Belmont Approves Declaration of Emergency

Photo: Belmont’s declaration of emergency.

The town of Belmont has joined the state of Massachusetts and the United States of America in issuing a formal declaration of emergency “to protect the health and welfare of the people of Belmont” during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s not some dramatic new information that we have become aware of,” said Tom Caputo, Select Board chair at its March 27 meeting held via video conference. “I think this is more of an opportunity for the town to acknowledge the situation that we’re in.”

Caputo said the Belmont Emergency Management Agency first raised a declaration earlier in the month as being beneficial in communicating to the community the urgency of the town’s response to the virus.

“It makes a statement that Belmont understands that we are in a pretty severe emergency at this time,” said the Select Board’s Adam Dash.

The EMA also speculated the possibility that in the event funding or other resources were made available by the state or federal government, those communities that issued an emergency “might accrue benefits to the town,” said Caputo.

“I don’t see any downside to it, particularly that it makes us eligible for special funding that might become available,” said member Roy Epstein.

Read the declaration here.

Select Board Pegs McIsaac To Be Next Belmont Police Chief (VIDEO)

Photo: Belmont Assistant Police Chief James MacIsaac

Assistant Police Chief James MacIsaac could soon be leading his hometown police department as the Belmont Select Board unanimously selected the life long resident to succeed Richard McLaughlin as Belmont’s next police chief.

“I hope to continue to serve the Town of Belmont [in] the capacity of Police Chief,” MacIsaac told the board after an hour-long presentation during a public meeting at Town Hall on Monday, Dec. 9.

MacIsaac and Belmont Lt. Chris Donahue – who addressed the board and a handful of residents on Monday – were the finalists from an original group of five selected by the Police Chief Screening Committee chaired by former Selectman Mark Paolillo.

While saying that the town “seems to have an embarrassment of riches” with two outstanding candidates for the job, Select Board’s Adam Dash believed “while Chris Donahue sounded like a great cop, I think James MacIsaac sounds like a great leader.”

MacIsaac will take command of the 108 member (with 49 sworn officers) department – pending contract negotiations with the town – from McLaughlin who is retiring on Dec. 31.

Once a contract is squared away, MacIsaac will be Belmont’s 12th full-time chief since David Chenery, Jr. was named Superintendent of Highways and Police Chief in 1877, according to the late town historian, Richard Betts.

In their presentations, Donahue and MacIsaac agreed on the need for additional support on traffic – 42 percent of all calls to Belmont Police involve traffic related incidents – assisting the elderly and strong school/police relations. Each pointed to strategies to protect victims of domestic violence which make up 90 percent of the assault and battery calls to police.

Belmont Police Lt. Chris Donahue.

They also agreed that civil service, which provides preference to residents in entry-level officer positions, has hurt Belmont’s ability to attract an increased diverse pool of candidates.

In his presentation, MacIsaac said that “attempting to maintain the status quo within the department is not an option.” He noted that his philosophy is that all organizations are “always growing even if you’ve reached that top pinnacle.”

“So we are going to build on success that Chief McLaughlin has created,” said MacIsaac.

Among the first acts under MacIsaac’s watch will be filling the vacancies of assistant chief and captain, create strong lines of communication with an emphasis on collaborative partnership between Command staff and officers as well as be cognitive of the fiscal limitations placed on the police budget.

McIsaac will also commit to a six month evaluation of 21 specific areas of policing including staff levels, whether there is too many supervisory positions, reviewing the IT function including the possibility of adding a software specialist to the force and if the department should continue a K-9 unit.

“You need to be willing to try new things. As long as it doesn’t endanger somebody or endangers civilians or cost a lot of money, I’m willing to try just about anything … to improve the organization,” he said.

The Select Board were more supportive of MacIsaac’s approach and specifics to issues. While there were many similarities to the finalists approach to the job, “the principle difference is the fact that MacIsaac’s has been assistant chief for some time and I think he is more attune to the issues on the management side of things,” said Roy Epstein.

And Board Chair Tom Caputo said while the town would benefit with either candidate in the job, “I was engaged and excited to see the depth in which he seems to understands the issues … and the manner in which he was able to provide specific examples to almost take it to a strategic level.”

“While we have two very good candidates, the nod for me is to Jamie,” said Caputo.

