Belmont Town Meeting, Segment B, Night 2

Photo: Moderator Mike Widmer.

7 p.m.: Welcome to hopefully the final night of Belmont’s annual Town Meeting. Tonight, capital budget appropriations will be highlighted as will a reconsideration of the solar power article which was indefinitely delayed in May.

7:11 p.m.: And the meeting starts with a shout out by Moderator Mike Widmer on all those who make Town Meeting “works.”

7:12 p.m.: Glenn Clancy, director of the Community Development office, gives an update on the Trapelo/Belmont corridor project. Interesting points: some sidewalks are showing defects and changes have been made. The project from Mill Street to Cushing Square is just about done except for the final top coating. It is a positive message that Belmont is moving forward on the town’s roads. 

7:21 p.m.: Up now is Article 18, which reauthorizes the eight revolving funds, all self funding. There are two new accounts: Stormwater consulting and storm water improvements. The money comes from fees so the funding is not coming from general funds. It’s adopted unanimously.

7:25 p.m.: Now up is an overview of the capital budget appropriation process from the Capital Budget Chair Anne Marie Mahoney. Interesting facts:

  • The initial request from all town departments came to $5.4 million. 
  • The amount of money of potential unfunded requests was $1.2 million. 
  • But there was even more money coming to Capital Budget including from the override and one-time funding.
  • That leaves $1.8 million for capital projects. 


In public safety, the priorities start with the high school fire alarm system. It must be replaced now – during the summer of 2016 – and it has to be replaced because the current one is nearly 45 years old. Cost, $1.2 million. Other priorities are fire alarms at the Butler and Town Hall and the replacement of portable radios. The replacement is part of a greater program in which a large amount will be bonded.

Mahoney then goes over the other expenditures, a total of 23. 

A pair of large borrowing is one the way. The fire alarm at the high school will result in borrowing $1.55 million with a five year bond in 2016 or $236,000 per year, coming out of the capital budget each year.

The radio system will require a ten-year bond for $1.09 million.

Roads and sidewalks: all the money in fiscal 16 will come to $2.55 million from several sources. “This is an all time high,” she said.

Mahoney notes that the major capital projects are 

  • The DPW building ($28 million)
  • New Belmont High ($70 million)
  • A new police station ($20 million)
  • a new library ($18 million with state and private funds)

All are expensive and also needed.   

Guess what, there will be needs for additional space at nearly all the schools by 2017. Capital budget will be part of the process. 

Mahoney is given a big hand by the gathering for a great report. 

7:54 p.m.: There will be four motions in the Capital Budget expenditure, the first, Section A, is the reading of the 23 items that are being purchased or leased at $1.8 million. Kevin Cunningham, Pct. 4, asks the process for estimating $1.4 million for the high school alarm replacement with a new high school being planned. Mahoney said even if funding for the new school is approved by the state in December, it will take years before construction on a new school begins. Cunningham asked if the new floor can be salvageable in a new school. Of course, said Mahoney.

Julilet Jenkins, Pct. 3, asked why the system is now being replaced if it was known that it was outdated for years. Mahoney said the hope had been that a new school would be coming but the alarm system simply needs to be done.

Christine Doyle, Pct. 1, asked if it wouldn’t be wise to bond now as rates are currently so low. Treasurer Floyd Carman said rates will be just as low in 2016 as now. “Great, I’ll sign up for your newsletter,” Doyle quipped.

Rachel Berger, Pct. 2, asked if the fire system will last until 2016, or “will be homeschooling 1,100 students.” Fire Chief David Frizzell said the system is on its last legs and his department will work with the limitations before him.

Answering a question on whether to build a new or renovated high school, Mahoney said the shell of the building is in perfect shape, “built to last forever” so there is no need for a new building like other communities were required to do. But the systems are so old and there is need for a new science space.

Donald Mercier, Pct 8, said he “didn’t want to disappoint” the gathering by not asking a question, asking town officials on the price tag on a new rec vehicle and the shed at the library for the snowblower. Cunningham said while he talks process, he thanks the committee for making an expenditure for traffic calming at Lexington and Sycamore. The $1.8 million budget is adopted unanimously.  

Section B appropriates $1.09 million for the purchase of radio transmission equipment for fire and police use and portable radios. Bonnie Friedman, Pct. 3, asks if this expenditure is needed if the town joins a regional 911 system. David Kale, Town Administrator, said the equipment is needed by the town. The section is approved with only six no votes.

Section C, is the fire alarm replacement project costing $1.06 million in bonding. No questions from members and the vote is 221 to 9.

Section D, is the $1.55 million in road paving. Janet Kruse, Pct. 3, asked if the money coming in this year can be used this year. Yes, said Clancy, and if not used this year, it would go into next year. Monte Allen, Pct. 8, asks what is the level of scrutiny that the Warrant and Capital Budget committees use to make the decisions. When these budgets come to Town Meeting, they are a fait accompli. Mahoney, Selectman Chair Sami Baghdady and Michael Libenson defend the process as open and complete.

Here’s some news, from a question for Catherine Bowen, Pct. 4, Baghdady said the town could be revisiting the percentage spent on sidewalk repairs. The current policy, which limits sidewalk expenditures since there was such a need to use the limited funding capacity on roads, will be reviewed according to Baghdady.

