Belmont Town Meeting 2011: As It Happens
The four and final meeting of the annual Town Meeting on Monday, May 11.
7:10 p.m.: Welcome to the fourth – and final (hopefully) – meeting of the 2011 annual Town Meeting at the auditorium of Belmont High School.
And we start with Article 4, the town budget.
Elizabeth Allison, the chairwoman of the Warrant Committee, discusses the three part process in creating the fiscal 2012 town budget. As a visual presentation, Allison has an image of the calvary coming to the rescue, which actually occurred.
Allison explains why the budget, due to cost savings and new state revenue, saw an increase of $1.893 million from the town's January budget.
All but $300,000 from the new revenue and cost savings will mostly go to the school department, restoring all classroom experiences a
The total budget amount for fiscal '12 is $86.6 million, up 3.1 percent. Schools is $41.6 million, up 4.7 percent. The town gets $30.1 million, up 2.2 percent.
But there are challenges for fiscal '13: post employment medical benefits, pension and disability for towns and schools.
But she doesn't want to leave without solutions "which are currently underway."
While the future outlook is "cloudy," this year's budget "is workable."
7:28 p.m.: Now, the first of ten motions that will be voted on that encompasses the entire budget.
Anne Rittenberg, Pct. 8, said she has an "annual frustration" on how the Warrant Committee makes their recommendations - it seems the only priority is level services with only doing what they did last year. She asks how can Town Meeting members are suppose to make the connection between what the town's interest and those Warrant Committee recommendations.
Moderator Mike Widmer said Rittenberg's question is beyond the scope of the Town Meeting.
Ann Mahon, Pct. 4, wants clarification on the slide presented by Ms. Allison that indicated that because of school salaries, there will be a need for a $3 million override each of the preceding years. Mahon believes the slide is "misleading."
The general government budget is passed.
7:44 p.m.: Now considering employee retiree benefits, about $5.07 million.
Roger Colton asks for a "symbolic" no vote to find a better way to determine how the benefits are funded. And while there are some 'no's, the motion passed.
Public Safety budget is up. Ms. Mooney of Pct 6 asks about the increased number of calls for domestic violence while spending is down, and shouldn't the public know about services for mental health and human resources that could help limit this problem. David Alper who is head of the Health Board and Pct. 6 said that services are available.
Gayle Valiant, Pct. 2, wonders about outliers in departments, such as increases of 9.1 percent in administration in public safety which doesn't provide services. Ralph Jones, chairman of the selectmen, said that any increase of five percent was id'd by the warrant committee so it was noted. Barbara Hagg, town accountant, said that in the case of administration, it was an increase in benefits, specifically health insurance.
Celtics up 40-37 with 3:14 left in the second quarter.
Tom Younger, town administrator, tells Town Meeting why the town has not gone into the state insurance program.
Donald Mercier, Pct. 8, why a lot of itemization for police but not for the fire department. Why? We are spending $4 million for fire fighting but on what: what is the cost for real estate, employees, trucks, etc.
Allison said there is greater information in other documents that was online earlier in the year.
Edward Kazanjian, Pct. 6, asked about the School Resources Officer. Chief McLaughlin said the position is cut. Kazanjian said it should be restored not only at the High School but also the Middle School because he said it would "prevent a tragedy." Younger said the town will be looking towards a grant to fill the position.
The motion passed.
8:13 p.m.: John Weis, the town's representative to the Minuteman Regional High School, gives a report on the school. He said the freshmen and postgraduate enrollment is why up and Belmont enrollment is near 15 year high. He said cost controls include 20 percent reduction in staff and cutting total salary.
Celtics up by 2, 49-47, at the half.
While Minuteman's budget is going up by about 1 percent but Belmont's allocation up by more than 15 percent. The reason, said Weis, is due to a large increase in kids from Belmont going to the school. The allocation on the motion is $888,000.
Weis answers questions on regionalization, a new fee structure, cost for post graduate tuition and other issues. Now there is a question is whether the number of the overhead screen is the correct number. Nope, it's not. The actual amount is $880,134.
And it passes.
8:52 p.m.: Now up for a vote is the public school budget at $41,575,783. Laurie Graham, chairwoman of the School Committee, said very focused on the fiscal '13 budget which the '12 will be based. The new revenue since January has allowed a "fair allocation" of spending throughout the system and brings the system 3/4 of the way to level spending. "This has been for all of us a challenging budget season" and improving the budget process and outcome, said Graham.
Celtics up by two, 73 - 71, over the Heat at the end of three quarters.
