I write this letter as a fiscally conservative member of town meeting. I have consistently spoken against (and then typically been outvoted on) various spending items that I thought the town could not afford. Nonetheless, I write this letter in support of the debt exclusion to build the proposed 7-12 school.
Voting “yes” means voting to accept approximately $80 million in funding from the state. Belmont needs both additional classrooms and a renovated high school. If we embrace the 7-12 school, we have a final solution that resolves crowding issues throughout Belmont and addresses the appalling conditions at the high school and the state will help fund the cost.
Belmont applied for state funding for 11 consecutive years before finally succeeding. If we reject the $80 million currently on the table and reenter the funding pool, we will be competing with 350 other cities and towns in Massachusetts, each of which has multiple schools in need of attention. Having rejected the state money once, we will lack credibility in future applications. In short, we are unlikely to obtain state money again.
The debt exclusion is a big ask. There is no way around it — the increase in annual taxes will be painful. However, the alternative is worse. Failing to provide adequate school buildings will have a negative effect on our property values, which are directly linked to the quality of Belmont schools. Even if we reject the 7-12 school, we still have to renovate and expand our current schools. If we reject state funding, we will spend approximately $35 million more of our own money and end up with an inferior set of buildings.
We also run the risk of state or federal courts imposing a building program on us, regardless of cost. As an attorney, I am always aware of creative claims plaintiffs can make in pursuit of civil or constitutional rights. Planned spending is always less expensive than court-imposed spending. I would greatly prefer that we control our fiscal future.
For these reasons, I urge town citizens to vote “yes” for the 7-12 school. It is the fiscally responsible choice for Belmont.
Elizabeth Harmer Dionne
Town Meeting Member, Precinct 2