The motion is adopted unanimously.

8:47 p.m.: Article 15 is to accept $800,000 in state money for to resurface and repair our roads. Sounds good to the gathering. Passes. 

Before the break, Widmer praises the “huge, huge contribution” of the volunteers on the capital budget and warrant committees who perform the usually unseen but greatly important work to bring the the budget to Town Meeting.

9:06 p.m.: After the break, Article 11, approve the enterprise funds for water and swear and storm water services. Pretty straight forward. Approved.

9:09 p.m.: Article 19, which establishes a new capital/debt stabilization fund for the capital costs on four building projects: the high school, the police station, the public works building and the library. It will be funded by the sale of the Woodfall Road parcel, the municipal parking lot in Cushing Square and other accounts. This will allow one-time funds to be placed in reserve to take one step closer to finishing these projects while not increasing the tax burden. “We need to tackle the big four,” said Mahoney, who said this will spark a debate among residents on the four projects. There is an amendment waiting.

Kevin Cunningham, Pct 4, wants to read an apology, which is rather personal discussing “his shame” for attempting to use Town Meeting to discuss something other than the amendment he presented, saying he wants to find a way to have a venue to express his opinion on process. He is given a hand.

Don Mercier, Pct 8, asked if the article is defeated, where will the money raised by Woodfall Road sale, etc. It will go into the general fund. 

Johanna Swift Hart, Pct 4, wonders if the money from the two sales wouldn’t be better spent going into free cash which was depleted by $1.3 million for the Belmont Center reconstruction. Selectman Mark Paolillo said there is an expectation that there will be money at the end of the year will be going into free cash and these are capital projects “that are not running away” so let’s address them, said Baghdady. But Swift Hart said free cash isn’t free so “where is my money.”

Paul Roberts said the capital projects will take years to take hold, asking if there is any policy on funding years in the future. 

Julie Crockett, Pct 5, asked Baghdady isn’t it true that any funds could to be placed into the fund will have to wait until next year’s Town Meeting. True, said Baghdady. Can’t we wait until next year to set up  the fund? she asked. Yes, was the response. Crockett asked if the town shouldn’t wait until next year because there could be needs – such as housing all the new students coming into the schools – that could be more pressing. 

This requires a 2/3s vote: This should be interesting. And the vote is 192 to 30. That was not even close. 

9:35 p.m.: Article 20: The Minuteman Regional Voc High Regional Agreement is being postponed. Jack Weis, Pct. 1, who is Belmont’s rep on the Minuteman School Committee, said this is the same article presented to Town Meeting last year. Attempting to explain the background of this article is a terribly tangled web in an attempt to build a new school (which many people feel is too large) in Lexington with 15 partner communities. It’s suffice it to say that since one town of the 16 voted it down, why take it up. The measure is approved. 

10 p.m.: Now is the reconsideration of Article 9, the solar power article. Selectman Jim Williams said he would not be moving forward on the reconsideration so that ends the action. 

William continues to say that he is dismissing three of four citizen petitions as the selectmen and

Belmont Town Meeting, Section B; Monday, June 1

Photo: Belmont Town Meeting

7:08 p.m.: Mike Widmer, town moderator, has gaveled Section B of the annual Town Meeting into session.

It’s the beginning of all things budgetary including what to do with the rest of the override funds. That’s $1.6 million.

7:16 p.m.: A proclamation for Bruce Davidson, a long-time chair and member of the Warrant Committee and Town Meeting member, who recently died. He was also a long-time financial editor and columnist for the Boston Globe.


7:19 p.m.: Kevin Cunningham, Pct. 4, is seeking to change the order of the articles to place Article 12 to go before Article 13. Widmer believe that keeping it in the current order because if Town Meeting does not allocate the remaining $1.6 million of the override amount, then you would want Article 12 coming afterwards. If not, Town Meeting would need to have countless articles. Cunningham’s wishes are defeated.

7:29 p.m.: Sami Baghdady, Selectmen chair, is making the Board’s update. Here are some highlights around town: Belmont Center Recreation . 

And some real news: the Belmont Center commuter rail bridge will be power washed this summer. “How nice it will be for the gateway to our community” to be brought back to its stone glory.

The Underwood Pool is on schedule.

Belmont Uplands project: 298 units/60 affordable units. The building foundations are in the ground. Look on the bright side: 60 units of affordable units but will be give credit for all 298 units s there will be 696 affordable units or 6.7 percent.

Cushing Village: The last two weeks, the new partnership has received the OK for construction financing so maybe something will be built there this summer. Maybe.

Woodfall Road: There is now a P&S agreement and a sale will be done in 90 days. 

Pavement Management Program: The most money that can be used in one year.

Community Path Implementation: It’s on track.

Belmont Public Library: A new project feasibility study will get underway soon.

Solar Net Metering: A modified stage II within 60 days – looking for a compromise between solar advocates and Belmont Light. 

Belmont remains a great place to live so let’s keep moving forward, said Baghdady.

7:42 p.m.: State Rep Dave Rogers is addressing the gathering. House passed its budget – $38 million, a small increase. The new budget does not draw on the stabilization fund. Good news for Belmont is a five percent increase to education and 4 percent for general government. And $350,000 increase in roads and sidewalks. Also fully fund sped circuit breakers and METCO will see a 5 percent increase. Rogers priorities includes funding for homeless families, DEP funding, and funding for Legal Aid. He introduced 26 bills with a focus on legal issues including criminal justice reform (solitary confinement for those 21 and under.)


