The following Guest Commentary appeared in the online edition of the Belmont Citizen Herald on March 18, 2021.
As the April 6 override approaches, my career leading nonprofit, government, and higher education institutions informs my perspective. I support the override because it’s good business to do so.
Fiscally responsible stewardship requires adhering to three principles: 1) matching expenses to available revenue; 2) planning over a multi-year period; and 3) investing for the future. The override will enable Belmont to do all three.
The first concept may appear obvious — only spend what you have. However, in Belmont, as in many towns, expenses (including health care, transportation for special education students, and pension costs) increase at an annual rate above the 2.5% state cap on tax growth without an override. The town has spent resources prudently, covering critical expenses, and holding back on needed investments until they receive authorization from the citizenry. To maintain a balanced budget and avoid dipping into one-time reserves to fund structural, ongoing expenses, an override is a must.
The second concept of planning over a multi-year period may be less intuitive. Think about your own house: if your roof leaks and you are planning to live there a while, you will do the full re-roofing that will last for 20 years, instead of just patching a weak spot on the roof. The same is true when running a town. Leaders need to be able to plan for the long haul and not just put temporary patches on gaping holes The last override in 2015 provided three years of budget support (which careful town leaders stretched for another three years). This multi-year planning horizon gave leaders the confidence to phase investment in the most pressing needs across the budget without the fear that further funding wouldn’t materialize. It is now time to give our leaders continued stability in their planning horizon for at least another three years by passing the override they have requested in April.
The third tenet of fiscal strength is the importance of investment. For any entity — for-profit, nonprofit, public sector — investment today is critical for growth tomorrow. That’s true whether it’s investing in our roads to ensure long-term integrity, investing in our library to make sure it continues to be a source of knowledge, community and refuge for Belmont citizens young and old, or investing in our schools to make sure our excellent educational offerings are sustained and we continue to meet the needs of all students — a core principle of public education. This override will enable continued investment — something that has returned value to the Belmont community by attracting and retaining businesses who rely on a vibrant community to patronize their stores.
In addition to serving as a financial leader in my professional life, I also am the mother of three Belmont Public School students and the wife of a public school elementary school teacher. Since last March, I have watched my children and husband struggle with the challenges of the changing school environment and ultimately stabilize to this “new normal.” While it’s not what I would have wanted for them (I can assure you, teaching 26 third graders online from your basement is no picnic) and is definitely sub-optimal relative to the regular, pre-COVID-19 schooling that we took for granted, I know that my kids’ teachers, and my husband and his colleagues, are doing everything they can to make this year the least bad it can be (with some notable bright spots coming from Ezra Flam and the performing arts program at Belmont High School and from Suzanne Szmijewski who sponsors the National History Day Club at Chenery). As with any group that is leading through a crisis, our educators got many things right, and for the things they got wrong, they’ve kept at it, finding improvements and continuing to innovate. We should honor their commitment and dedication with our own commitment to funding our community, our public safety, our library and our schools. Join me in voting for the override on April 6.