Belmontonian: Put Aside Fear, Vote YES Today!

Some election day reading for you while you’re waiting in line to vote: The Belmontonian’s endorsement of a YES vote on Question 1. With just a few hundred words, Editor Franklin Tucker has perfectly articulated the need for the town to vote YES on Question 1, and exposed the NO Campaign – funded almost entirely by former Warrant Committee member Liz Allison – for what it is: a cynical attempt to derail needed and long overdue investment in the town and schools.

From the article:

It is time Belmont residents face the fact the community has been attempting to run a modern, urban municipality on the cheap. Belmont has one of the lowest average tax bills in the state and an extremely low cost-per-pupil expenditures (coupled with one of the highest student-to-teacher ratios). It’s little wonder the town is a laughing stock for it’s disgraceful roads, but that happens when you won’t pay an adequate amount for their upkeep. The band Midnight Oil spoke to what Belmont needs to realize: “The time has come/To say fair’s fair/to pay the rent/to pay our share.”

And later:

The prime target for the Nos is the schools and the “hardcore” union representing Belmont teachers. It wouldn’t surprise anyone that the Nos have circulated lists of teachers pay prompting one supporter wondering at candidates’ night paying a kindergarten teacher $90,000. Several times, one member of the group have suggested that the union must be made to heal to lead the town into a financial nirvana. In addition, by providing annual funding rather than a long-term approach, the school district will be beholden to the “budget committee.”

If the Nos had declared its agenda up front, they would be seen as honest brokers, rather than a very small fraternity of political operatives.

With only seven contributors and a campaign paid by a single source, the Nos remain a powerful opponent, playing to a substantial number of residents who view Belmont as the same small town of several generations past, those who believe providing a “good enough” education – in a world that punishes those who are only “good enough” – is what is required, while nervously viewing their own finances as economic forces beyond everyone’s reach ever change.

We, Belmont, must reject the fear and mistrust being pushed by the No committee.

You can read the full endorsement here.

Funding our future: why I’m voting YES

Blogging Belmont Readers: Get to the polls Tuesday and Vote YES on Question 1! (Remember to flip the ballot over!!)

Blogging Belmont Readers: Get to the polls Tuesday and Vote YES on Question 1! (Remember to flip the ballot over!!)

Belmont will go to the polls this Tuesday, April 7, in what will be one of the most consequential local elections in recent memory. Aside from the usual roster of Town Meeting positions and a competitive race for the Board of Selectmen, voters will be asked to approve a $4.5 million increase in residential property taxes that was recommended by the town’s Financial Task Force, following almost 18 months of study.

I will be voting in favor of the increase, and I encourage all Blogging Belmont readers to vote on Tuesday and to join me in casting their vote in favor of this measure, Question 1, which will be located on the back of the ballot.

Visit yesforbelmont.com to learn more about the override.

Visit yesforbelmont.com to learn more about the override.

The Financial Task Force brought together our town’s elected leaders and the professionals who run our Town of Homes, along with subject experts from the public. The group took a comprehensive look at the town’s finances. And it was clear in its conclusions and recommendations. In short: Belmont is a town that derives almost all its revenue from residential property taxes. The restrictions of the state’s Proposition 2 1/2 law limit the growth of that revenue to 2 1/2 annually – below the rate of inflation.

I have written on many occasions about the difficult financial position this law puts Belmont, its public schools and town services in. Simply put: too many of the things Belmont has to pay for – things like health benefits, employee salaries, fuel and supplies – don’t obey the law’s arbitrary 2 1/2% growth limit.

The Financial Task Force report found that both schools and town services were lean - but starved of revenue. Click to read the executive summary. (PDF)

The Financial Task Force report found that both schools and town services were lean – but starved of revenue. Click to read the executive summary. (PDF)

Over time – 12 years in our case – the gap between the growth in our income and the cost of paying for everything gets larger and larger. There are some who would point to those growing gaps as evidence of mismanagement, incompetence or malfeasance. Nothing of the sort is true, and the Financial Task Force report was crystal clear in putting the town’s predicament in clear language: we have underinvested in our schools, our roads and capital projects (buildings) for years: scrimping and saving to make due with the limited funds available. Additionally: we’re bound by many substantial expenses that we cannot control: state and federal mandates governing special education and teaching English as a second language, environmental regulations and so on.

All the communities that we consider our peers have seen fit to address this basic budgetary dynamic since Belmont last voted for a Proposition 2 1/2 override. Notably: $12.5M in Arlington, $6.2M in Concord, $10M in Lexington and $5.9M in Winchester. Belmont? $0.00. We cannot defy fiscal gravity any more than our peer communities. It’s silly to think we can. 

I’ve also written about the “No” campaign and that group’s fuzzy ideas about how Belmont might address its most pressing problems – schools, decaying infrastructure, underfunded public safety and town services – without the addition of new revenue that the Financial Task Force calls for. The NO campaign, which we now know was bankrolled almost entirely by one individual, Liz Allison, has asserted – falsely – that the town can simply ‘go back to the drawing board’ and quickly maneuver to avoid pink slips for dozens of teachers in our public schools and a gutting of town services and maintenance. No such thing is true, and the NO side knows it. Our Town Administrator David Kale as well as our Superintendent John Phelan have been explicit in talking about the deep cuts they would be required to make to balance the budget using available revenue (as Belmont is required to do) and the dire consequences for both Town and Schools for not passing this override.

Despite the effort made my Mrs. Allison and others on the NO campaign to cast their campaign as an effort to keep Belmont “affordable” for low-income residents, it is important to note that the consequences of voting “no” will be borne by those in town least able to afford it: working- and lower-income families who will almost immediately face higher fees, reduced public services such as library and Town Hall hours and a drastically weakened public education system. Unlike more affluent families, these neighbors will not have the additional resources to offset those cuts to the services they rely on.

This has been a heated campaign, with spirited debates and high emotions on both sides. (Did I really just get a reminder from the BPD that stealing political signs is a crime??) But the choice posed to Belmont is remarkably clear. You can vote YES to invest in Belmont’s future: its roads, sidewalks, schools, libraries and public buildings. Or you can vote NO and send a message that you think Belmont should make do with less – poorer services, decaying infrastructure, diminished schools.

In any heated campaign, both sides tend towards the apocalyptic. The truth, unfortunately, is somewhere between.

  • Will our municipal buildings and schools crumble to dust with a no vote? No. Will they continue deteriorating and becoming less hospitable and functional? Yes.
  • Will a few, fortunate Belmont High Students still be accepted to competitive schools with a “no” vote? Probably. Will the quality of education offered to all students deteriorate in crowded classrooms with fewer resources and a severely narrowed curriculum? Yes.
  • Will you still be able to drive a car in Belmont or navigate our sidewalks with a “no” vote? Yes. Will the quality of the roads and sidewalks improve without the additional investments in maintenance and reconstruction provided by an override? No.

Simply put: our bill has now come due – in fact: it is overdue. For our Town of Homes, the time to stop living paycheck to paycheck and start putting our financial house in order is upon us. We have already peeked over that cliff and stared into the abyss. “Jump and the net will appear,” the “NO” camp urges. There will be no net. And we don’t need to jump into that abyss in order to understand that ‘over the cliff’ isn’t a maneuver that ends well for our Town of Homes.

The way ahead is clear: to vote YES, step back from the abyss and turn towards our bright future together as a town. I hope you’ll join me in doing that and voting YES on Question 1 on Tuesday!

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Paul Roberts
Editor, Blogging Belmont