In local projects, Alewife rotary reconstruction at routes 2 and 16 (public meeting on June 16, at 6 p.m. at 60 Acorn Park in Cambridge.) 

7:54 p.m.: Back to business. Article 10 is up, the salaries of elected officials. It’s approved after Bonnie Friedman, Pct. 3, asked why the town doesn’t pay something to the school committee. Widmer recalled a vigorous debate on paying school committee members several years ago. It was defeated then and it has never come back up. 

8 p.m.: Mike Libenson, chair of the Warrant Committee, is going over the entire budget. Fun facts:

  • The budget is $100,293,295; nine figures!
  • The total budget increased by 5.3 percent while the $84.5 million operating budget (other then pension, debt, the other stuff you don’t spend) increased by more than 6 percent.
  • Fixed costs are $15.8 million with pensions is $6.5 million with debt at $4.4 million. Road spending is going up with debt is falling.
  • Schools take up the most of the operating budget (58 percent) with public safety (15.2 percent) followed by public services (12 percent) then general government (5 percent).
  • Municipal departments funded at level service or better.
  • Healthcare costs is again flat, saving money.
  • School have been saved from significant cuts, adding 16 full-time equivalent personal.
  • Free cash: Belmont spent a lot: It started with $7.5 million in July last year, spending $1.3 million on Belmont Center, and fiscal 16 allocation at $1.75 million and OPED and snow and ice ending at $3.3 million, which is within the guideline of having at least 3 percent of the total budget.

There are four stabilization funds – SpEd, a new “general” fund (where to put the override funds), OPEB and capital/debt (for four projects). 

Long-term trends: as a Town of Homes, growth can only be between 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent annually. Employee pay is 70 percent of the budget, school costs shooting up, lot of needs in capital and maintenance and infrastructure and pension and health care obligations. 

Did you know that there is a different between pensions and other post employment benefits (OPEB)? Yes, there is. Pensions are being paid off by 2027 and OPEB has a $171 million unfunded liability (which is $21 million lower than what was predicted.)

8:23 p.m.: OK, up now is Article 13, the general stabilization fund to be funded with a transfer of $1,674,069. There are two amendments, both by Cunningham. He said he doesn’t care how members vote on the amendment, his objective is to start a conversation on “process.”

But before he could come to a point, Robert McGaw, Pct. 1, calls point of order, that Cunningham has gone beyond the amendment’s scope. Moderator Widmer said he would give Cunningham some “poetic license” on his comments. But Cunningham continues to make it a debate on process, which causes Widmer to ask him to get to the point.

After completing his presentation, Cunningham then removes his amendments after getting his point across.

During the debate, Adam Dash, Warrant Committee and Pct. 1; Jack Weis, Pct. 1; Ellen Schreiber, Pct.  and Paul Roberts; Pct. 8, make the same point: allow the will of the voters who passed the override to be upheld even if members don’t like the idea that these funds are not targeted towards specific needs. Joe White, Pct. 4, said the voters would not have voted for the override if they knew there would be funds remaining. 

The vote has been called and after a false start, the article passes easily, 214 to 32. 

9:15 p.m.: Now is the real money, Article 12, the town’s budget, will be debated and voted. 

Early on in the process, there is an amendment that will request the Warrant Committee to produce an update report on the town’s current pension funding schedule, which is $6 million in fiscal 2016 and will increase by seven percent annually until 2027. Sponsored by Julie Crockett, Pct. 5, the report will see if there are alternative schedules that are not “unsustainable” as the current plan.

The amendment passes 137 to 85. 

9:55 p.m.: The school budget is up. At $49,660,070, it’s big. And it passes, unanimously, like most budget appropriations. 

10:35 p.m.: Finally, all the department budgets have been approved. 

10:36 p.m.: Just one more article, said Widmer. Groans. Article 17 is the OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits) Stabilization fund at $366,738. Town Treasurer Floyd Carman is masterful in explaining why this little amount of money is seen large by the credit rating agencies which allows the town to keep its AAA rating, a rare occurrence. 

Baghdady said the Selectmen will create a similar committee to the Warrant Committee’s pension review committee to take a look at the town’s OPEB payments. Article 17 passes easily. 

10:45 p.m.: Finally, the gavel comes down and the first night of the reconvened Town Meeting has ended. See you on Wednesday for the Capital Budget portion.


Reconvened Town Meeting To Determine What To Do With Override Funds

Photo: Belmont Town Meeting.

As the annual legislative meeting reconvenes on Monday, June 1, at 7 p.m. at the Chenery Middle School to debate and vote on the town’s finances, the nearly 300 member will be asked to decided where to place the remainder of the $4.5 million raised after voters approved the Proposition 2 1/2 override at April’s Town Election.

With the focus of the night on the town’s operating budget, the one article that is capturing a great deal of interest is Article 12, transferring $1,674,069 of the override amount into a general stabilization fund. If approved, the funds will remain there until Town Meeting, by a two-thirds margin, approves any transfer of funds.

