Voters in Belmont will cast ballots Monday in contested races for the Board of Selectmen, School Committee, and Board of Assessors as the town pursues efforts to broaden its tax base and attract more businesses.
Those efforts dominated the discussion among contenders at a “meet the candidates’’ night organized by the Belmont League of Women Voters last Thursday at Chenery Middle School.
Andy Rojas and Daniel Scharfman, the two candidates for one seat on the Board of Selectmen, talked about the importance of preserving the town’s character while expanding its commercial tax base, touching in particular on the Cushing Village proposal, and coming out against plans to develop the Belmont Uplands open-space area.
“It’s the most pressing problem Belmont will face for the next decade,’’ said Rojas, who is a member of Belmont’s Planning Board and the Economic Development Advisory Committee. “If we get it wrong it will set the stage . . . The town won’t trust us and developers will think we’re easy.’’
Scharfman, who is a member of the School Committee, said smart growth was achieved by keeping communities intact and keeping developments to scale with their surroundings.
All of the candidates for townwide offices spoke and answered questions from voters at the event, with those in contested races drawing the most questions.
There are two seats open on the School Committee, and one on the Board of Assessors.
Anne Lougee is running for School Committee for her first full term, after being appointed last year to fill a vacancy; Pascha Griffiths and Matthew Sullivan are running as newcomers.
Martin Millane is running for the Board of Assessors as an incumbent and Gerard Natoli is running as a newcomer.
Questions for Rojas and Scharfman centered largely on development. Only 5 percent of Belmont’s tax revenue comes from commercial properties; the other 95 percent comes from residential taxpayers.
In the last couple of years, the town has made a push to bring businesses to Belmont, including creating the Economic Development Advisory Committee to help foster growth.
The effort has met with stops and starts. Cushing Village, a commercial and residential development proposed for the heart of Belmont Center on Common Street between Trapelo Road and Belmont Street, has been in limbo for several years. It has faced persistent opposition from neighbors worried that its size would be out of scale with surrounding homes. Talk of affordable housing being included in the project has further inflamed tempers.
Both candidates agreed that growth must be tempered by concern for the town’s residential character.
One voter asked the candidates for selectman whether they would work to revoke the purchase and sale agreement the town signed with the Cushing Village developer for a parking garage in the event that the developer seeks affordable housing. They both said they would work to defuse such a contentious outcome.
Both Scharfman and Rojas said they opposed plans to build affordable housing at the Belmont Uplands, which connects with the Alewife Reservation.
Questions for the School Committee candidates revolved largely around how they would work within the budget constraints Belmont faces.
All three candidates said they would look to supplement the school system’s budget with funds from outside sources.
When a voter asked whether they would be willing to take a stand to say that extracurricular activities should be funded by school budget dollars, all three candidates said yes, although they varied on how committed they were willing to be.
The candidates for the Board of Assessors answered questions briefly. Millane touted his experience, while Natoli said he could be an asset to the board.
Candidates for town moderator, Board of Cemetery Commissioners, Board of Health, and Trustees of the Public Library are running without opposition. Belmont residents will also elect Town Meeting members.
Evan Allen can be reached at email@example.com.