Skating Rink Taken Off The Fast Track After Residents Questioned The Need For Speed

Photo: Jack Weis speaking before the Select Board and School Committee

The “fast track” the town and school committee had placed a proposed skating rink project is about to slow down considerably after the Belmont Select Board Monday night, Sept. 23 took to heart citizen’s complaints and will allow more time for the project to be vetted by potential development teams and residents.

The Select Board will now present a revised timeline and a new lease and request for proposal to the school committee at a joint meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Chenery Middle School.

“My concern has been about the timeline,” said Board Member Adam Dash, referring to the quick five week bidding period and a four day turnover from accepting bids to selecting a winning team to build the rink located off of Concord Avenue. “I just don’t want to rush.”

Talk of a new rink goes back to 2015 as it became obvious the existing rink built as an outdoor facility in the early 1970s could fail at any time so the need to move quickly on a replacement is paramount.

In addition, the town and school committee wanted the project to go before Special Town Meeting in mid-November where the town’s legislative body would need to approve trading school department land for agreements in the 30-year lease guaranteeing access to the rink by high school teams, support recreational programs and other town needs.

But at a public meeting held last week on Sept. 16, several residents including Jack Weis, Bob McGaw, and Fred Paulsen – each town meeting members from precinct 1 – cautioned rink supporters that, in essence, haste makes waste.

“I do have a concern that in the rush to push this forward by November, are we going to crowd out [bidders] … who simply don’t have to time to respond,” said Weis. “Are we going to end up with an ill conceived and rushed proposals?”

“[By p]utting together a timeline that will allow us to feel confident, we will get robust and well thought through proposals which is better than trying to get this one bite of the apple accomplished in 60 days,” he said.

The argument to slow down the project caught the ears of the select board and town officials. While the board believes the RFP and lease are complete and ready to be released and be bid on, it agreed weeks will be added to the bidding process as well as to the school committee’s review period in selecting a winning team.

“I’m concerned that teams will not respond because they can’t [put together a bid package] in that time frame,” said Dash. “I want to get the maximum number of responses.”

The need for an extended period for teams is the town is asking for “a fair bit [of information] in the RFP,” said Board Chair Tom Caputo, including a financing plan, a response to a detailed traffic proposal and meeting the town’s demands for ice time and facility usage.

And if just two bidders are selected for review, asking the school committee to examine and decide on a winning bid in just four days is “a lot to process” in that short of time.

“I understand that this means that we may miss the fall town meeting,” said Dash. But if the tight time frame for both bidders and the town cause too few bids or the rushed selection of a winning team, “it could mean the rink dies this winter” which could doom a new building.

Just how the new time schedule will look will be revealed on Tuesday by the town. A suggestion by Board Member Roy Epstein to hold a special town meeting in February 2020 to approve the lease agreement and OK a new bylaw to allow a sports structure to be built, “is [hopeful at best]”

Select Board OKs 5 Year Trash Processing Contract

Photo: Trash processing will continue with Wheelabrow Technologies.

Belmont’s Select Board unanimously approved Monday, Aug. 12, a five-year extension to the town’s existing contract with a waste-to-energy firm to process Belmont’s residential trash.

The new contract with Wheelabrow Technologies, which goes into effect July 1, 2020 and runs through fiscal 2025, will see a one year increase of 10 percent from the current fiscal year, jumping from $69.54 to $77 per ton.

Despite the significant spike for the coming year – the cost increases for years two to five will be between 2.5 and 3.5 percent – Jay Marcotte, the town’s director of the Department of Public Works, said he was surprised at the bargain the town received.

“I can honestly tell you that I am surprised that the pricing. I thought it would be a lot more expensive it would be getting rid of trash” since the cost of recycling has skyrocketed in the past year.

“It’s a volitile world out there for recycling and trash,” said Marcotte.

Belmont has separate contracts for hauling trash from the curbside and recycling, each in their second of a five year contracts with Waste Management.

Marcotte said the price Belmont will pay on July 1 is comparable to those in surrounding communities such as Lexington, Wilmington and Reading. He also noted that just a decade ago, trash processing for Belmont was in the $90 to $100 per ton range.

