The following GuestCommentary was published in the Belmont Citizen Herald online February 5, 2021 and is also in the February 4 print edition.
Last February, I met my mother in New York for a weekend of fun. She was returning to Ireland after some winter sun in Florida. We had drinks at a roof-top bar, ate in some great NY delis and watched “The Lion King” on Broadway. It was a memorable weekend. Four weeks later, the economy, the schools and our lives were shut down.
The past year feels like several. I miss the simple things: visiting friends, dining out, attending Sunday services, shaking hands to say “Hello.” I am angry at many of the events that have unfolded, primarily the inability of the greatest country in the world to manage the greatest public health crises of our time. Many, many mistakes have been made and our family lives have suffered the consequences. This seems unfair.
Despite COVID-19, our town has come together to create some normalcy and celebration for our community — the rolling rally graduation last spring; our youth sports programs; our town center Halloween painting. These events took hundreds of hours of neighbors working together for the primary benefit of our kids, our community. This is Belmont Pride.
Our community is also divided. People are angry at the school experience and rightly so. I was too; I got involved with a group of parents and we helped force a change in the learning hours for the high school students. Not everybody agrees with our efforts, but the focus was always on the students. The middle and elementary school days are still not acceptable. People have a right to be frustrated.
I have, grudgingly, accepted the past year and the mistakes that have been made. I am now focused on the future of our community. Which brings me to the override.
There are valid questions about how we can trust town leadership after the past 12 months. I look at it differently: How did our leaders do prior to the pandemic? The town was well run, community and town partnerships renovated a playground at PQ and created a walking path at Grove Street field; renovations to the police and DPW buildings were budgeted; the community voted for a new 7-12 grade school; and most importantly, a 2015 override was stretched for three years longer than planned. These same leaders are still here and under pre-pandemic circumstances demonstrated they were capable, strategic, and fiscally restrained.
This override is not a referendum on the past 12 months. It is a vote for our future. I am voting “yes,” despite my frustrations with the town and schools over the past 12 months.
My “yes” vote is about the next three to five years and our community needs: More teachers to educate our kids; mental health professionals for our senior community; town employees to maintain the recreation assets that our kids use extensively for after-school sports; and our wonderful playgrounds where we can all experience the joy of laughing kids.
The tax increase from the override, for Belmont’s average priced home ($1.3m) is $888 per year, or $17.08/week. For me personally, it is $14.32/week. For the benefit of extra teachers, better senior care and additional town services, that is a fiscally responsible decision I support.
Who suffers if the town rejects the override? Our broad community. Higher enrollment and reduced teaching staff will affect our kids’ education, their after-school activities, their youth. Our wonderful library may have reduced hours, affecting seniors, children, our volunteer organizations. Some of our seniors will continue to lack access to their health needs. Town employees will likely be laid off. Town finances would deteriorate to a fiscally irresponsible level. I cannot let my anger of the last 12 months drive this decision.
For me, the choice is clear: the community I have spent over 10 years volunteering in deserves the opportunity to continue to grow and prosper and provide services to our kids, seniors, parents and working adults.
I hope you agree, and like me, can think beyond the past 12 months and get to “’Yes’ for Belmont.”
Put Belmont’s future first. Vote “yes” on April 6.
The author volunteered as president of Belmont soccer programs (2010-19)
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