The key word is “if” because there is a possibility that Town Meeting might not approve the transfer of the funds in the first place. There have been rumblings by some override opponents to vote against Article 12. Since the $1.6 million would not be appropriated, that amount would not be levied in taxes in fiscal 2016, effectively providing ratepayers a small “rebate” on what they had been anticipating in taxes beginning July 1.

Warrant Committee member Adam Dash’s amendment to the fiscal 2016 budget appropriations article will be brought before Town Meeting if Article 13 fails. It would raise the $1.6 million from somewhere in the budget and place the funds into the Warrant Committee Reserve Account. The committee would sit on the amount for the entire year and allow it to become part of the town’s “free cash” amount. So at next year’s Town Meeting, those funds would be placed in the General Stabilization Fund.

“This would preserve the will of the voters by levying the full amount of override funds,” said Dash. If Article 13 passes, Dash will drop his amendment.

But before Dash’s amendment moves forward, there are a pair of amendments sponsored by former School Committee member Kevin Cunningham, on the Article 13. The two amendment would, in their way, take $250,000 of the amount and place it into the Special Education Stabilization Fund, thus providing $1,424,069 into the general fund.

According to Cunningham, the quarter million dollars being directed to the Sped Stabilization account simply replenishes the line item after it was drained by that same amount in April to help close a $500,000 deficit in this school year’s budget.

Since there is “the highest likelihood” the Sped Stabilization will be needed in fiscal ’16, Cunningham targeted fund to an area where the need will be greatest.

It doesn’t appear the amendment will find much support from the Board of Selectmen or the Warrant Committee since, as Board of Selectmen Chair Sami Baghdady said last month, “we made a promise to the voters that every dollar would be set aside for the purposes stated on the ballot” which included school deficit, capital budget bonding and streets and sidewalks.

While it doesn’t appear that Town Meeting will take up five hot-button articles – four citizen petitions and a request to reconsider the “solar” article – being brought to the assembly by newly-elected Selectman Jim Williams until the third night of the June agenda, his presence will be felt with a second amendment to Article 12 sponsored by a slew of Town Meeting members.

Dubbed by Dash as the “Warrant Committee’s summer project,” the amendment directs the Warrant Committee to produce an update report on the town’s current pension funding schedule, which targets $6 million in fiscal 2016 and increased by seven percent annually until 2027.

The Warrant Committee will take a look at different strategies to mitigate the impact the pension has on the town’s annual expenditures.

“[Williams] is the imputes for this project. And it’s something that should be done as being part of good fiscal management,” said Dash two weeks ago.

Belmont Town Meeting: Night 2, May 6

Photo: Belmont T0wn Meeting.

Welcome back to the 156th annual Belmont Town Meeting. Tonight’s the second night of Town Meeting with the Community Preservation Committee’s grants up for debate and transfers. 

7:05 p.m.: And we are off … five minutes late, as usual. 

7:08 p.m.: Moderator Mike Widmer announced that Article 9 will be reconsidered in June. In addition, Widmer said he was a “stunned as you” to have heard the Lord’s Prayer by one of the religious leaders who gave the invocation. “We hope that this will not happen again.” Widmer said the Lord’s Pray is a beautiful one but it does violate the separation of church and state. 

Long-standing member are recognized.

7:15 p.m.: A commemoration of the Waverley Trail with a special proclamation from the Department of Interior and the US Park Service recognizing the trail as a National Recreation Trail. What a great honor for the town.

 7:28 p.m.: An we are off with presentations.

First up is Jim Palmer, GM of Belmont Light, with an update on the substation project. Palmer said that permitting, engineering and procurement is nearly complete while construction is 10 percent complete. A June 2016 completion date for the project “is still achievable.” The project is on budget. But there are challenges ahead like managing contracts and working with the MBTA. 

7:36 p.m.: The Special Town Meeting is next with a pair of articles: to allow for the transfer of money from reserve accounts to pay down the deficits in the school department (about a half-a-million dollars due largely to skyrocketing special education costs) and about $750,000 in the snow removal account. 

First up, Article 1, a historic winter left the snow and ice account about $750,000 in the red. That money will come from free cash. Typically, Belmont gets 50 inches, we got more than 100 inches, and that will cost money, said David Kale, Town Administrator. Belmont could see between $250,000 to $275,000 in federal emergency fund but it’s not likely it will be received by June 30; when it comes in, it goes to free cash. The article is adopted unanimously. 

Article 2, seeks a transfer of $285K from the Warrant Committee’s reserve fund and $250K from the Special Ed Stabilization Fund to cover the deficit in the School Department. The reason for the debt: special ed costs

Discussion? Vincent Stanton, Pct, 2, will special ed cost fluctuation or is this systemic? Professional opinion by John Phelan, superintendent, is that growth will continue. Follow up, is there some way to bring special ed students back to town? Currently, there is not sufficient space, said Phelan, and that would help. And with students with like needs, you can begin and grow programs to bring the number down. No other discussion. The article passes with one negative voice vote. Electronically, the vote is 233 to 11.

 Now back to the regular meeting. Up is the Community Preservation Committee grants of $1.1 million.  

They, all community generated, are:

  • Belmont Veterans Memorial Project: $150,000,
  • Wellington Station exterior restoration and rehabilitation: $26,300,
  • Electrical upgrade at units owned by the Belmont Housing Authority: $522,500,
  • Digitization of historic Belmont newspapers from 1890 to 1983: $25,000.
  • Rehabilitation and restoration of the 1853 Homer House: $100,000.
  • Upgrade and restore the Pequossette Park tennis courts: $295,000.

