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Town Meeting: Minuteman Stabilization Plan Upset but School May Have Final Word

The first night of Belmont's yearly legislative gathering takes less than two hours to complete.

At the end of the debate around 8:45 p.m., a voice vote by Belmont Town Meeting representatives upended a request by the to create a stabilization fund for improvements and repairs to the school.

But Belmont's rejection of the measure will likely be a moot protest vote as the vocational school will almost certainly receive the nod from 9 of the 16 cities and towns whose students attend the Lexington-based institution to create the fund.

At the same time Belmont was voting down the proposed article, Concord's Town Meeting became the eighth municipality to vote in favor of the stabilization fund.

The Minuteman vote was the only article that produced any debate on the first night of Belmont's annual Town Meeting which commenced inside a warm and stuffy Belmont High School auditorium Monday night, April 23.

With the number of non-financial articles already limited to a handful and three of those either withdrawn or delayed to later dates, the night's activities ended just past 9 p.m., which brought a cheer from the representatives and town officials.

The request from Minuteman Tech for Belmont's approval of a stabilization fund for capital repairs and improvements is needed now more than ever, said Jack Weiss, Belmont's member on Minuteman's School Committee. The school – built in the early 1970s – is showing its age as its largest building was recently closed by the Lexington Fire Department for failing inspection.

That and other pressing infrastructure needs prompted the call for the establishment of a reserve fund to make necessary repairs rather than coming back to each of the individual 16 Town Meetings to request for additional funds.

The money – an initial $450,000 – will still be spent but it will be done more efficiently, without the need to come to each of the town's for approval. 

The main issue that caused each of Belmont's oversight committees – the Board of Selectmen, Warrant and Capital Budget committees – to unanimously vote opposing the measure was the lack of control on how and when the $450,000 stabilization fund would be used.

Mark Paolillo, chairman of the board of selectmen, said while he believes the school – which he praised for the new openness to town officials from its leadership led by Minuteman Superintendent Dr. Edward Bouquillon who was in attendance – is doing important educating and that infrastructure repairs are likely, a "yes" vote will see the Town Meeting give up its oversight responsibilities as the spending authorization will be controlled by Minuteman's school committee and not a vote of the towns. 

In the end, the "no" vote prevailed, at least, in Belmont. 

In other business:

• The proposed Demolition Delay bylaw, which would have required real estate developers/buyers to postpone for one year the destruction of any architectural or historic "significant" residential property, was delayed until the fall Special Town Meeting sometime in October or November.

Michael Smith, the chairman of the Historic District Commission and sponsor of the article, said that two recent amendment being proposed – limiting the time frame from a year to six months and the call for the bylaw to have a "sunset" clause once the town creates a master list of the "significant" homes in town to be protected by the bylaw – convinced him that they issues had not been sufficiently aired out. 

• Town Meeting came on step closer to having its votes electronically cast and counted as the body approved the creation of a committee to discuss and implement an electronic voting system for future Town Meetings. Ellen Cushman, the Town Clerk, spoke on the measure, noting how a system will improve accuracy and the speed of voting. Town Moderator Mike Widmer noted that these systems are used more often in representative town meeting communities, recently accepted in Framingham and Wayland. The Warrant and the Capital Budget committees were OK with the plan and it was approved

Easements, or any land issue, are always tricky ones at Town Meeting as it means taking property. So a potentially hot topic – the taking of strips of land to accommodate the reconstruction of Belmont Street and Trapelo Road by the state in the coming year – was set aside for the time being due to issues of notification and postings.

• The night began with a series of resolutions, the first to the family of the late Ephraim Radner, a resident for 55 years and on the Warrant Committee and Planning Board "and enriching the public schools ... and a constructive member for a number of committees." The late Edward J. Dressler was honored for his quarter century of work at the Belmont Public Library and the Department of Public Works was recognized as the Board of Selectmen proclaimed the week of May 20 as National Public Works Week.

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