The following Guest Commentary appeared in the online edition of the Belmont Citizen Herald on March 18, 2021.
I have not written a column in a while, but I feel the need to speak out on why we need an override and why we need it now.
Please note that this column reflects only my opinion, and that I am not speaking for the entire Select Board.
As I sit here writing this in March of 2021, I am hopeful about Belmont’s future. The pandemic will end. Businesses will open. Children will fill the schools. In-person meetings will resume.
We need to be ready to hit the ground running.
We need to pass the override.
Proposition 2 1/2 requires the approval of the voters in order to raise taxes more than 2.5%, and that is what will be on the ballot on April 6. Other towns seek such overrides for the same reasons that Belmont is now: to plow our roads, maintain our buildings, properly staff and equip our departments, provide a quality education for our children, and support our seniors.
Belmont runs a lean government, while only rarely seeking overrides. The fact that we can do this is a testament to Belmont’s ingenuity and prudent planning. In fact, we stretched the 2015 override, which was structured to last three years, for six years; however, those six years are now up.
For several years, at Town Meeting and Select Board meetings, we have discussed the eventual need for an override. The simple truth is that towns like Belmont with a small commercial tax base have a structural deficit. Educating our kids, plowing our streets, protecting our residents, and helping people costs money. It is also true, and you see it in your personal life, that the cost of those things historically increases more than 2.5% per year.
Without this override, there will be painful cuts to services that we all rely on, and there will be deferred maintenance to town assets which will cost more in the long run.
These cuts will impact all of us in very real and personal ways, including:
• We will lose police officer and firefighter positions.
• Library hours and services will be reduced.
• The schools will lose more than a dozen teachers and class sizes will significantly increase.
• Many needs of our seniors will be unmet.
• Filling potholes and issuing building permits will be delayed.
• Enforcement of by-laws for things like snow removal and noise will suffer.
I understand that this is not a good time to seek an override, but it is the time when we most need to do so. As we emerge from the pandemic, the isolation of seniors in their homes and the educational challenges for children require our attention. Now is not the time to abandon our friends and neighbors. It is the time to invest in them.
Failing to pass an override now will not make our problems go away. In fact, it will only make the structural deficit larger, while forcing service cuts and depleting the town’s resources.
The Select Board has been aggressively pursuing new revenues and cost savings, with a great deal of success. We redesigned the town’s health insurance plan, combined and redefined positions, absorbed increased state mandates without adding staff, added new real estate developments to our tax base, and brought in over $1 million in new grants throughout our departments.
We will never stop seeking ways to address our structural deficit, but none of this means that we do not need an override. We do. And we need one now.
Yes, this override is about dollars and cents at its basic level, but it is mostly about our town. What do we want Belmont to be? Who are we as a community? What do we value? We need this override to preserve our community.
I believe that Belmont can remain the town that we love. A place that is safe, provides quality education, cares for our seniors, and preserves our town buildings and other assets for future generations. To do that, we need to pass the override and we need to do it now.
I ask that you consider this when you vote on April 6.
– Adam Dash is a member of the Belmont Select Board.