Each grant gets its own update. PQ courts are in rough shape, said DPW director Jay Marcotte. So all four courts will be removed and refilled. It will take 30 to 60 days to do and will last 20 years. Jennifer Page, Pct. 3, wonders if this is too much money to pay to preserve tennis courts. Maryann Scali, Pct. 2, said let’s repair them correctly so the town has many years of playing on it. Sylvia Cruz, Pct. 5, asked shouldn’t the town look at recreation activities more broadly, once again wondering if this is a lot of money for courts. We spend $295,000 on courts when if the town looked broadly that the money could be used elsewhere. Floyd Carman, Town Treasurer and member of the Community Preservation Committee said the CPC looks at all applications but it has to be brought to the committee. Deb Lockett, Pct. 7, asked if outside sources which use the courts could pay the town for its use. Anthony Ferrante, Pct. 8 and CPC member, said a task force is being created that will look at all courts to determine usage and support. The measure is adopted. 

Next up is the Veterans Memorial Project. Kevin Ryan, chair of the project’s committee, describes the project. The project can be finished by Veteran’s Day in November, he said.

Vince Stanton, Pct. 2, said the memorial is described as a park, has landscaping been discussed? Ryan said the group did not but hope that groups that does it now will continue to do so. The project is adopted unanimously

Susan Smart, director of the Homer House, describes the restoration project which includes repairing the cupola and three porches which are in bad shape. This will lay the foundation for private, state and possibly federal contributions. Support this because of cultural tourism, as a television crew said how wonderful the house remain. “Thank goodness for those dames,” one said for saving the project. The great Belmontian Lydia Ogilby, Pct. 1, said she supports the project “because I’m one of those dames.” The article is adopted unanimously. 

The Belmont Public Library submitted the digitalization of old Belmont newspapers. Kathleen Keohane, Pct. 2, and head of the Board of Library Trustees, said the reason to computerize papers from 1890 to 1923 will make it searchable which makes it easier to research and use. Many towns are doing this and the Boston Public Library is creating a digitization lab to make the content is accessible to the country and world. Don Mercier, Pct 8, can this information be placed on a hard disk for our own files. Yes, that information will have access – maybe not on disk – and you can tell how many people use it. Mercier wonders if the information can be on a hard disk – “not on that sky thing” – and use it for the town’s purposes. Penelope Schafer, Pct. 7, asks if the project will move quicker than the town records which received funds in 2013. Town Clerk Ellen Cushman said actually the level of work for the town records was massive and, actually, is about to be completed. The motion is adopted unanimously.

8:54 p.m.: Up now is the Wellington Station restoration. The money will help preserve the well-known landmark adjacent to the First Church, Belmont. It’s been around before Belmont was a town. Vince Stanton, Pct. 3, asked if other funds were sought to help restore the building as the Belmont Historical Society has a bit of money that could have been used. No we didn’t, said Carman. Was there any exploration of having a contractor do the work for a sign? The motion is adopted unanimously. 

9:09 p.m.: “We will be out of here before 11,” said Carman. Yikes! Did the treasurer jinks us?

Donna Hamilton, director of the Belmont Housing Authority, said that this year’s request is the continuation of rewiring the final 19 buildings in Belmont Village. Steve Klionsky, Pct. 6, asks why is the Housing Authority is asking for more money when last year’s money hasn’t been spent yet. Hamilton said the work is currently being bid out, so its heading forward.

Norma Massarotti, Pct 6, asks if the authority should use last year’s money to find out just how much it will cost to perform the work and then come back next year for the rest of the money. Hamilton said the systems need to be upgraded from the existing wires put in the 1940s as tenants have greater electronic needs.

It’s shocking that nothing has been done due to safety reasons, said Christine Kochem, Pct. 8. Hamilton said she agreed, but they wanted to come up with a good plan rather than the quickest. Kochem returned to ask a timetable. Hamilton said first units will be built out soon and the entire two projects should be done by next May.

“I’m very disappointed that you haven’t spent the money from last year. Just for that, I’ll have to vote against it,” said Don Mercier, Pct. 8.

Sylvia Cruz said the CPC should not have to pay to do what the state should be doing as this request takes away the town’s investment in other areas such as open space. There’s some applause.

Sami Baghdady, Selectmen chair, agrees and a letter will be going to the state on this issue. But that should not stop the town from doing repairs for a valuable housing source for low-income residents. He also said this should be done for safety reasons.

The motion is voted on and adopted.

Widmer “really urges” Town Meeting Members to get as many questions answered in advance because most of the questions members asked tonight could have been answered” beforehand. Cheers. Carman said he is willing to come to any precinct meetings to answer questions.

Final article, for CPC administrative costs of $56,200. It passes and we are about to adjourned until June for the budget. It’s 9:41 p.m., a record. 

Preview of the Second Night of Belmont Town Meeting, May 6


The second night of the 156th edition of Belmont Town Meeting takes place on Wednesday, May 6 as the meeting reconvenes at 7 p.m. at Belmont High School to hopefully complete the remaining non-budgetary issues before the 290-member legislative body.

