Belmont Socked With More Than A Foot-And-A- Half Of Snow From Blizzard Of ‘22

Photo: It was a bomb of a storm Saturday with 19 inches of snow left behind

While not as bad as Boston and the South Shore, Belmont received its fair share of snow and wind from the “bomb cyclone” winter storm that sat over the town for the 24 hours of Saturday, Jan. 29.

According to the Department of Public Works, the Town of Homes received 19 inches of snow that left driving nearly impossible during the afternoon hours as 50 mph winds limited visibility.

Belmont Light reported a single large outage early in the storm when 811 customers on Horace, Gilbert, Slade and Creeley lost power at 7:30 a.m. The lights were restored in just under an hour.

While the near gale forced gusts swept over the town, there were no reports of any trees lost, “but several good size limbs come down or broke and were hanging,” said DPW Director Jay Marcotte, who said that 40 pieces of equipment between the town and the town’s contractors.

“Wind and temperatures were most challenging during this storm,” said Marcotte. “Light fluffy snow causes an overspray of snow that hits the windshield and would instantly freeze. [Our] drivers needed to constantly clear windshields and with the limited visibility, it slowed things down considerably.”

Since Sunday, “clean up is still ongoing and will commence for the next few days,” he said.

DPW: At First Glance, No Increase In Water, Sewer Rates for Fiscal ‘23

Photo: Water and sewer rates are likely to stay where they are into fiscal ‘23.

While inflation has reached seven percent over the past 12 months, Belmont property owners will likely have some good news when it comes to the water and sewer rates for the next fiscal year. And that change is no change for the fourth year – as the Director of the Department of Public Work reported to the Select Board on Monday, Jan. 24.

DPW head Jay Marcotte told the board based on discussions with Town Administrator Patrice Garvin and Town Accountant Glen Castro and the current view of the budgets and the level of retained earnings, “we’re potentially looking at another zero percent for [water and] sewer rates.”

The water and sewer rates are traditionally voted on by the Select Board in late March or April when each line item is based on hard and true numbers, said Belmont Select Board Chair Adam Dash.

In terms of the water budget as of the last week in January, the department’s biggest expense – the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority assessment to the town for supplying water which accounts for 43 percent of the budget – is anticipated to fall by approximately five percent from last year’s $3,336,000 valuation, a marked reduction from the nearly 10 percent increase for fiscal ‘22.

”It’s not official yet we are still waiting on the official document [which is delivered in early March] … but from circles of people we know at the MWRA, that’s the estimated number,” said Marcotte. In addition, there is a reduction of $62,850 in MWRA loan payments – now at $854,200 – as the town continues to pay down that line item.

As for the Water Department’s big ticket items in the coming year, the department will spend $250,000 to continue its multi-decade water main project while parceling out $169,000 for equipment replacement.

At the end of January, the water department fiscal ‘23 budget grand total comes in at $7,838,000, up by 1 percent with the department using last year’s MWRA assessment as a placeholder.

”So basically the water budget’s flat when you do all the pluses and minuses,” said Select Board Chair Adam Dash.

Unlike the water budget, sewer “is a different animal … with a variety of pressures,” said Marcotte, including a higher MWRA assessment, larger debt load and far more regulations that puts pressured on expenses.

“There are just more costs associated with sewer,” said Marcotte, pointing to the department needing to transfer $600,000 to the Community Development Office allocated for the town’s sewer and stormwater improvement plan so the town remains in compliance with the federal and state departments of environmental protection.

The MWRA’s sewer assessment is expected to increase by 4.5 percent, said Marcotte. The grand total for sewer in fiscal ‘23 is currently $10,806,000, an increase of $356,500 or 3.8 percent.

The saving grace for residents is the significant level of retained earning for both entities enterprise funds: Marcotte reported that certified retained earning for water is $2,810,724 and $2,894,974 for sewer.

”We try every year to balance the retained earnings and how much we use … to offset rates and that’s why we’ve been lucky enough for the last four years to not have a rate increase,” said Marcotte.

