The following commentary appeared in the Belmontonian on March 31, 2021.
On April 5, Belmont’s elementary school children will have the opportunity to attend school in-person and full-time for the first time since March 12, 2020. Middle and high school students will follow later this spring. On May 3, Belmont Center will resume the outdoor dining it first launched due to COVID last year. And on June 23, the pool will reopen – albeit with some limitations on numbers. These are opportunities for us to come together, hopefully mostly vaccinated, as a community. There’s a lot to look forward to after an excruciatingly difficult year. I can’t wait to reconnect with people I’ve barely seen for months.
Here is what I don’t want to overhear at an outdoor table in the center or poolside: arguments about what sports should be cut from the middle and high schools, whether theater is more important than music or vice versa, and which days the library should cut hours, or why there is trash overflowing at Joey’s, Pequossette, and Grove Street Parks on the weekends. If this happens, it will mean that the override has not passed, and while other towns are busy bouncing back from a horrible year, we will be compounding our public health crisis with a fiscal one that further divides our town.
It doesn’t have to be that way, if we acknowledge that acting now saves taxpayers money. Belmont’s multi-year structural deficit will not magically disappear if we ignore it. In fact, it will just get bigger. And, as welcome as the news is of federal aid for our small businesses, renters, and others facing difficulty meeting housing costs, we must face the fact that regarding the other aid promised to the town, only a very small percentage will be unrestricted or not allocated for COVID-related expenses.
If you put off painting your house because of sticker shock, you may have to replace rotting wood and paint your house – at much greater cost. We’re in the same situation with our town. Deferring maintenance and routine expenses makes things cost more, not less. Likewise, cutting first responders means paying overtime if those who are left are needed in an emergency. Failing to hire a procurement officer means we spend more, not less, on supplying our schools and town with the things they need to function, whether its road salt or school desks. Let’s not delude ourselves: as counterintuitive as it might seem, deferring a tax increase does not help our most vulnerable residents. It just makes our collective costs snowball, burdening us all more. Like a routine paint job before rot sets in, the override saves money in the long run.
This spring, let’s come together as a community again – finally – at school, in town center, at the pool, in our parks. And let’s come together as a community that assumes responsibility for maintaining and sustaining what we have before it falls apart.
Please join me in voting Yes on Question 1 on April 6.