Belmont’s Select Board is the town’s Executive Office. It is an elected three member body that is responsible for the oversight Belmont’s Town Government. Among other things, the Select Board appoints a Town Administrator to run day-to-day operations and assist with long-term projects.
The Board works with the Town Administrator and other elected Boards to develop the Town Budget, prepare the Town Meeting Warrant, and perform the many other tasks that are necessary to keep the Town running smoothly. The Board wholly or partially appoints the members of many Town Committees, including the Planning Board. It also is responsible for decisions about whether and when to put Proposition 2 1/2 overrides and debt exclusions before voters – a critical power that impacts Belmont’s short- and long term financial health and planning. The three members of the Board are elected for overlapping, three-year terms and are (very) minimally compensated for their work.
Longtime Select Board member Adam Dash decided not to seek re-election. That means this year there was an open seat for the Town’s top board.
There is one candidate for that open seat on the Select Board: Elizabeth Dionne. You can check out Elizabeth’s campaign website here.
Click on the links below to read Elizabeth’s answers to questions about:
I have been a member of Town Meeting since 2016, representing Precinct 2. I previously served as Treasurer of the Belmont Village Hill Association (one of the oldest neighborhood associations in Belmont).
As a five-year member and Chair of the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) since January 2020, I have:
- advocated for many projects that enhance Belmont’s quality of life (including improvements at Town Field, Payson Park, Winn Brook, Grove Street, PQ Park, the Police Station, and Benton Library)
- worked to access tens of millions of dollars in state and federal grant money (to advance the Community Path and ultimately rebuild and expand the town’s affordable housing stock at Sherman Gardens and Belmont Village)
- commissioned studies of the town’s recreational and historical assets, as a baseline for long-term planning improved planning, communication, and integration of projects, through active coordination with other town departments and committees.
As a six-year member (and current Secretary) of the Warrant Committee (the fiscal watchdog for Town Meeting), I have also:
- studied senior tax relief in detail
- reviewed pensions, Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB), and the town’s debts (with particular focus on improving investment returns on the town’s pension fund)
- investigated how Belmont could adopt a comprehensive Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program for nonprofit entities in town
- contributed to General Government analyses and recommendations, meeting multiple times a year with department heads to review their budgets, needs, and concerns
- served as a liaison to the Belmont Wellness Coalition, monitoring teens’ mental health and supporting initiatives for positive decision-making
I have volunteered on multiple political campaigns in Belmont, most notably serving as the Treasurer for Roy Epstein’s Select Board campaigns in 2019 and 2022.
My husband and I are active in our Belmont church, where I have taught youth and adults, participated in regular community service events (especially food collection and distribution), and previously served for many years as the Music Chair (including conducting choirs, organizing musical numbers, organizing the annual Messiah Sing, playing the piano, and playing the organ).
I am proud to have served Belmont as a long-time member of the Warrant Committee (monitoring town finances) and Chair of the Community Preservation Committee (which funds recreation, affordable housing, historic preservation, and open space). Belmont’s single greatest challenge is fiscal sustainability. To realize future goals (including education funding and diversity), we must address this foundational problem. As a Select Board Member, I will work to increase commercial tax revenues by revising the zoning bylaw to encourage small business and reasonable development. Bylaw revisions should also protect current open space, simplify the process for home renovations, and promote mixed-use development.
Balancing Belmont’s Budget Belmont faces significant, long-term fiscal challenges. Since FY2019, Belmont has operated with a structural deficit in its operating budget, where recurring expenses increase faster than recurring revenues. Why does Belmont have a structural deficit? In 1980, Massachusetts voters approved Proposition 2½, a state law which requires voters to approve any property tax increases greater than 2½% of the tax levy from the prior year. However, key expense categories, like health insurance and catching up on our pension obligations, grow much faster than 2½% per year. Other areas of expense growth include salaries (teachers, public safety, town staff) and unfunded federal and state mandates for special education and English language learners. In other words, town expenses typically grow faster than tax revenues, unless voters approve periodic operating overrides.
Belmont is a so-called “town of homes”, with little industrial or commercial activity. Approximately 95% of our annual property tax revenue comes from residential property, with only 5% of our revenue coming from commercial property. So-called “new growth” (significant renovation or new construction) increases the overall tax levy, but this typically adds only $850-$950K a year, and new residential construction often includes adding students to the schools, which already represent our single biggest operating cost.
