7:12 p.m.: Hello. It's night three of Belmont's annual Town Meeting. Sorry for the slight delay - I was at the Blacker Prize ceremony at the High School's Library which honors three seniors on their exceptional writing in their senior theses.
7:16 p.m.: Will Brownsberger, the state senator, speaking to Town Meeting as its state rep. The is giving an update from Beacon Hill, specifically state aid. And he has good news with the state increasing funding to help pay for special education expenses. And in fiscal 2014, Brownsberger expects a better deal in Chapt. 70 - education - funding.
Brownsberger said the state will be able to sustain the current growth rate if 1. the economy continues growing; 2. the state can keep health care costs under control; and 3. the federal government does not walk away from their current promises and obligations. But even if this occurs, the state will have to discuss "taxes," whispered Brownsberger.
7:30 p.m.: Dr. Paul Solomon is discussing the Community Preservation Committee which will come next year to town meeting with its first project. It will have up to $2 million in the bank by then.
7:38 p.m.: The town's fiscal 2013 budget. Warrant Committee chairwoman Liz Allison is presenting an overview of the budget. "And as we approach the end of the process that we will have resources and requests and it will be out of balance." "But FY 13 was a remarkably good year" And a good rule of thumb to know if it is a good year is by viewing the money given to Capital Budget, said Allison. "It is the making of a very good year."
Here is some highlights: all departments funded at level service, many supplemental requests were provided such as $140,000 in sidewalk repairs, the library ill have a full time young adult librarian and a traffic management and a crossing guard.
At the school, sufficient funds was found so staffing is held at 485 full-time equivalent positions.
So, how did this happen? Allison said there are four elements to this successful budget year.
• Luck and timing: one time money was there, there was no increase in pension benefits and there was overfunding in the health care trust fund.
• The economy got stronger so state aid did not fall - although it was flat but it did not drop - there was growth in local excise taxes and we all had low interest rates.
• More significantly, this year saw a better budget process. The management of the schools benefited by the leadership of Superintendent Thomas Kingston and School Committee along with the creation of a finance subcommittee. There was also improved revenue estimates and risk assessments.
• Plus there was good management in the DPW and the good work by the Floyd Carman, the town treasurer, for maintaining the AAA rating and refinancing town obligations.
The biggest single contributing factor was structural reform in which the Selectmen renegotiation of health care insurance which saved the town $385,000 this year and $415,000 in the next two. And Allison leads town meeting in a round of applause for the Selectmen.
BUT ... there are dark clouds on the horizon. There's no magic bullet on the revenue side (a $25 million development will provide the town less than $400,000 in taxes) and there is pensions and "the huge long term liability" facing the town. And that has short term costs of $3 million this year, "a big number for this town." And there will be teachers contracts that will soon increase by 5.9 percent, "a very big number in a 2 1/2 percent world." But it's better than she thought would be the case a year ago.
8:02 p.m.: Selectmen chairman Mark Paolillo is discussing the Board's budget process, discussing how the schools and town opened the line of communication with the School Committee with joint meetings and discussing strategic planning and having the town and schools budget personnel work close together.
"We are one town with one budget," said Paolillo.
The future of effective budgeting is based on long term - four to five years - finance plan to consider ways of structural reform. And that starts with the department heads to give them more control to innovate and deliver services in a more effective manner.
8:11 p.m.: Laurie Graham, chairwoman of the School Committee, said the budget year started well due to a freeze in the "step" salary increases. The department is requesting $43.1 million. Add grants and revolving accounts (about 12 percent) of non-town financed expenses, the total is $48.8 million. Nearly 70 cents of every dollar goes to direct instruction of students.
Did you know that 60 percent of costs to run the athletic programs comes from student fees?
There will be new initiatives for the School Committee going forward including committing to long-term financial/program planning, start a second grade iPad-based instructional program that is funded with grants and phase-in of new educator appraisal system and implement a K-12 guidance curriculum.
"This has been a good year," said Graham. What she is asking for is the community to vote for the budget and also work with the committee.
Three great presentations.
