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Community Preservation Closing In On Criteria For Projects

Nine-member group will research how other communities determine which projects to fund.

After just a few meetings, the is narrowing down and refining its approach to determining which projects Belmont would like to consider funding in the near future.

The group’s charge – as dictated by April Town Meeting in 2011 under Article 21 – is to study the needs, possibilities and resources of the town regarding historic preservation, open space, recreation and affordable housing.

And, during its two previous administrative meetings (the third was a training session on the Community Preservation Act), the nine-member committee -- which met for the fourth time on Wednesday, Dec. 14 in Town Hall -- has vowed to reach out to various town departments and residents to verify what the Belmont community feels is most important to spend the money on now that voters decided last November to adopt the act.

To that end, the CPC discussed criteria for projects at its Wednesday night meeting and decided to examine those Lexington has described on its website as a guideline for Belmont.

It’s a good blueprint from which to begin, the committee agreed, as Lexington is more closely matched in many ways to Belmont than some of the cities – such as Cambridge – that have adopted the act. Moreover, the neighboring town is well underway in its work on dispersing Community Preservation funds whereas Belmont is still in the very early stages.

Developing the criteria for proposed projects

The CPC members who are so-called “stakeholders” (Donna Brescia from the Housing Authority, Lisa Harrington from the Historic District Commission, Margaret Velie from the Conservation Commission and John Owens from Recreation Commission) will look at Lexington’s criteria for projects in their specific subject areas and jot down notes on what they deem might help the Belmont committee with its standards for ultimately recommending projects to Town Meeting (likely making the first presentation in 2013).

Joe DeStefano from the Planning Board, Ralph Jones from the Board of Parks Commission and Board of Selectmen appointees Paul Solomon, Anne Marie Mahoney and Floyd Carman (acting in the capacity as a private citizen rather than as Town Treasurer) will also make lists detailing general criteria that will cross all lines for which the funds are designated per state law.

Each member will consult community documents such as the Comprehensive Plan, Affordable Housing Plan, Capital Projects Overview and Open Space and Recreation Plan to ensure any information they come across does not contradict already-stated goals for Belmont.

Looking at timelines and communicating with the public

As advised by the Community Preservation Coalition during a training session in October, the CPC has realizes its main goal for first year is to develop an understanding and a statement of needs in Belmont

“This isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon,” said Carman, advising that the money collected for the community preservation does not have to be spent by a specific deadline and can be “banked” until the time seems right.

Therefore, the committee is working quite carefully to reach out to the entire town and access taxpayers’ desires for what needs to be funded.

While all their meetings are open to the public, the committee realizes that many residents do not have time to come to Town Hall once a month when the group meets but still

“We need to hear from the residents first on what the community wants (before finalizing the criteria list and application process),” said Mahoney.

In response, the committee discussed the idea of using the percentage of the Community Preservation funds earmarked for administrative costs for help either building a website, taking notes at the meetings and putting together surveys to obtain feedback and thoughts from residents.

The amount for administrative costs is approximately $44,000 annually which, if not used fully in a given year, goes back into the “pot” for the specific categories of community preservation.

To ensure the residents are fully aware of what the committee is doing, Brescia suggested that for the first year the might just use the administrative money for outreach and surveys with the community.

“Do we need a website? Do we need administrative help?” asked Solomon. “A website could facilitate communication from the public. In order to present anything to the town, I think we might need some help.”

Perhaps some of the $44,000 can be used to hire a person who will be a consultant to the committee and perform marketing work, Brescia said.

“We might start by hiring someone part-time who can conduct surveys and add any input from the community as well as run a website,” she said.

The committee agreed that Harrington will contact other Community Preservation Committees in communities that have adopted to the act to gather more information on the resources they use.

In addition, Velie will research what Lincoln and Cambridge have done.

“We can also look at their (administrative) budgets to see how they handed things so we don’t make the same mistakes they did in the beginning years,” said Carman.

When the research is compiled, Harrington will write a job description and the committee will look at it next month (although members will not hire someone until July 1, providing Spring Town Meeting approves the proposal).

Carman will work on a budget for exactly how the community would use the $44,000 in fiscal year 2013 and have it ready by Feb. 15 in order to get it on the warrant for April Town Meeting.

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