The hit to residents’ tax bill for trash removal under the new contract should not be that hard due to the automated trash collection system installed last year, said Marcotte. While the town budget anticipated about 7,500 tons of trash processed townwide in the past two years, last fiscal year residents produced 6,200 tons, an 18 percent fall off due to automation.

“There is room for improvement,” said Marcotte.

Proposed Ice Rink Gets Guideposts Along With A ‘Fast And Furious’ Timeline

Photo: Town officials speaking on guidelines/time frame for a new ice skating rink in Belmont; (from left) Jon Marshall, Jeffrey Wheeler, Patrice Garvin, Tom Caputo.

During its final meeting until September, the Belmont School Committee voted on Tuesday, June 18 to approve a list of “guiding principles” for a Request for Proposal for a new ice skating rink that will ensure the school district and town will have a significant say in future of the public/private venture.

The list of suggestions that includes size, uses and oversight of the new rink, will provide “potential applicant the freedom to explore a variety of different [design] options,” said Tom Caputo, chair of the Board of Selectmen.

In addition to the guideline, the town presented a very tight timeline going from the release of a draft RFP in early September to finalizing a public/private lease with a selected development team in late November.

“The calendar is critical and that everybody buys into it,” insisted Jeffrey Wheeler, the town’s senior planner who will be working over the next two months with the Town Administrator’s Office and a working group of school committee members creating the RFP.

An anticipated vote on a location of the rink was delayed until after a traffic study is conducted with the aim of determining the best place for the “curb cut” from Concord Avenue.

“We felt that until that was determined, we really couldn’t figure out the place to site the rink,” said Patrice Garvin, Belmont Town Administrator who was joined by Jon Marshall. the assistant town manager who will lead the effort in writing the RFP.

The school committee guidelines include:

• A rink with one and a half sheets of ice is “acceptable” but developers can submit a plan for a single ice sheet.

• developer should minimize the building’s footprint to accomodate three playing fields for high school sports.

• The rink will include between 70 to 90 parking spaces within the site design; the spaces will be available for student parking at the new Middle and High School.

• The need for locker rooms to accommodate the high school teams and can be used for fall and spring sports.

• Ice time will be allocated to the high school teams and reduced rates for Recreation Department programs.

• The developer must submit a financial model to demonstrate financial viability.

• The creation of an oversight committee to secure the terms of the lease are being fulfilled.

While the town will be performing the heavy lifting of creating the proposal with many moving parts, the real challenge is a fast and furious timeline imposed by the town that calls for the approve the RFP, selecting a developer, OKing a lease and then signing a comprehensive public/private agreement all within a tiddy three months.

According to Wheeler, the accelerated timeline starts the day after Labor Day (Sept. 3) with a draft RFP sent to school committee members and the Select Board for edits and review.

It will be followed over the next two weeks by a pair of public meetings (Sept. 10 and 17) for residents input before a final RFP is approved on Sept. 24. A day later, the RFP is out before potential developers who will have a shortened five-week interval to submit a bid to the community development office by Oct. 30.

Just six days later on Nov. 5, the Select Board and the School Committee will select the best proposal followed eight days later on Nov. 13 with Special Town Meeting voting to approve leasing town/school land to a private developer.

Finally, two days before Thanksgiving (Nov. 26), the Select Board and School Committee will award a contract to the winning proposal on Nov. 26.

Ready For Your Close-Up, Mr. Williams

Photo: Behind the scenes with Mr. Williams at Town Hall.

One, if not the sole, perk of being an ex-Belmont Selectman – if that title can be used one final time – it’s the honor of having a “goodbye” portrait hung in the Select Board Room of Town Hall.

Going back a century, the photos of residents who were elected to the executive branch of town government are placed in perpetuity on the walls overlooking the current members as the proverbial “judge over their shoulder,” giving wise guidance to those following them.

On Tuesday morning, Jim Williams, who served one eventful term on the board, arrived in the board room for his appointment with Belmont photographer Beth Ann Fricker of BAF Photography.

While he selected a more traditional tie rather than his favorite with sharks details, Williams – who is moving to Florida in the next few months – didn’t select a pair of paints for the session. If it’s a portrait they want, shorts will do the job just fine.

It’s not known if fellow ex-Select Board member Sami Baghdady showed up in shorts for his portrait later in the day.