A definition of retained earnings is below:

Massachusetts Department of Revenue

Don’t Be Left On The Curb: Sign Up For Cardboard Drop Off On Saturday, Dec. 18

Photo: Cardboard should be flattened before driving it over to the Town Yard

The Belmont Department of Public Works cardboard drop off event – which is occurring this week – is for you to get rid of excess cardboard … and only cardboard.

There is a $5 fee for all the cardboard you can stuff in your vehicle; the drop off will occur on Saturday, Dec. 18 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the DPW Yard, 37 C St., off of Waverley Street.

But before you can participate, you have to first register here.

And there are some rules:

  • Please remain in your car
  • All cardboard should be in the trunk or rear of the car 
  • All cardboard should be flattened prior to drop off

No Increase In Belmont Water, Sewer Rates … Again

Photo: Water main on Brighton being repaired

The annual adjustment of the Belmont water and sewer rates was no adjustment at all as both will remain unchanged from the previous fiscal year. This marks the third consecutive year for water and fourth for sewer where rates remained flat, said Jay Marcotte, director of the Department of Public Works who announced the report at the Select Board’s virtual meeting held Monday, May 10.

The average Belmont homeowner will see its monthly bill remain at approximately $140 for fiscal 2022 beginning July 1.

“It’s surprisingly good news for the ratepayers. I wasn’t expecting it to be this good,” said Select Board Chair Adam Dash.

The zero rate comes as the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority imposed a whopping 9.7 percent increase in Belmont’s assessment, up from the one percent hike in 2020. “This year my eyes popped out of my head when we got the increase,” said Marcotte, as it represented a $296,000 jump from 2021. The MWRA sewer assessment came in at a more typical 3.6 percent.

As with last year, planned use of retained earnings was used to offset the MWRA increase. “We’ve been purposely drawing down [earnings] to basically stabilize rates and not have any impact to our [customers],” said Marcotte.

Marcotte told the board the DPW will continue its quarter-century water improvement program in which all of Belmont’s pre-1928 cast iron mains – which makes up 42 percent or 38 miles of the town’s total – will be replaced. This year, about 6,970 linear feet of pipe will be removed resulting in 31.4 miles of the pre-1928 mains now replaced with the program 83 percent complete.

On the sewer side of the ledger, the town will replace two existing pump stations and start a new one in the Winn Brook neighborhood while budgeting $450,000 for sewer and storm drain main repairs and upgrades.

In addition, $150,000 from both water and sewer capital will go to the installation of fuel tanks at the DPW Yard.

No Increase In Water,Sewer Rates (Again) As Monthly Billing Coming By Jan. 1

Photo: Water main being replaced by Belmont DPW

Belmont water and sewer customers will receive a nice surprise as rates for those services will remain steady for the upcoming 2021 fiscal year. This marks consecutive years for water and the third year in which sewer rates will not increase year over year.

And by the new year, customers will be paying those charges monthly as every customer has been fitted with an electronic measuring device.

Department of Public Works Director Jay Marcotte presented the rate proposal before the Select Board at its virtual meeting held Monday, May 11.

Marcotte noted the major cost driver pushing rates higher is due to the annual assessment of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which supplies the town with water and takes its sewage. The MWRA’s water and sewer assessment for fiscal ’21 increased by 1 percent, with most of that growth due to debt held by the agency. Nearly 48.3 percent of Belmont ratepayers water bill comes from the MWRA’s assessment, and 62.7 percent of the sewer payment. 

With the planned use of retained earnings to offset the increase, the rates will remain where they are for another year, said Marcotte. The average Belmont homeowner who uses about 3,000 cubic feet of water will see their quarterly bill remain at approximately $440 for fiscal 2021 that begins July 1, 2020.

And by January 2021, that bill will be coming to customers 12 times a year as opposed to quarterly. With the Smartmeter installation program now 99 percent complete, the department can institute monthly billing.

“We’re working with Belmont Light … to streamline and have one bill” going to customers both departments. While moving from a quarterly to monthly payment will likely increase the cost of mailing it out, “monthly billing is our number one ask by customers” as it will be easier for them in their own budgeting.