We should always seek ongoing efficiencies (and there are some areas we can address), but both town and schools currently run on very tight budgets, with almost no fat to be cut. Unless we want to take drastic measures (like shutting a fire station or an elementary school), we have two options. First, in the short run we must ask voters for an override to avoid catastrophic cuts in schools and services. Second, we must implement a long-term plan to be more growth-oriented, fostering local businesses and welcoming appropriate commercial development. At a minimum we should have a 90/10 residential/commercial tax ratio. Eventually, I would like to see Belmont reach an 85/10 ratio. I will address how to achieve this in the following section, “Building Belmont Businesses.”
Balancing Belmont’s budget
There is no single approach to solving Belmont’s structural deficit. Rather, we must pursue multiple options simultaneously. For example, we should ask the Board of Belmont’s retirement system to extend the current funding schedule from 2030 to 2035 (slowing down the rate of payment increases, without jeopardizing pension benefits). The state doesn’t mandate full payment until 2040, so aiming for 2035 still provides us a five-year runway in the event of poor market returns. We should also ask the Board to invest fully in PRIT (the state-run retirement investment system, which has generated superior returns over the past three-plus decades).
Another possibility is seeking PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) from wealthy non-profits. Three of Belmont’s five biggest property owners (Belmont Hill School, Belmont Day School, McLean) pay no property taxes at all, despite using our roads, sidewalks, and public safety services. Belmont should implement a comprehensive, consistent approach to PILOT by:
- Working with state legislators to require contributions to public safety and road services from non-profits with assets that exceed a certain threshold. (Audubon/Habitat is one of Belmont’s top five property owners, but it holds its land as open space for the public good, so they could claim an exemption from PILOT, based on the significant value they provide to town residents.)
- Creating a mechanism to request PILOT on an annual basis and publicizing results of these requests
- Advocating for an appointed rather than elected Board of Assessors. (Belmont can’t implement a PILOT program without active cooperation from the Board of Assessors.)
The fifth of Belmont’s five largest landowners is the Belmont Country Club, which receives a 75% deduction on the value of its golf course under MGL ch. 61B. This tax burden then shifts from the Country Club to Belmont residents. We should work with state legislators to repeal the 75% property tax break given to private (typically wealthy) golf clubs.
Building Belmont’s businesses
Belmont must update its Zoning Bylaw, making it much more supportive of small businesses and appropriate commercial development to enhance commercial tax revenue. Working with the Planning Board, the Vision 21 Implementation Committee, the MBTA Communities Advisory Committee (MBTA-CAC), small businesses, developers, and residents, the Select Board should spearhead efforts to: meet the state requirements for MBTA Communities (combining mixed use with multifamily zoning by right); balance neighborhood preservation with revitalized commercial centers and public transit; allow additional business uses (e.g., restaurants or boutique hotels) as-of-right; allow additional, carefully planned commercial development; and restore necessary staff positions in the Office of Community Development (OCD).
Supporting Belmont’s public schools
I am keenly aware that the School Committee oversees schools, not the Select Board. My job as a member of the Select Board is to generate the revenue to support the schools, not dictate how they spend it, which is the purview of the School Committee.
However, I would like to comment from my experience as both a special education attorney and the mother of a son with high-functioning autism, who was educated out-of-district. My husband and I wanted to enroll our son in Belmont High School, rather than having him transported 45 minutes each way, each day, to attend another school. This precluded him from participating in extracurricular activities and classes where he could have interacted with typical peers in his own community. When we asked to bring him in-district, we were told that Belmont didn’t have space to accommodate students like him. At that time, I urged the superintendent to consider creating programming for students like our son. Centers of excellence could become magnets for students from other districts and profit-centers for the schools, while providing a superior, inclusionary experience for special needs students. Nine years later, not only is there no such programming, but we have gone the opposite direction, with a crisis of out-of-district placements precipitated by the failure to create such resources. As part of the next override, we should earmark funding to build such in-district programming, which will better serve our most vulnerable students and be more fiscally responsible than spending money on out-of-district private tuitions.
Successful overrides are built on trust. Right now citizens don’t trust how the schools spend their budget, due to a lack of transparency, consistent year-over-year reporting of benchmarked data, and rigorous data analysis. The schools need more funding, but we also need to know how they spend the funding they already have. I strongly recommend that the next superintendent bolster the finance department in time to produce the data that we need to pursue a successful override.
