Done in Pairs on the Second Night of Town Meeting

The good, bad and ugly of Belmont's annual legislative gathering.

At the end of the second night of Belmont's Town Meeting, one well-connected representative said she had her own headline concerning one of the night's vote.

"Despite the anticipation by town officials of a heated two-hour debate, Town Meeting ignored the town's long-standing history and quickly voted to approve moving town elections to Tuesdays," she said with a chuckle.

"How dare they! Don't they have any respect for tradition?" she laughed, commenting on the overwhelming support of Belmont stripping away 150 years of history and joining the rest of the country voting on the second day of the week.

On a night where the humidity inside Belmont High School's auditorium caused hair to curl, the Town Meeting coolly debated and voted on a dozen articles in a Special Town Meeting warrant.

And with one exception, the representatives voted as overwhelming for each of the dozen articles as it did with the election change.

On the whole, last night's articles could be viewed in pairs, related in the reasoning for their passage or for their radically different outcome.

Stabilize me, please

At a time when every penny of town money could be used in one of many expenditures, be it schools or roads, the town approved two new stabilization accounts – for special education costs and to pay down retiree health care expenses – despite the presence of one-time money to "seed" the new funds.

While several people did question the use of $105,000 and $250,000 from non-continuing revenue – typically a no-no in Belmont – explanations from school officials and the Town Treasurer for the need of each were not only compelling but hard to refute.

School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston and Town Treasurer Floyd Carman also benefited from the backing of the town's watch dog, the Warrant Committee, and the Board of Selectmen to move forward on the measures.

In the school's case, the money will be a "a pilot program" in which the schools will have a reserve on hand rather then needing to "play around" with $200,000 annually anticipating the possibility of a student coming into the district with a substantial handicap.

Carman admitted that dropping $105,000 to pay down the $183 million unfunded portion of town employees health benefits is tiny compared to the need and the town will wait 15 years – after paying off its obligations to pensions – before it can substantially tackle the OPEB deficit.

But by making even a small effort will demonstrate to the rating agency Moody's an acknowledgment of the problem, said Carman, the stabilization fund could be the determining factor keeping Belmont a triple A-rated community.

Remaining a top-ranked town – one of only 130 in the country – will benefit the town in millions of dollars in savings as Carman begins issuing bonds to pay for the $52 million electric substation, $9 million for a new library and, in just a few years down the road, $60-$70 million to renovate the High School.

While there was an attempt by Ed Kazanjian to transfer the funds to repair the Butler playground, the Town Meeting was won over by the long-term fiscal argument.

How (not) to get your article approved

No one can really predict how Town Meeting will react to articles with a real estate component,. The perfect example was last year's attempt by the Board of Selectmen to get rid the town of two very small parcels along the commuter rail tracks near Waverley Square that failed in flames due to a myriad of unanticipated factors.

So it would be advisable that anyone bringing an article to Town Meeting involving land and development to present it with a deft hand. And Monday night saw two very different outcomes to a pair of articles based largely on their presentation to representatives.

Glenn Clancy, the long-serving director of the Office of Community Development, brought a measure to take land – and cut down 21 mature trees – along three sections of Trapelo Road to extend the roadway so the state can begin redeveloping the Belmont Street/Trapelo Road corridor.

With the skill of an experienced entertainer who knows his audience, Clancy supplied Town Meeting with an atlas of maps and the minutia of detail from the exact square footage to be taken to the number of meetings with abutters, all done in a breezy manner with a little humor sprinkled in. When questions arose from members, Clancy was quick with an answer or bringing up the person who knew the subject.

And like a skilled stand-up comedian playing to the room, Clancy received a round of applause and a thumbs up from the reps.

While Clancy utilized his years attending Town Meeting to his benefit, it was quite clear very early on that rookie-Town Meeting member Bob Dillon was in trouble.

Presenting an article to extend the time of an overlay district until Dec. 31, Dillon, a successful real estate broker and well-liked resident, began his presentation by proclaiming that, yes, he was a "mercenary," he would be leading the argument for developing the former Video One building next to Fire Department headquarters into a three-story apartment building for a Belmont resident.

And while many around town were receptive to residential housing in the area, Dillon rapidly lost the town's legislative branch when he began a hard sales pitch for the project, a rarity at Town Meeting, qualifying his statement with comments on how the Planning Board "got it wrong" and using words such as "welfare" when describing who would not be residents in the new development.

While many a Town Meeting member stiffled snickers at Dillon's approach, others were agitated to the point of crying out for "points of order." Moderator Mike Widmer was left to drag Dillon back to the wording of the article. But by then, the damage had been done and the article was overwhelming defeated.

"(Dillon) could have won his argument if he had stuck with the article," said one Town Meeting observer.

Just the facts

While allocating funds to pay for emergency repairs and accepting historic solar installation regulations would not to appear to be a nature pairing, each article was presented as examples of compromise, one between town entities and the other between towns, both seeking a common goal.

Back at February's Special Town Meeting, no one was happy with the solar panel regulations. The Belmont Energy Committee felt the rules written by the Planning Board were too restrictive while the Planning Board wanted to protect the aesthetic of the town's homes and commercial structures.

But rather than steam or feud over the matter, both sides came together and issued a joint measure that each could support. And so did the Town Meeting.

Jack Weis, the town's representative to the Minuteman Tech High School, came before Town Meeting with a $46,000 bill, Belmont's portion of a $485,000 repair job to bring the Lexington-based school back up to code after it was discovered that the main building was a bit of a fire trap and it could be polluting the town's water supply.

The measure would need to receive the backing of all 16 member town to be approved.  Weis acknowledged the myriad of issues concerning the school – more than 50 percent of students come from non-member towns, that the 16 member towns don't have enough say in the running of the regional vocational school – and that those will be answered.

"It's looking like a charity" said Paul Roberts from Precinct 8.

Yet the school also doesn't have the funds simply to pay out a half-a-million dollars in repair on its own, said Weis. It will need the support of every town so that high school could benefit all the students.

"Please don't make this the usual protest vote against Minuteman," said Weis.

Town Meeting didn't, passing the article.


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