Wellington wins unanimous approval of Town Meeting

After four installments and hours of debate on matters ranging from easements to potholes to trees, this year’s Town Meeting might be best remembered for what wasn’t heard last night: a single dissenting voice among the more than 200 assembled Town Meeting members to a motion to allocate $39 million for reconstruction of the Wellington Elementary School.

The unanimous vote was sweet victory for all those in town who have been pushing to rebuild Wellington for almost a decade. Pat Brusch and Joel Mooney, along with architect Jonathan Levy did a fine job responding to questions from the audience about costs and contingencies. A new plan to relocate the entire Wellington population at Belmont High School also seemed to sit will with Town Meeting members (and the community) and could save Belmont substantially in transportation costs. When the vote was finally taken, not a single voice was raised in opposition, and Town Meeting erupted, with a sustained and standing ovation, as well as lots of high fives. There’s still work to do — including a big Get out the Vote effort on Monday, but the lack of a single dissenting voice at Town Meeting has got to come as good news for members of Together for Wellington, and all those who have worked tirelessly for almost a decade to get this school rebuilt. On to the election!

In other business:

  • There was continued teeth gnashing over the escalating costs related to Minuteman Career & Technical High School but, as is so often the case, little to do but vote for the expenditure. While a concerted effort was made to vote down the appropriation, as a sign of protest over Minuteman’s slow pace of reform and cost reduction, we learned that 13 of the 16 schools in the catchment have already approved funding, meaning that Belmont is bound to pay its share, regardless. (Six member towns must all reject the Minuteman budget for it to be reconsidered.) WC and TM member Liz Allison pointed out that a “no” vote would only necessitate another special Town Meeting to approve the allocation that we’re bound by the terms of our contract with the school to pay. We also learned something of the formula used to assess payments to the school: a mixture of average household income, historical per pupil spending and number of pupils enrolled. TM members were also shocked and dismayed to lean that fully 1/3 of all enrolled students at Minuteman were from towns outside the catchment — and that those towns pay significantly less, per pupil, to send those students there than member towns. (That is: we’re subsidizing other towns’ students’ education at Minuteman.)There was consensus that Belmont needs to start coordinating with other towns to act in concert and push reform at Minuteman if anything is to happen. We’ll see… The motion to allocate funds to Minuteman was approved by a vote of 117 to 94.
  • Belmont’s getting a new home page with a cooler, easier to use interface. You can check out a trial version at: http://belmontma.virtualtownhall.net/public_documents/index9
    Note: this page is not live yet and not all features work. It’s definitely a vast improvement over the current home page, and should make it easier to find the information you’re looking for. I must say, though, that I’m perplexed on the Town’s decision to spend money making a series of promotional videos (with CGI Communications?) selling Belmont to random Web visitors. Seems like we already do a good job attracting new residents from across the country and the world. Is this really money well spent?!
  • Cemetary maintenance is proving expensive (did I hear $38k a month?) and plans for the new cemetary to be budget neutral are being pushed back because of the bad economy. (Original plan was to have it self sustaining within 6 years. I did  not hear a new estimate.) Members rightly pointed out that maintenance at parks and playgrounds for the living was being neglected while maintenance of the cemetaries was green lighted. Ralph Jones made a passionate argument that our budget (and willingness to pass overrides) reflected our values and priorities, and that the town simply needs more money if it wants to fix its roads, maintain its parks, take care of its cemeteries and adequately fund town services and the schools. I’m putting words in his mouth but…way to go Ralph!
  • It will cost $129,000 annually to operate the new Senior Center. In other news: the Selectmen want a big, ugly backup geneator at the center to be removed.