The operating budget of approximately $83M (schools, public safety, and other general government) went through with only two questions. That may have been a record in my 10 years in TM. The 50 minutes of presentations by WC chair Liz Allison, BOS chair Mark Paolillo, and SC chair Laurie Graham were crisp, positive, and thorough. Budgets were generally level service, and I'm sure many people felt relieved to not be dealing with cuts.
Surprise: zero discussion on revolving accounts. Perhaps TM members finally understand that these are not appropriations, but, basically, authorization to have accounts to collect fees into, to be spent for their specific, intended purposes.
Like most years, the Capital Budget, about $1.4M of discretionary spending (not counting roads), had the most lively discussions. That took nearly an hour and a half. A large part was about the Butler playground. I completely understand and support the need for play space for children. (My kids started with the lead-paint covered structures at Payson Park in the '90s.) My understanding (I'm pretty sure I haved this right) is that the money in hand (or committed) is enough for the structure and surface - to be installed and played on before end of summer. This reduces the urgency, though not the importance, of more funds for this project. Precinct 6's Ed Kazanjian would not let go of it, and kept trying to raid other capital items.
Of course many of the Town's financial problems would be less severe if the 2010 operating overide had passed. (Ed voted no on that, and I was already tired of hearing from him.)
(There is a relevant effort in Belmont that deserves a mention. Partners in Play is supports safe and desirable parks and recreation facilities in Belmont.)
Special Town Meeting
I thought Monday's Special Town Meeting ("within" the Annual Town Meeting) ran quite efficiently and had some decent discussions about funding of Special Ed, post-employment retirement, and facilities management.
I was very glad to see the discussion of Minuteman's necessary but unexpected repairs last summer stayed focused, while still touching on the persistent problems of high spending and the model of member towns' (eg, Belmont) funding vs non-members' tution. Jack Weiss, Belmont's rep to the Minuteman School Committee, presented the details and big picture clearly.
Glenn Clancy, Belmont's Director of Community Development, was well-prepared and comortable in front of TM for the article about easements along Trapelo Rd. (I'm glad to see that; in his first couple years as Director I thought he got rattled fairly easily by questions fired from large audiences.) He was convincing and informative, and his article was passed easily. I'm really looking forward to Trepelo and Belmont St being reworked.
I was still not completely bought in to the need for regulation of solar energy systems. I think it's partly a solution in search of a problem. The presentations were reasonable, but I don't really see the number of "problem" properties being high enough to notice.
The most memorable part of the night was Bill Dillon's presentation of a zoning request on behalf of Joe White for a development project proposal next to the Fire HQ. Many in the audience were immediately shaking their heads and squirming uncomfortably. In my 10 years on TM, I've never seen anyone so disrespectful, in both words and tone, of Town officials (toward BOS and Planning Board, mostly). It was obvious to everyone that it did not meet the required 2/3 margin, and Dillon's question of that, for a standing vote, was nonsense and a waste of time for the 250 people in the rooom. A gentler approach would have gotten more votes, but I don't think it would have passed anyway. Find it on Belmont Media and see for yourself.
Overall, I think Town officials, (elected and appointed, and hired staff) being so well-prepared was key to TM staying focused and not getting lost in the weeds. This has improved over the past 2 years, and as one who has gone to hundreds of meetings over the past decade, it shows. Also, Moderator Mike Widmer kept discussion on-topic, while still letting some tangential paths be explored. Kudos all around.
One more night for 2012 Annual TM, the day after Memorial Day. I'm sure the longest discussion will be the Town Clerk's salary.