The evening will revolve around debate on the $1.1 million in grants coming from the Community Preservation Committee.

They include:

  • Belmont Veterans Memorial Project: $150,000,
  • Wellington Station exterior restoration and rehabilitation: $26,300,
  • Electrical upgrade at units owned by the Belmont Housing Authority: $522,500,
  • Digitization of historic Belmont newspapers from 1890 to 1983: $25,000.
  • Rehabilitation and restoration of the 1853 Homer House: $100,000.
  • Upgrade and restore the Pequossette Park: $295,000.

There will likely be questions from Town Meeting on public money being used on a private residence such as the Homer House (owned by the Belmont Woman’s Club) and why residents tax money (the CPC receives its funding from a surtax on property taxes) is being used to repair the electrical wiring at buildings which are run by the state. 

In addition, a Special Town Meeting will be convened to allow for the transfer of money from reserve accounts to pay down the deficits in the school department (about a half-a-million dollars due largely to skyrocketing special education costs) and about $750,000 in the snow removal account. 

Solar Flare Up: Town Meeting Rejects Petition as Members Voice Concerns

Photo: Town Meeting.

Tempers flared as Town Meeting members rejected an article hoping to spark a conversation about the future of solar power that one member called “too squishy” on the first night of the annual Belmont Town Meeting held Monday, May 4, at Belmont High School.

Tensions rose to a point unseen in recent years when the presenter of the solar power article accused some members of being too scared to debate the subject.

“What are you afraid of? A conversation? An argument? Having different opinions? It’s sort of like ‘let’s not talk about this’. ‘Let’s keep it under the table’,” queried Roger Wrubel, Precinct 5, as fellow members shouted out “point of order!” to Town Moderator Mike Widmer – who previously sternly rebuked a few members for straying from the narrow nature of article – who moments later admonished Wrubel for making accusations against a member of the Board of Selectmen.

Former Selectman Ralph Jones, who filed an successful amendment to the article to delay indefinitely the citizens petition, said bad blood has been boiling over in the past year during the crafting and implantation of a new set of rules for solar customers approved by the Light Board (which is comprised of the Board of Selectmen) in December, only to be set aside two weeks ago.

“[B]oth sides on this issue really want to fight tonight. A fight to the death … A fight to the pain,” Jones said, referring to a quote from “The Princess Bride.”

Jones than quoted a citizen who said “… Fighting over this issue is not helping our efforts to reduce carbon emissions. It’s just getting in our way.”

In the end, while the majority of members did not appear hostile towards solar energy, the legislative body once again was reluctant to support an article which was, at best, confusing and apparently counter to the true nature of the measure.

Wubel said just that, noting that the article’s aim, to bring a non-binding resolution to the voters that would ask the town’s state legislators to vote for a legislative measure that doesn’t exist.

“[The article] is to start a conversation on solar energy at Town Meeting,” said Wrubel.

Town Meeting also sent a message that it wished to follow the advice of the newly-constituted Light Board – with the inclusion of newly-elected Selectman Jim Williams and chaired by Sami Baghdady – to allow it to write a Belmont-specific plan to assist in promoting greater solar usage.

“This was a wake-up call for Belmont,” said Baghdady.

And while proponents of the measure – which would have placed a non-binding referendum on the town’s ballot – left the Belmont High School auditorium in a huff after its defeat, it was pointed out that the status quo in Belmont today gives the pro-solar power what they have long been seeking.

“Until a new policy is created, Belmont has full net metering. Isn’t that what they want?” said Baghdady after the meeting. 

Wrubel’s presentation spoke of the success of solar statewide but how past and future policies were affecting progress in Belmont.

The goals of this non-binding resolution is to ensure that Belmont Light [the town’s electrical utility] “treat their solar customers the same as solar customers as they are throughout the state,” said Wrubel, pointing out that 30 of 40 municipal utilities uses a concept called net metering that credits solar owners for the electricity they add to the grid.

Unlike other utilities in the state, Wrubel said what Belmont Light is doing is not providing retail pricing but a small fee to solar generators. That is one of the reasons Belmont has only 20 residents with solar arrays.

“The effects of the policy that the Light Board has been discussing and eventually pass really has a chilling effect on people willing to take on solar in Belmont,” said Wrubel.

Jones introduces Patty DiOrio, of the Belmont Municipal Light Advisory Board – which wrote the draft plan that is no longer being used – who said the article “effectively says that we shouldn’t decide for ourselves whether or not we have certain policies surrounding solar or any other type of green energy.”

DiOrio said many utilities are currently questioning net metering “so we are in good company” and much of that has to do with all customers paying a “subsidy” to allow solar users to use the grid but not pay for the systems upkeep that has a lot of fixed costs.

DiOrio noted that a state task force on solar power released a report last week saying “people using the grid should pay their fair share; it was a consensus agreement.”

“So you can vote no on this article and know that you are not anti-solar,” said DiOrio. “Why do we want to give up our local control? Why would we want to endorse a policy that is neither market-based nor cost based?”

Jones, who spent the previous weekend in a “shuttle diplomacy” to find a compromise between the two sides which proved unsuccessful, presented his amendment to the article tabling the measure indefinitely.

“I proposed postponing this for a while to let tempers cool down,” said Jones, pointing out the Light Board decided on April 22 to indefinitely propose a draft policy approved back in December that would have set a new policy on net metering long opposed by solar supporters.