Now 10 separate motions to approve the entire budget. Will there be any challenges to any of the motions? I think not. This should be smooth sailing.
Oops, spoke too soon: a question under the public safety motion about parking meters on Royal Road. Paolillo said yes, the board is looking at meters there and in the Center - that's why there is a traffic management add.
No discussion for the largest expenditure in the budget, the schools.
8:32 p.m.: John Weis, representing Minuteman Tech, said Belmont enrollment at the local vocational school is at a 15 year high. But it is only a small part of the overall town budget, just under a million dollars at $940,000.
Celtics lead the 76's in the City of Brotherly Love, 60-49, at half time in game 3 of the playoffs. Now they are up by 20 half way through the third period.
The school has seen its budget increased by five percent over last year, a little more than $816,000 but not a lot of discretionary expenses. Belmont's assessment will be rising by 6 percent because of the number of students we have there.
We have a budget! Only one "nay" in the ten motions - on Minuteman.
8:44 p.m.: Now we are debating the revolving funds. Adopted without a nay heard.
8:46 p.m.: Anne-Marie Mahoney - after a great little story about her new HDTV – is presenting the Capital Budget at $1,422,000.
The town and schools requested $2,468,159 and while worthy, should be in routine budget request as they are not capital. She thanks the department heads who cooperated with the committee - "random acts of kindness."
Mahoney speaks on lease/purchase agreement - it has to be more than $100K and many years - and "orphans" which should be in department operations but they are way too big and the department pushes them outside their requests. Feeling sorry about them, the CB funds one or two of them.
The capital budget committee will be using the "off-season" to review the large facilities in town: skating rink, the Underwood Pool, even the High School, and see if they can come up with some long-term financing to renovate these assets.
If you want to know what the list of capital budget expenses, .
And Ms. Mahoney finishes and the floor is open for discussion.
Donna Ruvolo, Pct. 7, praises the town and town meeting for saving the Grove Street tennis courts. And now use them!
Saying the seating in the High School auditorium is shabby and deplorable, Charles Hamann of Pct 1, hoped that they can be replaced. Mahoney said yes, she also wanted to replace these damn squeaky chair but it would replacing the floor since new seats are larger. But if you change the floor, why not the ceiling, and then the light and then the ... . But she promises that the seats are on her list of repairs very soon.
9:15 p.m.: Mark Smith, Pct. 8, said he was aware two playgrounds need repairs but nowhere are any future requests. Yes, Mahoney, it was on the school department's list but it was the lowest on the request sheet.
Many representatives speak on this item, including Ellen Schrieber, Pct. 8, who runs the Friends of Joey's Park, who notes that the $250,000 the PTA and parents are expected to repair the Butler playground "and that's a lot of money" to cheers. It is an equity issue. Also, the town should enter into a true public private partnership, where the town will put up half the expenses if the neighborhood finds private sources for the other half.
Donald Mercier, Pct. 8, joins Hamann on these lousy seats and the town should find the manufacturer who put them in in the 1970s to repair them.
Bill Dillon, Pct. 4, said if it is a good time for the town to begin accepting commercial subsidies - naming rights - to pay for the repair or installation of, lets say, a new gym floor for the high school or Butler playgrounds. Paolillo said he supports naming rights and that is something he will work on.
Jeanne Mooney, Pct. 6, said she heard that some towns have used Community Preservation fund to repair playgrounds. Mahoney, said yes that might be possible but it is at least a year away.
One town meeting member - sorry I missed your name - asked a great question, why does the town cap sidewalk repair at $140,000? DPW head Peter Castinino said there is a limit in
Joel Semuels, Pct. 6, asks a little about the $19,500 for the voting audience response; isn't a standing count OK. Mahoney said she belongs to a group that uses it and she "fell in love with them." There will be a small committee to find a good system and experiment with them but she would like to see this being used by next Town Meeting.
Lynne Polcari, Pct. 5, asks to move the $19,500 for a voting system and put it into the Butler School and allow Town Meeting to continue with their "seventh- inning stretch" when there is a standing vote. People cheer and Mr. Widmer has accepted the motion.