Marcotte told the board the DPW will continue its quarter-century water improvement program in which all of Belmont’s pre-1928 cast iron mains – which makes up 42 percent or 38 miles of the town’s total – will be replaced.

This year, about 6,970 linear feet of pipe will be removed which will be 31.4 miles of the pre-1928 mains replaced which will result in the program being 82.8 percent complete. Those streets include Chester, Hammond, Fletcher, Van Ness and Gorham.

With the town expected to transfer all its nearly $2 million pavement management line item for fiscal ’21 to balance the town-wide budget, Marcotte said his department will place a more durable temporary asphalt “patch” on the roadway.

The sewer budget will focus on water quality improvement, system upgrades and replacing two pump stations and a new station in the Winn Brook neighborhood with surcharge mitigation improvements.

Trees Buffeted During Blustery Monday In Belmont [Photos]

Photo: Tree falling onto neighbor’s vehicles on Frost Road. (All photos, Belmont DPW)

An afternoon of gusty winds wreaked havoc on trees and property in Belmont on Monday, April 13.

Department of Public Works Director Jay Marcotte said that “hundreds” of limbs were brought down throughout town blocking some streets. In addition, a dozen large trees were uprooted, four falling into houses and two vehicles were damaged. No resident has been injured in wind-related incidents.

“We currently have five crews out, probably going to be out all night making sure trees and limbs are secured. We will assess the complete damage in the next day or two,” said Marcotte.

Belmont Light reported a small outage near the Winn Brook School.

Outage map, Belmont Light
Woods Road
Chenery Terrace
Cross Street
Winn Street
Winn Street again
Glenn Road

Committee OKs Design For Renovation of DPW Building; Bids Out In 2019

Photo:Belmont DPW building which will be renovated and undergo construction in 2019.

During the winter of 2019-20, there will be one big difference when the first storm blows through Belmont; the crews plowing the snow will finally have a place they WANT to come to take their break.

On Tuesday, Oct. 16, the Department of Public Works/Belmont Police Department Building Committee approved a final design plan for the renovation of the DPW building at the Town Yard off C Street.

“We are very happy, ecstatic really,” said Marcotte, director of the town’s DPW, who had been pushing the renovation/construction along with Committee Chair Anne Marie Mahoney who has been the champion of improving the deteriorating infrastructure at the DPW and Police Headquarters at the corner of Pleasant Street and Concord Avenue.

Mahoney has for years advanced the cause of these “orphan” projects – as they had no natural supporters among residents – with the idea of making repairs to the structures so “to create a humane conditions for our employees.”

Bids on the $1,189,000 project – paid out of the town’s operating budget so it did not require a debt exclusion which was approved by the Town Meeting in May – will be going out in February and awarding the contract in March. The work would not start until April after the winter weather has finished, said Michael Santoro, manager of the DPW’s Highway Division.

It will take about six months to renovate and add to the interior of the 70-year-old building with the construction of locker rooms, showers and laundry space, room for training and quiet rest and a small amount of office space. Renovations to the existing area will provide a more suitable kitchen and break room space and additional restrooms. 

The committee selected the third of three design schemes presented by The Galante Architecture Studio of Cambridge. See design plans below; an overall view of the work on top with a more detailed view below.

Design plans continue for the police station that will under go construction of a large addition and significant interior renovation.

While the makeover is nearly a year away from completion, the head of the DPW said his team is eagerly awaiting the “new” building.

“The crews are especially appreciative,” said Marcotte

Belmont’s Battle of the Snow Now Turns to Potholes and Sidewalks

Photo: The sidewalk leading to the commuter rail station along Concord Avenue in Belmont Center. 

It was bad enough Belmont resident Christina Long had to suffer through stoppages and delays to the MBTA commuter rail system due to the four snow storms that passed through the region in the past month.

She didn’t think it should be as much of a struggle just getting to the Belmont Center station.

Not only did Long need to maneuver through and around sidewalks on residential streets still filled with some of the seven feet of snow that fell on Belmont, she also found walkways on municipal property untouched including the path she uses to reach the station.