“Article 9 in a non-binding sort of way instructs our legislators to vote in favor of legislation that does not exist and also asks you as Town Meeting members to vote for legislation that you can not read. That’s fairly rare,” said Jones.

Since any state legislation on solar power – none is being proposed currently – won’t be filed until the next legislative year, “it would be prudent to me to allow our Light Board to act. They have been elected to govern … local officials adopting local policy to meet local needs,” said Jones.

After making his “fight to the death” comment, Jones asked residents “to put down our verbal weapons, stop this fight and postpone Article 9” which the Board of Selectmen asked for favorable action.

During question time, Fred Paulsen, Precinct 1, said he would have voted “yes” on an up-or-down amendment that said are we in favor of net metering. “But [this amendment] is not that simple, the language of this resolution is complex and brings in the state level so we ought to work on this locally.”

Anne Mahon, Precinct 4, said that solar companies will not come to Belmont since the current conditions are preserved to be so anti-solar. “11 cents a household a year to support the people with solar. Is that really going to kill you? If it is, call me. I’ll pay the bill.”

Then, suddenly, things got heated. Paul Roberts, Precinct 8, said he wasn’t going to talk to Jones’ amendment but rather “we need a municipal electric company that really represents the values and priorities of this town” while this issue was “foisted upon this town by some ideological leadership on the Municipal Light Advisory Board.”

That’s when Widmer told Roberts he had moved beyond the scope of Jones’ amendment. When Roberts objected, Widmer would not have any more discussion on the matter.

Claus Becker, Precinct 5, questioned the claims by DiOrio that subsidies are provided to solar users. When Widmer asked that he returned to the narrow question before Town Meeting, Becker asked to “please allow the conversation that we’ve been elected to have to proceed.”

Widmer said while there are worthy questions to ask about global warming and solar power, “we are considering a motion for indefinite postponement, and it is incumbent for us to stick to our business.”

Baghdady, in answering a question on when the Light Board would begin debating new rules, said that Belmont Light is currently operating “right now pure net metering” and was going to remain that way until a new policy is adopted.

Despite given an opportunity earlier to speak against the postponement of his article, Wrubel asked to address the meeting.

“The reason that we brought this because at meetings that we … ” Wrubel attempted to say before calls from the members rang out of “point of order” as they felt Wrubel had veered off the subject.

Widmer allowed Wrubel to continue until he made an accusation that one of the Board of Selectmen told solar supporters “that you don’t matter” when drawing up regulations.

Widmer sternly told Wrubel his statements were “inappropriate” and “[T]his kind of accusation, I’m not going to put up with it. So, please, sit down.”

Julie Crocket, Precinct 5, and Phil Thayer, Precinct 6, supported continuing debate to help determine the sentiment of Town Meeting towards solar power.

But Bob McLaughlin, Precinct 2, said he supported Jones’ amendment “because I don’t know what we’re voting on. This is too squishy for me.”

“This has to come into a lot more focus on the vote of this board means anything,” said McLaughlin.

Nearly 70 percent of Town Meeting voted to determinate debate and Jones’ amendment was approved overwhelmingly. 

For Baghdady, it is now up to the Light Board “to come up with a plan that truly meets all the demands from both the solar supporters and Belmont Light. We have this opportunity which I believe we can accomplish.”

As Town Delays Policy, Town Meeting Considers Solar Power Resolution

Photo: Solar panels.

Just two weeks after the Belmont Light Board – made up of the Belmont Board of Selectmen – decided to delayed the start of a payment plan for residents who use solar power, Town Meeting will debate placing a non-binding resolution on the town ballot to ask if the town should support as policy a higher subsidy to homeowners who choose the solar route.

While Sami Baghdady, the chair of the Light Board and the Selectmen, said the delay was so legal language could be clarified in the documents homeowners are required to sign, he did not dismiss the possibility the Light Board – which oversees Belmont Light, the municipal electric utility – could lead to a change in the Residential Rate APV, the new set of rates for customers who use solar panels to generate electricity which was approved in December. 

“At this point, it’s a delay. May it result in a re-evalutation of the policy? I think it might,” said Baghdady after a Selectmen’s meeting on Monday, April 27. 

The Light Board OK’d the postponement after several of the 18 residents who are entitled to participate in Belmont Light’s new program voiced concerns on understanding the legal language in the agreement including a very strong indemnity provision that needed to be signed and returned by April 24. 

“So when [the board] met (on April 22), we raised several questions regarding the packet that went out to residents that were still unresolved. So we agreed to delay the implementation. Concurrent with that, so that necessitated a delay in the filing [by Belmont Light] to the Massachusetts Department of Utilities,” said Baghdady. 

With the new residential rate delayed, Town Meeting will likely take up on the first night of the annual meeting, Monday, May 4, a citizen’s petition from a group of solar power advocates seeking members approval to place a non-binding referendum to gauge the community’s support for either the newly-created buy back pricing program or one which provides a greater payback to households using solar energy. 

Under the newly-delayed plan – which took nearly two years and sometimes contentious debates between advocates and the Municipal Light Advisory Board which drew up the blueprint – residents who install solar power would pay the standard monthly fee every household pays to be hooked up to the Belmont Light system, and a new monthly charge of about $14 for installed capacity.

