The Select Board meeting opened with an overview of the agenda and then public comment to cover the attendees who wanted to speak. First was John Means, a local IT business owner, who spoke to tax classification. He spoke to the amount of commercial property in Reading, being smaller than other communities and the split tax implication being higher in Reading than surrounding communities. He explained the possible implications on consumers including higher prices and lack of community support that small businesses may be willing to contribute to if their taxes are increased.
Next was Eilish Havey, owner of Bunratty Tavern. She spoke about not being made aware of tonight’s meeting until immediately prior. She explained that since the pandemic, her sales are higher, but her costs are up 30-40%, including rent and utilities. If she is assessed a 21% tax rate, and her split rate would go up to 50% of what she is paying now if the split tax carries. She spoke to minimum wage increases and wage increases to all staff, and the financial burden this places on business owners. She has asked for this to be tabled, to allow businesses to recover from Covid and cost increases.
Carlo Bacci started with two recreation meeting updates. Reading Little League is proposing a third field at Joshua Eaton, and several residents expressed concern with safety, parking, and congestion. Pickleball was also discussed- the community proposed chalking some lines on Bancroft to accommodate for lack of lighting due to daylight savings. This passed 6-0 for chalking at Washington Park for a temporary play space. Carlo attended an MMA webinar on solid waste and recycling. He shared that mattress, starting November 1st, will no longer be picked up as trash- they must be recycled. Carlo encouraged residents to consider composting.
Chris Haley was next. He thanked the ARPA committee for their work and expressed appreciation for being able to serve. He mentioned Skatoberfest being a successful event, as well as the success of the new resident open house, and coffee with a cop.
Karen Herrick spoke to the Artsfest on the common and commended the DPW for the maintenance of that event. She also spoke to the new resident’s event that was really well attended. She attended the MMA legislative update in Lynn, stating that the grant situation is very optimistic, and we need to continue going after grants. She also attended the MMA women elected meeting in Melrose. She attended a replacement gas line hearing, expressing her concern with leaks in existing gas lines, and reminded the group of the trick or treat on the common from 4-5:30 on October 26.
Jackie McCarthy spoke next. Last week at the CPDC, they spoke to balconies on 625 Main Street that will be replaced due to safety. FinCom fiscal year 22 was $2.5 million under budget with over $19 million in free cash. RMLD received an update from the new communications manager regarding EV chargers/efficiency recommendations, and they are conducting a search for a new GM. Jackie then shared an update regarding affordability of housing in town, with 30% of reading residents being housing cost burdened.
Lastly, Chair Mark Dockser, mentioned that the percentage of the community that is over 60+ is 25%. He spoke to the new resident open house, mentioning several folks who may want to volunteer for town government. He thanked DPW for trash assistance.
Town Manager Reports on Republic Trash Services
Fidel Maltez spoke next regarding preparation for town meeting. Warrant books will be able to be picked up this Saturday and after that at Town Hall. Fidel also spoke to the Killam tours for Town meeting members on November 4, November 5th, and he spoke to securing mattress pickup.
Fidel then provided an Update on the Solid Waste Contract. And as of 6pm tonight, trash and recycling are on schedule. Yard waste may fall behind, but pickups are happening. The town is in active communication with other providers, but the hope is to maintain the contract in place until it expires in 2026. One bulk item is allowed per home per week. Fidel spoke to the potential rollout of automated pickup, with one town issued trash barrel and one town issued recycle bin allocated per household.
Victor Santaniello, from the Reading Board of Assessors presented on the Fiscal 2023 classification. After the presentation, there was an opportunity for questions. The hearing was then closed and voting ensued.
Carlo and Chris were not interested in anything higher than a 1.02% split rate. While Chris and Carlo spoke to the burden on business owners, Jackie spoke to the burden on households and residents, and wanted to shift the rate from 1.02 to 1.05. Karen spoke to same, expressing that supply chain issues are also impacting homeowners, and concerns for seniors and real estate property values. Karen wants us to get to a 1.25 over time, but for tonight, she would like to see 1.05. Mark mentioned the Board supporting small businesses over the years. He does support a higher split over time. He is supportive at a 1.05 rate this year, and as things recover, moving to a higher number over time.
- The Select Board adopt a resolution factor of .9965 for fiscal year 2023 (1.05) Passed 3-2, with Carlo and Chris dissenting.
- The Select Board voted a non-discount for open space. Passed 5-0
- Non adoption of a residential exemption for FY 2023. 5-0
- Non adoption of Small commercial exemption for FY 20203. Passed 5-0
Next was a presentation from ReCalc on the initiatives that the committee has taken by John Sasso. After evaluation of the Pleasant Street Center, ReCalc determined that the center may not be adequate to meet the needs of our senior community due to deficiencies in the building. He then spoke to the survey launched to get feedback from every community member on what the community is looking for. Several community senior centers were visited. John also gave an update to the work involved to evaluate the Walgreen’s site.
ReCalc Preliminary Survey Update
Caitlin Coyle, from UMass Boston, then shared the preliminary results of the survey. 1470 responses were received (2 surveys were blank). Results to note include 48% chose an all-ages community center as the most popular response, and 33% a 60 plus only center, and 43% had no preference for location, with 32% preferring downtown location.
Regarding cost, 31% would support a center only if there was no additional cost, and 24% would support a $100-200/year tax increase. Most respondents preferred a multipurpose space for small group activities (62%). The number one preferred outdoor space was benches or comfortable outdoor seating (63%). In addition, results showed that residents are looking for little or no cost to participate in programming at the center, and ample parking as the two top priorities.
The board then voted to extend ReCalc past the sunset date to June 30th, 2023. Vote passed 4-1, with Carlo dissenting.
Town Meeting Article 19
The Board then Discussed Town Meeting Article 19, which is the purchase of the old Walgreen’s building. Mark feels that this is not ready to offer to town meeting and wants to suggest to town meeting members that this article is indefinitely postponed and suggest a February special town meeting to allow further exploration of the property. This would also allow for facilitating a 2 ½ override on the April election ballot.
Chris drew parallels to other articles that are not ready, that should not be on the November warrant and agreed with postponing.
Fidel mentioned that postponing the article will help facilitate further exploration of the Walgreen’s building and has commissioned an architectural firm that will present to the Council on Aging. The board agreed to recommend to Town Meeting to indefinitely postpone the article, and Mark will be presenting to Town Meeting.
Pay In-Class Study
Joellen Cademartori presented on the research that GovHR, the consulting firm, has conducted to get a better understanding of compensation of non-union employees and how Reading ranks alongside other town employees. Recommendations include maintaining an above 75% grade with regards to pay rate to keep Reading competitive in the talent market.
Next, Fidel spoke to the future retirement of Jean Delios, Assistant Town Manager, in February, and expressed his desire to promote Matt Kraunelis to that position upon Jean’s retirement, and to have Matt oversee both Administrative Services and Public Services.
The Select Board then discussed and voted on the following RAAC recommendations for ARPA allocations:
- Reading Garden Club – $4,000: 5-0 vote
- Reading Rotary – $25,000 5-0 vote
- Reading Chamber – $29,000 5-0 vote
- First Congregational Church – $4,000 5-0 vote
- Due Diligence on a Potential Purchase of 17 Harnden Street, the former Walgreen’s site – $25,000 5-0 vote
- Premium Pay – $900,000 3-2 vote (Mark and Karen were dissenting votes. They both felt the amount was too high and thought other items were more warranted)
- Water Enterprise Support/Capital Costs – $930,314 5-0 vote
The board then discussed future agenda items, postponed meeting minutes, and adjourned at 11:34PM.