Elizabeth Pew, Pct 2, asked if fees for schools activities and other will remain. Yes, said Graham. Pew said she is a retired educator and had children attended public schools and independent schools and remembers never have to spend on fees. "If there is someway where we can offset (the fees), and we have the resources, so it's not a burden onto families," said Pew. Dan Scharfman, Pct. 1 and School Committee member, said a task force if there are ways to do the activities at lower costs through partnerships.
Chris Kochem of Pct 8 makes a motion to transfer $7,985 in "savings" found in the Minutemen account and send it over to the school department. The amount is available to be transfered and has been accepted.
Ed Kazanjian, Pct. 6, asked if teachers will be added due to the additional pupils (yes, said Graham) the substitute budget has gone up by 42 percent (younger teachers are going out on pregnancy leave, said Graham) and is the schools taking advantage of government health coverage on special education students (we use to but the federal government changed the rules so the town no longer, said Hagg)
While no librarians at the elementary schools, Graham said the schools will work once again with volunteers.
LeBron James throws in eight of Miami's final ten points in the final minute and a half to defeat the Celtics, 97-87, and goes to the Eastern finals.
Ed Kazanjian, Pct. 8, asked if any savings from collective bargaining not be spent on programs unless it has been authorized by Town Meeting. Mike Widmer says any spending is up to the school committee.
The budget is adopted without a no vote.
9:43 p.m.: Now public service at $7.6 million. We have discovered that street lights are being replaced, a detailed explanation on cemetery finances and there will 90 trees replaced next spring. It passes.
10:00 p.m.: Human Services budget of $760,729 now being debated. Sybil Fetter, Pct. 4, asked why so much of the health department budget is under "other." Mr. Alper said "other" is just that, for day-to-day operations and other duties.
It passes. Cultural and recreation at $2.55 million and adopted right away.
10:05 p.m.: Debt and interest at $5.576 million and adopted right away.
Now the final motion in Article 4, capital expenditures, passes.
And in a very gracious act, Moderator Mike Widmer thanks Barbara Hagg, the retiring town accountant, for all the work she has done in past budgets. The reps all stand and cheer.
10:10 p.m.: Article 3, budgetary wrapping up, is passed without question.
10:11 p.m.: Roger Colton, the town's energy co-chairman, has brought back the Stretch Energy Code article before the Town Meeting. The Selectmen first voted for and then against the article, the warrant committee unanimously against and the Capital Budget voted down 3-2. Widmer said the article is not an "easy" article so Town Meeting has been given notice "so Mr. Coltan, let's see what we can do."
"I am also looking at the clock," said Colton as he begins his pitch for the new energy code.
Want to know more about the stretch code? Go here.
There is significant development coming in Belmont, said Colton, and if the stretch code is passed, those buildings will be the most energy efficient
"The stretch code is only good things coming from it," said Colton.
Sami Baghdady, chairman of the Planning Board and Pct. 4, said that they are concerned about major projects in town – Cushing Square, VideoOne, Murray Sandler – and they want certainty in the energy codes what they will apply to those developments. The board just didn't know what extra costs will be placed onto developments which could lead to developers asking to build more volume or height to offset the additional costs.
Angelo Firenze, selectmen and Pct. 3, said if the stretch energy code was so good, people would do it without government telling people to do it. "If it makes sense to do it, people will ... ."
Bill Green, Pct. 3, said the article is the one chance that Belmont can help change the state to become truly energy efficient and not let it be "someone else's problem."
Martin Cohen, Pct. 3, said it is not a difficult decision; Belmont was serious to reduce green house emissions by 85 percent in the future and now has the opportunity to prove their support of the earlier vote.
Town Counsel George Hall confirmed that if the town approves the stretch code, it will be adopting future editions of the code when the state changes the code.
Donald Mercier, Pct. 8, said he did not want to be a follower but a leader on this issue. And how can anyone make an informed decision without knowing what all the terms and wording mean.
Tony Alcorn, Pct. 3, is in favor of the article, saying that it will cut the importation of foreign oil.
10:12 p.m.: Jenny Fallon, Pct. 1 and the Planning Board, and as a member of the town and country, believes the code is a "win-win."
Tony Ferrante, Pct. 8, said don't be so eager to pass the code as it will cost much more than anticipated due to the number of older homes in Belmont.
State official Marc Breslow, director of transportation and building policy for the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resource, answers questions from several members.
David Powelstock, Pct. 4, said if the code becomes so onerous, "we can change it."
Monty Allen, Pct. 8, said Belmont will join people from surrounding towns who are saying "we get it" that go beyond the basic needs to achieve energy efficiency."
Janet Kruse, Pct. 3, said the fear of the unknown "are overblown."
11:27 p.m.: The vote, finally.
By voice vote, the motion is adopted!
The motion to adjourn and we will see you in the fall.