The new plan also reduces the money homeowners receives as a credit for energy Belmont Light “buys back” when the solar system is generating excess energy as the utility pays for electricity over the course of the entire month, without crediting the homeowner if the electricity is generated during peak-times and how much greenhouse gas emissions they are savings.  

Solar advocates contend they should receive additional credits, (or as the utility calls subsidies) for a myriad of energy and pollution savings.

While the debate in Belmont continues, a state task force on net metering and solar power issued its own report on April 30 concluding that it did did “not support raising the net metering caps in the short term absent a long term sustainable solution.”

“Rather, we believe it is extremely important that any adjustments to the caps be accompanied by meaningful changes to the mix of incentives and proper consideration of the role of the ratepayers,” it read.

Belmont’s 2015 Annual Town Meeting Begins Tonight, With New Rules For Speakers

Photo: Town Moderator Mike Widmer.

Author Frank M. Bryan of the University of Vermont said that “the single most recurrent theme in the literature on the town meeting in the 19th Century … was the notion that town meetings are schoolhouses of citizenship.”

And Belmont will continue this New England tradition as the town will debate and vote on several citizens petitions including a ban on McMansions, proposed zoning changing and grants to several organizations from the Community Preservation Committee in the first part of the Belmont annual Town Meeting beginning tonight, Monday, May 4, at 7 p.m. in the Belmont High School auditorium.

As with recent custom, the first part of this year’s meeting of the town’s representative legislature – now in its 156th edition – will take up non-budget issues.

To view the warrant, head the Town Clerk’s web page.

This year, those who choose to speak before Town Meeting will have new rules to observe, according to Town Moderator, Michael Widmer. They include:

  • A five minute limit on speeches, to cut down on repetition of points over and over again.
  • Limit each speaker to an initial question and a single follow up. 
  • All questions must be asked through the Moderator, to ensure civil discourse.

If Town Meeting can not finish its business tonight, it will continue on Wednesday, May 6.

The approximately 290 representatives will debate the fiscal year 2016 budget in June when Town Meeting reconvenes.

The Cost of Too Much: Special Town Meeting To Pay $1.35 Million Snow Removal Bill

Photo: The bill for snow removal is double the allocated amount.

It costs a lot to push aside nine feet of snow.

And the town is setting aside time at next month’s annual Town Meeting to pay the bill for removing the record snow that fell on Belmont’s thoroughfares this season.

The Special Town Meeting article – a meeting within the assembly – will take up the $1,348,000 expense incurred by the town this winter, more than double the $600,000 allocated for snow and ice removal in the fiscal 2015 budget.

“Typically, we expect 45 to 60 inches of snow, not 108 inches,” David Kale, Belmont’s Town Administrator, told the Belmont Board of Selectmen during its meeting, Tuesday, April 21. 

The $748,000 needed to bridge the funding gap exceeds the entire $400,000 general reserve account held by the Warrant Committee to resolve shortages for all of the town’s departments and the schools.

This comes at a time when the school budget is running a $500,000 shortfall in its current budget due to a spike in special education costs and higher enrollment.

The town will resolve both funding deficits with a combination of reserve accounts, the town’s free cash account and stabilization funds, according to Kale.

The snow and ice overage will be paid by using free cash and a portion of the Warrant Committee reserve fund, while the school budget shortage will be taking from the SPED fund with the balance transferred from the Warrant Committee’s fund. 

Caucuses to Fill Vacant Belmont Town Meeting Seats

Photo: Town Meeting.

If you live in three Belmont precincts, you still have a chance to become a Town Meeting Member as the town will hold caucuses to fill vacant seats for this year’s meeting.

Town Clerk Ellen Cushman, on behalf of the Board of Registrars of Voters, will hold caucuses in Precincts 3, 5 and 7 on April 28 at 7 p.m. at the Beech Street Center Multi-purpose Room. 

The Precinct 3 Caucus will elect two new Town Meeting Members: one to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Lucia Sullivan and one to fill the vacancy created by the death of long-term Town Meeting Member Anne Allen. 

The Precinct 5 Caucus will elect two new Town Meeting Members for one year seats: one to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Laurie Graham who moved and was elected in a different precinct and one to fill the vacancy created by a failure to elect – a tie in write-in votes – at the Annual Town Election, April 7.

The Precinct 7 Caucus will elect three new Town Meeting Members to fill the vacancies created by a failure to elect on April 7.

Each vacancy will be filled by majority vote of the elected Town Meeting Members present at the caucus.  Since the individuals will be elected at caucus, each will serve as Town Meeting Member only until the Annual Town Election, Tuesday, April 5, 2016.

These vacancies may be filled by any registered voter of the specific precinct.  Any person interested in running for this seat is encouraged to attend the caucus, but is not required to be present to be nominated. Please feel free to contact voters you believe will serve the precinct and Town well. 

Candidates interested in being nominated should contact their Precinct Town Meeting Members; a list is shown on the Town Clerk’s website to arrange for nomination at the caucus.

At least eighteen elected Town Meeting Members must be present at the caucus to have a quorum.  Those Town Meeting Members unable to attend are asked to call the Town Clerk’s office at 617-993-2600 or email  

“I strongly encourage the members of the precinct to be on time and make all efforts to secure a quorum,” said Cushman.