League of Women Voters Candidates Night - Mar 27th, 2024

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Candidates night, sponsored by the Arlington League of Women Voters. Their website is https://www.lwva.com. Candidates for town-wide offices are given the opportunity to make statements, and answer questions submitted by members of the public.

Board of Assessors

There is one candidate -- Gordon Jamieson -- running for one open seat.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson is currently the chair of the Board of Assessors. He's lived in Arlington for 20 years and is serving his sixth term as a Town Meeting member. Mr. Jamieson's goals include making the assessor's website more user-friendly and ensuring that property assessments are fair and equitable. He's also worked to implement cyclic reassessments, rather than having them done every ten years.

Question: If a homeowner believes their property has been over-valued, how can they file for an abatement?

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson says that applications for abatement have to be filed by February 1st. He advises residents to fill out the application form completely, and allow the assessors to enter the property for inspection.

Question: What's the difference between a deferral and an exemption?

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson says that exemptions are available to certain groups, like veterans. Deferments allow a home owner to put off making part or all of their property tax payments, until the property changes hands.

Question: Are there many requests for deferrals?

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson says that deferral requests are mostly handled by staff, rather than the Board of Assessors.

Question: Is there a limit on how much an individual's tax can increase under proposition 2.5?

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson says the 2.5% increase applies to the total tax levy, and that individual taxes are always based on your portion of the pie. If someone makes a major improvement to their home, like adding a large addition, then their taxes will go up.

Question: Do you support Article 21? (Article 21 is a home rule petition that proposes to amend the senior citizen property tax exemption).

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson says he's discussed Article 21 with the Board of Assessors, and with the Town Manager. He says that Article 21 will not go forward because they're found another source of funding.

Select Board

There are two candidates -- Eric Helmuth and John Hurd -- for two seats.

(Eric Helmuth) In his past term on the Select Board, Mr. Helmuth says the town has allocated millions of dollars of COVID relief funds to help residents and businesses, conducted a town-wide equity audit, and responded to the regional need to add housing in the right places. He says the town provides a high level of services, while maintaining its fiscal promises.

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd says that Arlington relies on many volunteers in order to function well, and he thanks them for volunteering. He also thanks Mr. Helmuth for running a clean campaign (laughs). Mr. Hurd says it's been an honor to serve on the Select Board, where he's presided over two budget overrides and the campaign to build a new high school. He says the town has navigated the pandemic, adopted forward-thinking policies, and provided a high level of service.

Question: What measures are being taken to counter anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents in Arlington?

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd says it starts with the schools, and being centered on inclusiveness. He says the way we respond and come together is heartening, and that more conversations lead to more understanding.

(Eric Helmuth) Mr. Helmuth says he wants to make it clear that Arlington is a town where everyone is welcome, and that we take hate incidents seriously.

Question: Town Meeting passed multi-family zoning for MBTA Communities, but T service continues to deteriorate. How can we improve public transit service in Arlington?

(Eric Helmuth) Mr. Helmuth says he supports linking housing policy with quality of service, and we need transit availability in order to make that work. He says that partnerships with the legislature are important.

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd says the Select Board will continue to work with our state delegation to advocate for Arlington. He says we have a great working relationship with the MBTA, but there's more work to be done.

Question: The next question is about 40B. Will the Select Board move to certify that Arlington has met the 1.5% land area threshold needed for safe harbor compliance?

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd says the town's position is that we've met the safe harbor requirement. He says there have been great 40B projects, outside of the one by the Mugar wetlands. 40B has been helpful for increasing the amount of affordable housing in Arlington.

(Eric Helmuth) Mr. Helmuth says that 40B can be a useful tool. He says it's hard for affordable housing developers to plan projects successfully, and he'd be interested in adopting an affordable housing overlay, as Cambridge has done. He thinks that would increase the rate of affordable housing development.

Question: What's the maintenance budget for town-owned buildings?

(Eric Helmuth) Mr. Helmuth says the maintenance needs for town hall are both important and expensive. He says we're considering CPA funds and bonding for the project.

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd says that 5% of Arlington's budget is devoted to capital needs, and that CPA has been a huge success in tackling some of these projects.

Question: Do you support additional housing in Arlington?

(John Hurd) Absolutely. Mr. Hurd says this is very important, and that residents are very vocal about the need for more housing. He says we need creative ways to create new units.

(Eric Helmuth) Mr. Helmuth says we need to streamline our permitting processes in a way that still gives the community say. He says we can create more neighbors and more diversity.

Question: We're losing many trees. What can the Select Board do to protect the tree canopy?

(Eric Helmuth) Mr. Helmuth says this is a policy priority for the Select Board. He says there's a healthy process around hearings for tree removal, and there are always plans for re-planting.

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd says the tree canopy is important, and that a lot of new housing is developed on existing parcels because Arlington doesn't have unused space to develop. He says they often work to keep existing trees, where possible.