Chris Doyle of Pct. 1, wants to see how many standing votes have there been over the years and see if the 10 minutes for each vote . "I'm embarrassed that money is being spent on (the voting response system.)"
Johanna Swift Hart, Pct 4, whose child donated $50 to the fundraiser, a very big part of his budget. She also noted that so many fees
Dr. Kingston speaks on the fundraising, saying it raised $109,000 and the schools is about to bid and in six to eight weeks. When asked by Jack Weis if he could use this money, Kingston said "the answer, of course, is yes."
Paul Roberts, Pct. 8, said that Anne wasn't expecting this switcharoo - "No, not this one, for other ones" - said that this is democracy, that the message from so many people speaking is that "this has to head to the top of the priority list."
Ellen Cushman, the town clerk who asked for the system, said she will be voting for the switch. That's it; this measure will pass.
Oh boy, the Vikings are on the horizon! Ed Kazanjian, Pct. 6, wants to raid the $175,000 line item for a facilities audit of $60,000. Will this pass? What's next?
"Please understand that this is a very high priority for the Capital Budget Committee to give the new building manager" an idea what he has, said Mahoney.
"I will be extremely reluctant" to see that line item cut as it will not be worth the paper its printed on, said Mahoney.
Now Moderator Mike Widmer is not going to accept this amendment; it's too substantive.
The amendment is accepted.
Now an amendment to take $75,000 from repairing the Butler School gym floor to the playground. Kingston said the floor doesn't meet safety standards and that the playground has supporters and is about to start construction. Widmer denies the request.
David Palmer, Pct. 7, to amend to remove $45,000 file storage. Widmer declines the amendment, telling Town Meeting they had enough time to read the budget and could have made amendments earlier.
Ralph Jones, selectman, and Pat Brusch, of the Capital Budget Committee and Warrant Committee, rebuts Ed Kazanjian's suggestion that the $175,000 line item is not worth the money. You need a plan and wise analysis before you move forward.
Paolillo comes up to say that the selectmen will take the lead on the playground issue. Cheers. Yeah!
10:21 p.m.: The article is moved and the Capital Budget is accepted. Finally!
The Town Meeting approves $1,160,107 for road paving projects.
Moderator Widmer says he expects only a few more articles; the Town Meeting moans and groans at the idea of a fourth day in these terrible auditorium seating. Widmer says, OK, we'll see, but we aren't going past 11 p.m.
Now up is approving the Water Enterprise Fund. What should be a routine article has been delayed due to a wording issue. The motion is now slightly revised.
Oh, the Celtics won big, going up 2-1 over the 76ers.
Joe White, Pct. 4, asks if the re-wording is a substantive change, Widmer said no and White AGREES WITH WIDMER. That is a first.
The reworking of this article, number 9, is just getting so confusing but Town Meeting adopts it.
Only a couple more articles said Widmer. Mike Foley, a youngster from Pct. 8, reads out article 12 - with the help of Town Meeting - concerning $3.65 million on water main rehabilitation.
How late is it? Town Meeting groans when DPW head Castnino says he has a short statement on the article! Brother! And they like him!
The reps hoped to get through all the articles tonight but blame coming back for one final night on the playgrounds.
Sox lose to Tampa, 2-1, and are in last place, 6 1/2 games back of the Rays.
Peter is giving a detailed explanation of millions of dollars, $3.6 million in bonds, being spent by taxpayers but its really late and many reps are preparing to go home.
10:52 p.m.: Joel Semuels, Pct. 6, asks what is the carrying charges for the bonding. Castnino said that the interest rate is at 3.5 percent, borrowing about $500,000 a year for five to six years so not to accumulate debt. Does the repair of the mains include street repair? Castnino said that he works with the utilities and the town's Community Development office to schedule repairs when streets will be redone. Or just a trench patch will be done.
And the newly rewritten article is approved. And Paolillo calls for the meeting to be adjourned.
See you on Tuesday, May 29, at the Chenery Middle School (which has new seats) at 7 p.m.