Town Meeting Live Blog Part III: This Time It’s For Keeps!

We’re back at the _third_ installment of Belmont’s annual Town Meeting. This time we’re at the lovely Chenery Middle School auditorium, so there will be no pictures of dilapidated infrastructure. Sorry. There’s air conditioning too. Lovely.

The first item of business was an update from the esteemed Jack Weiss about some friction with the Minuteman High School school committee regarding a $700,000 feasibility study that the Committee really wants to do and we _really_ don’t want them to do. We voted on this last year, as did some other member districts. The bottom line is: Belmont is already wrestling with the annual allotments to the Minuteman, given low participation rates from students in town. A feasibility study for a new school, which may cost in excess of $90 million to build, is downright terrifying and the town’s voters would almost certainly not approve it ahead of much needed repair/rennovation/rebuilding to – say – Belmont High School. So, in short, why do the study when we know what our answer will be to whatever it will find. In any case – Minuteman’s School Committee has voted to go ahead with the study, in essence ignoring the message from Belmont that this is not something we support. Stay tuned for more on this.

Dr. Kingston, our Superintendent, has given us an update on the once-embarrassing-now-inspiring Butler playground issue. As you may have read online, private donors including Selectman Ralph Jones and Warrant Committee Chair Liz Allison stepped forward and pledged the money needed to fully fund the construction of the new play structures and other needed repairs to the playground, which was declared unfit for continued use. Dr. Kingston now informs us that another, anonymous donor, has pledged $11,000 to the playground project.

Ralph addresses Town Meeting to say that this whole thing is an example of what he loves about Belmont: a willingness of citizens to support town institutions and a tendency to come together in tough times rather than fall about ourselves. I agree.

Additional $11,000 check from Butler anonymous alumnus.

Ralph Jones – I love it when a plan comes together. Our people generous in support of town and schools. May 16th. Second: a town-wide effort. Two playgrounds. Butler in terrible condition and Winn brook. Could have divided town but instead united it. Dedicated to improving condition of all parks and playgrounds in town. Also check out the Web site of Belmont Partners in Play, a new non-profit created specifically to improve the quality of playgrounds and parks around town.

UPDATE 7:30: We’ve voted to approve some $2.3 million to do improvements to our water and sewer infrastructure including storm drain cleaning and repairs.

UPDATE 7:40: On to Article 14 – a request to borrow some $824,000 from the Landfill Stabilization Fund to do a bunch of things to the “former incinerator site” on Concord Avenue. This is a key property in the capitol project infrastructure shell game now going on as we try to find a place for a new library, while also preserving playing/recreation space.

Where do they get $800k for a study? Easy:

  • $200k for Corrective Action Alternatives Analysis (CAAA) – this is the next step in the Dept. of Environmental Protection regulatory process and requires the town to evaluate the environmental and human impacts of any site contaminants and to develop a remediation plan.
  • $90,000 for Cap design and permitting – must incorporate post closure uses (tbd)
  • $524,000 for demolition of incinerator building. Separated out from capping work due to special nature of demolition.

Possible uses at this point include playing fields, photovoltaic solar panels, open space, a dpw staging and storage area, as well as private development. Should the town decide to sell the land and pass the remediation problem to someone else, the money sent to the stabilization fund would be returned to the town.

Many questions now about this allocation for the former incinerator site. In short: the town’s on the hook to clean up the site because we were a primary user of the site. However, the town’s ownership of the site is in question. There are questions about the estimate of $800k. This comes from the town’s contractor, CDM Smith – but there was no effort to get other estimates, so we’re going on the word of that contractor that the $800k was the right number. We’ve paid them $150k from 2007 on and there are other payments to them, as well. Money was spent prior to the creation of the landfill stabilization fund – Glen can’t remember the amount, but its much less than $500k. Maybe $100k-ish? Glen doesn’t have his spreadsheet with him. Glen thinks CDM Smith is a good bet because this is what they do. TMM, I think, would feel more comfortable with some competing bids to compare the $800k to.

UPDATE: 8:01 Question – how much will this sucker cost to cap? Glen: around $2.1m, but landfill stabilization fund has $4.1m in it. (Prior to the $800k payment.) Question on conversion to a playing field – this wouldn’t be part of the $2.1 remediation estimate. The state needs to resolve the ownership issue, not Belmont. Glen hopes the DEP’s insistence on getting the site remediated also prompts action from the other parts of the State bureaucracy to get the ownership issue resolved.

UPDATE: 8:09 Question – what if we blow off Article 14. Answer: we can get fined by DEP on the order of $1,000 a day plus other penalties. (Translation: we’re over a barrel.) We approve the motion.

 UPDATE: 8:12 On to Article 5 – salaries of elected officials. Bob McLaughlin is offering an amendment to the Article to change the salary of the Town clerk from July 1, 2012 from $78,216 to $68,720. BOS and WC both vote to approve this motion. This is confusing – Ba

Amendment recommends consensus between the WC and BOS – everyone loves Ellen’s job, but Ellen’s up for a 10% raise this year and it seems the town’s political leadership is feeling that her salary is out of whack. They want to see the results of the pending salary survey that takes into account neighboring towns. Liz: problem with current compensation system: rewards longevity rather than job performance. Liz is behind an innovation program: department heads rewarded for innovation and job performance. A year from now: we’ll have a better set of tools for rewarding senior town managers. But to get to next year, we need a vote for this year. Warrant Committee supports this agreement and looks forward to a broader and better informed conversation with you next year…

UPDATE: 8:22

OK – detour. We just spent ~30 minutes debating Bob’s amendment to reduce Ellen’s salary for next year from $78k to $68k from the current $62,400. I spoke neither for nor against, but said that this claw back amendment was unseemly and that the Town desperately needs to take these critical, town-wide administrative offices from elected to appointed positions. I ultimately voted against the amendment and for Article 5. I’d be happy to discuss my vote in more length, but gotta move on now to Article 11 on appropriations for the Community Preservation Act. This motion is to appropriate around $1m for the Community Preservation Act fund. None of this will be spent – but for $54,000 for administrative expenses – salary, in essence, for a consultant to get the CPA program and committee up and running. Floyd Carmen is saying, in essence, now that we’ve voted for this, we’ve gotta move forward with it. The train has left the station.

UPDATE: 9:03 The motion is approved, almost unanimously. On to Article 3…transferring some balances – $68k for sale of bonds to offset property tax debt exclusion and $650k from Belmont Municipal Lights (PILOT). We vote unanimously…and that’s all she wrote! Woot!!