Town Meeting Live Blog – Budget Hoedown- May 14

We’re back at the annual Town Meeting to discuss a myriad of budget issues. Pour yourself a drink of something. First up this evening was an update from the Library Board of Trustees on inquiries into the construction of a new town library. Long and short: the lead proposal now is to move the library across the street to where there are various playing fields – softball, field hockey, baseball. Obviously, this is a contentious proposal – but it would be good use of the land and get the library out of a very problematic site – small, cramped and wet. The question is: where do you put the field? Lead candidate now is the former incinerator site on Concord Ave. (I know – sounds tempting, doesn’t it?) There’s definitely the space. The challenge is the distance from BHS – its probably a mile away, give or take. That’s not an issue on weekends and for other after school activities. It may be an issue for use by BHS during school hours, but of all the possible sites for relocating the fields, its really the best. There are many caveats: a study of the site needs to determine if its appropriate for use as a recreation facility, then the School Committee, Board of Selectmen and Town Meeting have to approve a raft of land purchases/transfers bond issues and the like. This has been percolating for years, but my sense is that things will start coming to a head in the fall. Stay tuned.

We don’t vote on anything – just listen and applaud.

Next up, after the tabling of items, shift from Town Meeting to Special Town Meeting and such, is a $48,000 allocation for repairs (unanticipated) on Minuteman Technical. As with most things, this is a pure formality, as we have very little ability to control costs here. Pursuant to a question about the size of the allotment to Belmont – $48,000 for a $480,000 repair, Jack Weiss explains that allotments are proportional to the size of the town’s contingent and that Belmont’s contingent is the third largest and represents around 10% of the Minuteman student body. That struck me as strange, as Belmont only sends around 35 students to Minuteman. Turns out, of course, that the allotment is based on your school’s percentage of the MEMBER TOWN enrollment. Belmont’s 35 students are actually just 5% of the 785 student Minuteman population, but 9.5% of the 430 member district population. Non member towns, by law, can’t be asked to contribute to these types of capital projects – they can only be asked to pay tuition. And, as Jack explains, that tuition has already been raised in recent years. So, in short, we’re scr**wed (again). My sense is that we’re not going to wiggle out of this, so we better find a way to turn MinuteMan into a resource that we can use. I’m open to suggestions.

Mark Paolillo, BOS Chair, runs down our sources of surplus, one time funds. Long and short: snow. Between $1ook or so from FEMA to help us pay for the 2010-2011 storms, and $250k in savings because of the mild 2011-2012 season, and some supplemental FY12 local aid from the state, we’ve got an extra $500k or so to play with. The proposal before us now is to use this to create a SPED Stabilization Fund to help offset future, unanticipated special education costs. As well as $140k for a facilities management funds and around $105k for an OPEB (Other Post Employments Benefits) contribution – this includes health benefits, insurance benefits and deferred compensation for former employments. A tiny drop in a deep deep bucket for Belmont, given our unfunded liabilities, which is $183,000,000. But it shows good faith to our lenders (i.e. Moody’s) which is inquiring about our plans for an OPEB stabilization fund and policies to help pay for our unfunded liabilities. This transfer shows that we are serious about honoring our benefits to former employees. We need that AAA rating, baby.

We’re now debating the merits of this stabilization fund. Props to Liz Allison of Warrant Committee who is speaking in support of this idea. Evidence of increased comity (kind of) between Warrant Committee and School Committee. Karen Parmett (former SC meeting) now making a smart and important point: that the Town has historically stuck its head in the sand re: SPED costs – in other words: we recognized that, historically, they went up around 10 percent annually, we only budgeted to accommodate the SPED students already in the system – in other words: we budgeted aspirationally, but in the face of hard facts. Good idea, no?

We vote (almost) unanimously for the OPEB allocation after some dire talk about our unfunded liabilities.

We vote for the ~$100k allocation for facilities management.

Article 11 – this is all about the Trapelo Road reconstruction. We need to find space for a bike lane. The Belmont Housing Authority has some land along Trapelo rd and Mill street. This would be a land taking.
There are lots of questions about how the work, which will begin in 2013, will change the Trapelo Rd. corridor. This is all good news and desperately needed. The $100k is, we’re told, for the cost of the takings and easements from private owners.
We vote unanimously in favor of passage.

On to the contentious issue of (ugly) solar panel installations.