Question: Would you consider spending cuts to keep things affordable?

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd says that Arlington gets a lot of bang for its buck, and we only ever ask for overrides in a responsible manner. He says the town is well run, and is in a good fiscal situation.

(Eric Helmuth) Mr. Helmuth says that Arlington's spending is modest when compared to comparable communities. He's not in favor of cutting services. When we go to the voters for an override, we have a conversation, and the voters tell us what to do. He says it's important to keep the voter's trust.

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd says he has a passion for the town, and cares about the direction it takes. He says the Select Board has a variety of opinions, but can disagree amicably.

(Eric Helmuth) Mr. Helmuth says he believes in the town, and our shared commitment to making Arlington a good place to live.

School Committee

There are two candidates -- Jane Morgan and Jeff Thielman -- for two seats.

(Jane Morgan) Ms. Morgan says she has four kids, is an associate dean and Southern New Hampshire University, and used to be a classroom teacher. She brings a valuable perspective to the committee. Ms. Morgan says she has a spirit of inquiry, and that it's important to ask difficult questions. Ms. Morgan says that Arlington has a high-functioning school committee.

(Jeff Thielman) Mr. Thielman says that Arlington has a collaborative school committee that comes together and makes good decisions. In his day job, Mr. Thielman is CEO of an organization that serves refugee communities. One of his goals is to fully fund and implement the school's strategic plan. He's chaired the High School Building Committee since 2016, and wants to see that project through to completion.

Question: How are override funds allocated between the town and school?

(Jeff Thielman) Mr. Thielman says that some funds will go towards the strategic plan, to improve school pay for teachers.

(Jane Morgan) Ms. Morgan says there's lots of pre-work done, before the override goes to voters. A large part will go towards compensation, so our teachers and paraprofessionals have competitive pay. She says that Arlington is a town that keeps its promises.

Question: If the high school construction comes in under budget, what will happen to the money?

(Jane Morgan) Ms. Morgan says the high school was funded with a debt exclusion, and some parts of the project are contingent on having money to fund them. She says there will be a lot of decisions on how that money is allocated.

(Jeff Thielman) Mr. Thielman says there are approximately 21 months left in the construction timeline, and lots of things that may or may not be done, depending on contingent funds.

Question: What's your position on the ballot question that proposes to remove the MCAS exam as a graduation requirement?

(Jeff Thielman) Mr. Thielman says we need to have a thoughtful conversation about that. He says it's not so much an issue in Arlington, but it is an issue in other communities. He's not sure where he lands on that ballot question.

(Jane Morgan) Ms. Morgan says the School Committee spends a lot of time deliberating about MCAS, but she's undecided as a voter.

Question: What measures are in place to ensure a safe environment in the schools?

(Jane Morgan) Ms. Morgan says the school committee hires the Superintendent, sets policy, and approves budgets. She says the schools have a robust DEI department and the School Committee has an active policy sub-committee.

(Jeff Thielman) Mr. Thielman says there are DEI measures all throughout the strategic plan, and this makes the district, staff, and kids better. He says the school district has made many improvements, but there is always work to do.

Question: Should a sixteen year old be able to participate in town elections?

(Jeff Thielman) Mr. Thielman says yes. Anything that gets young people involved in civic life is good.

(Jane Morgan) Ms. Morgan says if kids want to vote, she's not sure she'd stand in their way.

Question: What is Arlington doing to meet the needs of special education students?

(Jane Morgan) Ms. Morgan says that individualized education program policies are reviewed through the lens of how they affect those students. She says the schools benefit from veteran teachers and paraprofessionals.

(Jeff Thielman) Mr. Thielman says that retention and professional development are the most important things we can do.

Question: How do the schools approach the topic of climate change?

(Jeff Thielman) Mr. Thielman says that one of the goals for the new high school was to have a LEED platinum building. Kids also learn about climate change as part of the curriculum.

(Jane Morgan) Ms. Morgan says that Massachusetts doesn't have particularly robust frameworks around climate science, but she does see it a lot in art classes.

Question: How is the school district partnering with families on education?

(Jane Morgan) Ms. Morgan says it's challenging, and creating consistency across schools has been a work in progress.

(Jeff Thielman) Mr. Thielman says the School Committee holds the Superintendent responsible for that. The schools have a new department of communications and family relations.

Question: Representative Ryan Hamilton filed a bill that would require financial literacy to be taught in schools. What are your thoughts on this bill?

(Jeff Thielman) Mr. Thielman says it's an important topic, but the schools have a constrained curriculum.

(Jane Morgan) Ms. Morgan says it will matter how well it's integrated.

(Jeff Thielman) Mr. Thielman says that Arlington has a good, cohesive school committee that has thoughtful discussions. There are good dedicated people in the district.

(Jane Morgan) Ms. Morgan says it's important to have events like these, even during uncontested races because it keeps candidates accountable to the public.