A one minute answer during an important debate is not the best way to discuss a complex issue. OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits) and how Belmont should pay for these retiree obligations is an exceedingly complex subject and deserves a more complete discussion than it was possible to provide at the League of Women Voters Debate.
First, Selectman Williams’ desire for a professional analysis of Belmont’s retiree obligations, per the information he sent to me, is something with which I completely agree. I do NOT support any program which would add huge increases to the property tax bill or which would make it impossible for Belmont to undertake needed building programs or meet ordinary budget requirements. For example, Selectman Williams’ proposal for a municipal bond made when he ran for Selectman is NOT something I support.
As required by the state, Belmont currently makes an annual payment to its pension plan; it will complete payments by 2029 well in advance of the state’s 2040 deadline. Belmont will begin to pay OPEB requirements in 2030. This approach was adopted many years ago, when sitting selectmen were faced not only with an underfunded retirement fund but one into which no payments had been made for decades. Given the circumstances, the decision was prudent.
Today, Belmont needs to find out: (1) whether this approach is still an effective way to meet both our pension and OPEB obligations; and (2) if there is a more effective approach. Most important, Belmont must figure out whether any change in approach would make it incredibly difficult, or even impossible, to fund all of our day-to-day requirements — schools, building projects, streets and sidewalks, police and fire department, to name just a few — without unduly increasing property taxes.
I believe Belmont should hire a financial advisor/consultant with experience in this area in order to identify whether any changes would make sense. I will come to the table prepared to ask the hard questions needed to determine whether there is a better ALL ROUND approach that can balance our obligations to the town and to Belmont’s retirees with the ability of Belmont’s residents to pay for them.