March 26, 2015: Voting “yes” for the common good

March 26, 2015: Belmont Citizen-Herald

I urge a “yes” vote on the over-ride facing Belmont on April 7th.

The decision to increase taxes should never be easy.  In this instance, however, it is necessary.  We must increase our tax burden today to promote the common good, recognizing the shared public purposes of the services supported.

The Belmont Public School system is one such institution that serves the entire community.  Not merely an adequate, but an excellent public education is needed to prepare our kids to compete in the future; the success of our children as workers will then be the foundation of the financial support for today’s population as they age out of the work force. No local government has found public education to be a financially self-supporting institution.  Education is a public structure benefiting the public at large that must be supported by the community as a whole for the current and future benefit of us all.

Belmont’s public schools unquestionably face challenges today.  Increasing enrollment is perhaps the biggest such challenge.  Not too many years ago, Belmont was one of the oldest communities in the commonwealth, with an extraordinarily high percentage of residents age 85 and older.  As that generation has turned over, and aging residents have been replaced by families with children, our school enrollment has increased.

We’ve seen the impacts of this: class sizes have increased and space has become constrained.  Class selection has become more limited at all grade levels.  Classroom support, including textbooks, has dwindled.  Increased funding is needed to respond.

One additional need today is to make those expenditures today that will prevent even greater expenditures in the future.  Failing to repair streets and sidewalks today will lead to even more extensive repair and replacement needs in the future that will cost even more.

In urging increased funding for street repair, however, we should first acknowledge the progress we have recently made.  Just since 2010, we have paved roughly half of the 26 roads identified by the Office of Community Development as being in the worst shape (and not needing water main replacement as well). We have completed major thrufares such as Goden and Common Street. We have begun work on Trapelo Road. The Town has worked in good faith to address our street problems within existing budget constraints.

Nonetheless, we need a “yes” vote to enhance our street repairs.  The longer we put it off, the worse shape our streets become and the more expensive the work becomes.  We either pay to repair them now, or we pay even more to replace them in the future.  We do ourselves no financial favors by failing to repair our roads and sidewalks.

We need a “yes” vote to fund needed capital projects.  The incontrovertible fact is that Belmont is an old community, and things are wearing out.

Again, however, we should first give credit for the progress that Belmont has made in the last few years. After years of neglect, Belmont has replaced its fire stations, renovated our Town Hall complex, built a new Wellington elementary school, replaced our community pool, and begun building a long-overdue new electric substation.

However, much remains to be done.  For this fiscal year, Town Meeting was told that the Town had capital needs of $5.6 million (exclusive of roads). In contrast the Town had only $1.4 million to spend on capital projects, of which $300,000 was one-time revenue.  Basic capital funding is lagging.

Schools, streets and sidewalks, capital repairs and replacement.  They benefit us all.

I urge, for the benefit of the entire community, a “yes” vote on April 7th.

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