“It is amazing that this is the center of town at a busy train station,” Long said after showing a series of photos of her journey to the station.

“What about the regulation that sidewalks need to be cleared of snow? And yesterday when I went for a run, I could not believe that the sidewalk along Concord [Avenue] on the high school property was unplowed,” said Long.

“Why can I not commute to work or go for a run in safety? Has the town government all gone to Florida for the February recess?” she said.

 

According to town officials, resources are continuing to be marshaled to make a dent in clearing away snow to allow pedestrians and drivers to travel around Belmont.

“We are currently doing that right now,” said Jay Marcotte, the new Department of Public Work’s Director whose has spent about half of his time since starting the job in January leading the town’s effort to clear snow.

Municipal crews are targeting crosswalks, handicap parking spots, paths and 0ther areas that residents use to get around, said Town Administrator David Kale. The teams are using large and small snow plows as well as shovels to reach a growing number of trouble spots around town.

“Residents know that there are lots of places that need clearing,” said Kale.

Belmont is not alone in literally being snowed under by the four storms – with a fifth forecasted to arrive on Wednesday, Feb. 25; Every municipality in eastern Massachusetts has been straining to get out from under the snowiest 30 day period on record with approximately 90 inches on the ground.

In addition to the DPW’s effort, town inspectors from the Office of Community Development have been enforcing compliance of the town’s municipal snow removal bylaw in the business districts, said Kale.

But Long remains skeptical officials are doing all it can in removing snow from town property.

“How can the town enforce the wonderful snow removal law when they don’t clean their own sidewalks?” she said.

“The lack of clean sidewalks not only affects me and other commuters walking to the train station but it also impacts all the kids walking to school or the library. We are forced to walk on the road,” she said.

And while the town has been successful in making main and side streets passable within 36 hours, it’s difficult to reach every trouble point with the DPW’s Highway Division staff.

The piles of snow has also impacted businesses in Belmont’s three commercial hubs – Belmont Center, Waverley and Cushing squares – as a white wall of now solid slush is hampering commerce.

According to Gerry Dickhaut, owner of Champions Sporting Goods, and president of the Belmont Center Business Association, snow “is overwhelming in the center, it has become a hazard and a safety issue especially to the elderly, the sidewalks are very narrow, crossing the street is dangerous as drivers don’t see the pedestrians with the snow mounds so high.”

Dickhaut said the association of more than two dozen businesses urged the DPW to use its heavy equipment and remove the snow to allow for greater customer access to stores, restaurants, and shops.

IMG_0727

That was one request that the town can not accommodate.

“We’re trying to keep up with the problem, but there is a resource issue,” said Kale. While Belmont is doing its best, “Simply put, removing snow from the business districts would be very expensive and time [intensive],” said Kale.

Money is an ever-present concern with the number and severity of the storms so far this year.

Kale said the town’s $600,000 snow removal budget was $175,000 in the red after the first two storms. He can not say the current deficit because the town has yet to tally the bills from the last pair of blizzards.

“We need to be watchful” of how the town is spending, said Kale. The town has approximately $400,000 in reserves that can be used to fill the growing expenditure gap.

Even the town’s success in pushing the snow off the roads has a downside as a field of potholes have emerged on many well-traveled streets. Attempting to travel along Concord Avenue near the library or through Cushing Square have become a game of chicken between the driver and the deep depressions in the road.

IMG_0729

“They aren’t potholes,” said one Belmont residents who had traveled on Trapelo Road. “They’re a realignment waiting to happen.”

Marcotte said the DPW has “on our radar” the “real, real bad” potholes around town and emergency repairs will be done. Once the weather “cooperates, we’ll have two crews out” making repairs, said Michael Santoro, the Highway Division’s manager. That would include dry weather and moderating temperatures.

The good news is that some of the most noticeable depressions are in areas that will be completely renovated due to roadway projects; the Trapelo/Belmont project that is now entering Cushing Square and the Belmont Center Reconstruction beginning this spring.

For residents who wish to report a problem or request a repair can call the main DPW number at 617-993-2680 or go online to fill out a detailed request form.