For the first time in several years, Belmont is not facing a budget crisis. Hard work by town and school officials, some good luck, and sacrifices from town and school employees have stabilized our finances: current year operations are in balance, and next year’s budget can likely be balanced without significant further reductions in services. After years of painful cuts, our financial situation has stabilized.
Let’s seize the moment. Let’s use this period of stability to plan for our future, and to stop the annual cycle of budget “gaps”, anxiety suffered by residents, and last-minute “solutions" that leave people wondering why the process had to be so stressful—and why our public services continue to erode.
Belmont needs a five-year financial plan, and the Board of Selectmen must lead the effort to create it.
I’m not talking about hiring another set of well-paid consultants to write a document that sits on the shelf: we can use the resources and information we’ve already gathered to jump-start our efforts. Town Meeting adopted a vision statement for our community more than 10 years ago. The Planning Board recently developed our Comprehensive Plan. The Capital Projects Overview Committee authored a strategic report on our building projects. But to implement these painstakingly researched ideas, we need an equally strategic – and realistic – financial plan.
A good financial plan isn’t just about numbers. It’s about transparency, real capacity, and sustainability. It’s about accountability for getting things done, and moving forward as one town, not as a series of special interest advocates. Key to the success of the plan will be:
• Transparency: a five-year plan will force clear choices about which services to cut and which to enhance, which – if any – of many possible projects to start and in what order, and their likely costs.
• Practical realities: a five-year plan can only be based on the realistic capacity of Belmont taxpayers.
• Coordination: a town-wide financial plan can help Belmont come together around divisive issues, find reasonable solutions, and move forward.
• Action: if we decide today which good ideas to pursue, we can implement them over the next five years. If we don’t plan—and then act—those solutions will always be another few years off.
As Selectman, I’ll expand the recent vision discussions that the Vision Implementation Committee and Board of Selectman have begun, and give citizens more chances to weigh in on what matters to them. The School Department’s recent community dialogs engaged hundreds of people, ensuring that the community’s voice is at the center of our school system. Similar community gatherings will be equally productive in giving all Belmont residents a voice in setting goals for our entire town.
With greater citizen engagement and dedicated leadership from the Board of Selectmen, Belmont can seize this moment and move forward to preserve our town’s longstanding values, stabilize our infrastructure, and make Belmont a better place in which to work and live.
Please vote for me on Monday, April 2 so that I can help develop and implement this plan. I welcome your ideas about what it should include. You can reach me at my website, via e-mail or call me at 617-489-9964.