it.”

While Caputo said he understood Marcotte’s frustration, “we’ll have to be creative in how we can enable this. Can we try [drop offs] a couple of times during the week and see how that works.”

It was Town Administrator Patrice Garvin who broke the logjam by injecting “I think it’s worth at least a try,” followed by Marcotte saying “I’m open to that.”

Garvin added a caveat of significant outreach to residents along Waverley and C streets on the time span and traffic mitigation for the event now set for the week of Dec. 1.

“We’ll figure it out,” said Garvin.

Battling A Blizzard: A Talk With Belmont Highway’s Michael Santoro [Video]

Photo: Trapelo Road, Belmont; 11:45 a.m.

Whether it’s a few inches to a foot or two, when snow covers Belmont’s streets, Mike Santoro is the town’s employee residents count on to keep the roads and parking areas clear and safe to travel.

With an anticipated 12 to 16 inches of the white stuff heading the town’s way today, Thursday, Jan. 4, Santoro, the long-time manager of the Belmont Department of Public Works’ Highway Division, will assemble up to 60 vehicles made up of town-owned trucks and contract ploughs to create a battle plan to open the town’s 78 miles of public roads.

The Belmontonian spoke to Santoro at the Town Yard just as the snow started coming down on Thursday.

DPW Accepting Holiday Cardboard Recycling Saturday, Jan. 7

Photo: Cardboard collection.

With all the holiday presents and gifts received, the one lasting memory most residents have from the holidays are the stacks and piles of cardboard boxes they came in.

But rather than spend time cutting up and wrapping them into bundles so they can be collected during the weekly trash/recycling collection, this weekend all you’ll need to do is take a drive to the Department of Public Works Town Yard at the end of C Street.

On Saturday, Jan. 7 between 9 a.m. and noon, the Belmont’s Highway Department will accept uncut but folded cardboard packaging for recycling. 

Residents will be able to drop off folded cardboard

While Belmont’s trash and recycling contractor collects cardboard, it must be cut into pieces no larger than 3 feet by 3 feet and tied or taped together to make a stack no more than nine inches high.

The new pilot program will take place one last time on Feb. 4. The DPW will then evaluate the scheme to determine if it will become an annual service. 

Ride ‘Em Cowboy: Belmont DPW Team Best in Snow Plow ‘Roadeo’

Photo: (from left) Selectman Baghdady, Selectman Paolillo, DPW Director Marcotte, Paul Mosca, Highway Div. Director Santoro, Marc Petto, Selectman Williams and Town Administrator Kale.

When the snow starts falling this winter, Belmont residents and commercial owners can rest asure  that when Paul Mosca and Marc Petto are plowing the street, there’s no two better in the country.

Belmont Highway Division employees Mosca and Petto were recognized by the Belmont Board of Selectmen on Monday, Nov. 14 for coming out on top in state and regional snow plow competition. 

Mosca, who has 24 years of service, and eight year veteran Petto placed first of 15 teams from 13 towns in the Plymouth County Snow Plow Rally and Safety Training event held Sept. 23. Then this month, the team topped the field in the New England-wide championships. 

With the wins, the men qualify to compete against teams from across the country in the Western Snow and Ice Snowplow “Roadeo” National Finals next September.

The “roadeo” consisted of five event including a written test, demonstrating their knowledge of the big six-wheel dump truck they operate – judges disable the truck and the team must tell what is not working and why – and driving and operating the heavy equipment (this year is was driving a course with road cones representing parked cars.)

“They are dedicated to go the extra mile,” said Michael Santoro, assistant DPW director and head of the Highway Department as he held the gold-covered cup from the latest victory.

“Just remember guy’s, hit that street first,” Selectmen Chair Mark Paolillo told Mosca and Petto after giving them his address for when the first snow falls.  

Major Water Main Break Closed Common Street Sunday

Photo: Teens will be teens.

A section of a major water main that runs along Common Street ruptured Sunday afternoon, Oct. 4, closing a portion of the main thoroughfare from Cushing Square to Belmont Center for most of the night.

The 12-inch pipe – the largest main used by the town – blew out at approximately 4:10 p.m. A witness said a sudden geyser of water erupted from the corner of Warwick Road and Common where the break took place under the pavement.

Department of Public Works crews arrived after police closed Common Street from Raleigh to Chester roads at 4:30 p.m. to begin the process of turning off the water main before repairs could take place.

Michael Santoro, director of the DPW’s Highway Division, told the Belmontonian Monday, Oct. 5, the main – laid in 1934 – had a 10-foot split running down the middle of the pipe.

Santoro suspected the split was caused “because of age. You can tell as it cracked bell to bell,” said Santoro. 

Water service was interrupted for homes on the east side of Common Street after the DPW shut off the main while a resident said his house on Bay State Road was suffering from low pressure.

Due to nearby gas and electrical lines, crews had to proceed slowly with its work, finally securing a new section at approximately 4 a.m. Monday morning, said Santoro. 


All Hands on Deck: Belmont DPW Throwing Everything into Blizzard

Jay Marcotte, Belmont’s newly-installed Director of Public Works, said this past Saturday’s snowfall “was a chance for the department to shake the rust off” its response in preparing and handling the inevitable task for any New England town’s DPW in clearing roads of the white stuff.

“It was only four-and-a-half inches in Belmont and we didn’t have a single resident’s call on our snow hotline,” said Marcotte as he introduced himself to the Belmont Board of Selectmen on Monday morning, Jan. 26.

The Belmont Department of Public Work’s Snow Emergency Hotline: 617-993-2698.

But as a potentially historic nor’easter was barreling towards the region and Belmont, Marcotte – who took over the reins of the department from the retiring Peter Castanino – wasn’t expecting his department to have as easy a go of it as three days previous.

“I suspect the hotline will have a few more calls,” he said, with a smile.

To handle the blizzard, Marcotte and Highway Division Manager Michael Santoro will be marshaling all the division’s assets as well as an army of private contractors to keep at least the main thoroughfares passable for first responders and other essential vehicles.

“It’s all hands on deck,” said Marcotte.

The Highway Division has put out 20 pieces of town-owned equipment clearing roads, including dump trucks, pickups and spreaders beginning at 6 p.m. on Monday. In addition, 37 vehicles from private contractors will be hitting the streets during the height of the storm and afterwards, said Marcotte.

In addition, a tree service is on standby to remove branches and trees that could topple during the storm and heavy equipment from James W. Flett Company and FE French Construction are ready “just in case we need them,” said Marcotte.

The DPW’s primary goal will be “to keep the main drags plowed and treated so medical and other emergency services” can get to their destinations, said Marcotte.

Plowing and treating of secondary and side roads are accomplished “as soon as the department can get to them, he said.

The planning, for tackling a storm “, is the same whether it is 2-inches or 24-inches,” said Marcotte.

“We treat [storms] accordingly to what is expected but we make sure we have a plan ready to go,” he said.