Safe streets for Belmont
My husband and I, and our four children, are avid cyclists. I’m the only one of the six who has not been hit by a car while cycling in Belmont. (I was hit in California, but that was a long time ago.) This is a dubious distinction that I would strongly prefer not to repeat! As Chair of the CPC, I have been a staunch proponent of the Community Path, which is the single most important thing we can do to ensure cyclist safety. The Alexander Avenue railroad underpass will be a game changer by allowing students from Winn Brook to walk or bike on a direct path from their neighborhoods to the high school.
I would like to obtain funding to build a raised bike path on Concord Avenue, so that bikes aren’t constrained by the granite curb cut on the right. (This would also facilitate snow removal from the bike lane.) At the same time, we need to address resident concerns about emergency vehicle access during peak hours.
Before the pandemic, nearly 4,000 cars cut through Belmont during both the morning and evening rush hours. I support the implementation of traffic calming measures to deter cut-through traffic, including speed bumps, raised crosswalks, and protecting residential streets during certain hours of the day.
I live near the Belmont Hill School’s proposed parking lot, which will increase incidents of cut-through traffic in residential neighborhoods but includes no provisions for pedestrian safety. Where possible, I’d like to find funding to build better sidewalks and crosswalks, both of which are in short supply there and in certain other areas of town.
Thank you for highlighting the Collins Center Report! Too few Belmont residents are aware of it. I have read (and reread) the Report, and I have sent the link to many Belmont residents. The Report speaks for itself, and I wholeheartedly endorse it. With a few extremely minor exceptions, it accurately and comprehensively describes Belmont’s current government structure and fiscal challenges.
The Report adamantly states that Belmont can’t solve its financial problems without first addressing its structural problems, in particular a decentralized form of government without clear lines of financial responsibility and authority. To that end, I wholeheartedly endorse Belmont’s Ballot Question 2, replacing an elected treasurer with an appointed treasurer (who can then be removed for cause if necessary). In the fall, I will ask Special Town Meeting to vote to put an appointed Board of Assessors on the April 2024 ballot. The current Select Board has adopted a priority list of ongoing structural reforms from the Report. I endorse and expect to follow that list.
Many of the Collins Center Report recommendations echo those made in 2011 by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue Division of Local Services. We have lost 12 years without enacting meaningful reforms. We need to act now.
In recent years, my husband and I have watched our church congregation shrink as young families move further away to communities where they can afford either to rent or purchase a home. Belmont won’t remain a vibrant community without more affordable housing options. That means we have to build more housing.
Per my answer above (Building Belmont Businesses and updating the Town’s Zoning Bylaw), I support zoning changes that lead to increased housing construction and mixed-use development. Zoning changes should also allow current homeowners to make sensible changes and updates to their current homes, including reasonable expansion, so that their homes can grow with their families. No one will force these changes on Belmont. Any changes will require extensive public input and engagement to propose the best zoning plan for density, height, and location. Any changes require an affirmative vote from Town Meeting.
MBTA-CAC will include the Housing Production Plan in its work once it is finalized. As Chair of the CPC, I have been a staunch supporter of Belmont Housing Authority’s efforts to rebuild and expand the number of town-owned, deeply affordable housing units. (See my response to Volunteer & community activities above.)
A Proposition 2 1/2 override for Belmont
My primary goal for Belmont’s next override question is that it actually pass. We can quibble about the timing and size of the override (fiddling while Rome burns), or we can come together to make the most compelling pro-override case to Belmont voters.
Outsiders perceive Belmont as wealthy, but residents’ median income is lower than peer towns, and many of our residents are property tax-burdened. As a result, they rejected the town’s override request in 2021. Nonetheless, due to the structural deficit noted above, we must once again ask residents to dig deep to support our town and schools.
I believe that a successful override is predicated on two elements: trust and hope. Residents must trust that we are shepherding current resources carefully and that we will do the same with additional funds. If we follow the ideas I have laid out above, I think we can build trust with our citizens. If we create and present a plan for bolstering commercial tax revenues, we can provide citizens with hope that we aren’t relying solely on ever-larger residential property taxes to fund our ongoing budget shortfalls.
Because of the need to build trust and hope, we should wait until April 2024 to request an override. A year is a short period of time in which to implement an ambitious change agenda. However, in the coming year the Select Board and Town Meeting can pass enough forward-looking initiatives to make a compelling case that the voters can and should trust us with the funds necessary to realize our collective vision: world-class schools, thriving commercial centers, safe places for cyclists and pedestrians, mixed-use neighborhoods, an increasingly diverse population, and excellent town services.