The Select Board meeting this past Tuesday night was primarily focused on reviewing the remaining Town Department FY24 Budgets; Public Library, Facilities, Finance, Shared Costs and a Budget Summary.
Amy Lannon, the Director of the Reading Public Library, started off first with the library’s presentation. She shared the library’s strategic plan as it relates to the FY24 budget. She gave a summary of the strategic plan, centered around customer convenience, community learning, and the library as a “space and place” to optimize the library as a community asset, to encourage engagement and optimize it into a space of transformative learning. She then shared some of the resources that the library offers. The board of library trustees approves a budget of $2,095,025, which is a 3.75% increase over FY23.
Mark Dockser asked questions regarding the space usage of the library. Amy shared that priority usage does go to the library, and fees are assessed for outside entities who are interested in booking meeting rooms at the library to help with the cost of maintaining the space.
Carlo Bacci inquired about Sunday utilization of the library, while Chris Haley and Jackie McCarthy asked questions about certain line items on the budget. Karen Herrick shared how pleased she is with the online resources at the library. Mark asked questions about sound capabilities. Chris also asked about safety and security at the library, as well as CORI check questions regarding town employees and volunteers. Amy explained that if the library is providing a service, the library may have employees who are CORI checked, but was not clear on whether every library staff member or volunteer is required to be CORI checked. Chris continued to inquire, and Amy explained that only if one to one contact is part of the delivery of service, then a CORI check is required. Amy also expressed that it would not be a reasonable request due to cost and the request for information needed to perform the CORI check. Libraries are very different, and different laws apply, according to Amy, and it is a different world, things are changing, and it is “not your grandmother’s library”.
Next was the Town Facilities update from Joe Huggins. Chris, Carlo, and Mark asked about specific budget line items and costs. Mark and Chris inquired about the $90k security cost line item in the budget but Joe asked to follow up offline due to security concerns. $4,003,430 was requested which is a 9.3% increase from last year.
Next was Sharon Angstrom with the Town Finance update. $1,085.550 was requested for FY24. Sharon then provided an update on Shared Costs, citing an increase in percentage of cost as relating to benefits, debt, and vocational schools, and a decrease in capital, with FINCOM reserves remaining flat percentage wise.
Town Manager, Fidel Maltez, then spoke to a summary of FY24 budgeting requests. One of the most notable opinions he shared was being able to “take a bigger bite” out of the cost of full day kindergarten, roughly $150k. Karen asked questions regarding different processes for budgeting requests for different committees, citing that, for example, the Climate Committee did not have a budget. She would like to treat all committees consistently and make sure a process is set that is consistent and equitable for all.
Fidel concluded by citing next steps: he will send his recommendations to the Select Board for review and to be discussed on January 10th meeting, School committee will deliver their FY24 budget on January 31st, Fidel will send FINCOM balanced budget no later than February, and Fidel will be meeting with FINCOM in March and finalize budget for April town meeting.
The Select Board then approved 2 sets of meeting minutes, 5-0, with minimal revisions from what was included in the packet.
Potential Center Sites
The board then transitioned into talks about potential sites for a new senior/community center/municipal building including any possible new alternatives, and potential vote to authorize town manager to expend funds to explore any such sites. Mark shared that town counsel, Ivria Fried, sent out a note to the board regarding an explanation of RFPs, and the opportunity to talk about other potential sites. One of those sites included is 25 Haven Street, which is listed at $2.7 million dollars at less than 8000 square feet. Chris mentioned that this facility is much smaller, has a bad smell, and is not in good condition and a lot more work will need to go into that site. He also cited the lack of safety access to the parking for our seniors. Karen agreed that the building has not been maintained and agreed with Chris’s assessment of accessibility to parking for our seniors. Carlo agreed with Chris, but “dollars and cents” are involved in the decision and that 25 Haven should be explored through an RFP. Mark asked the board to engage in discussion on whether there are any other opportunities to consider, and if so, how should the Board proceed.
Chris suggested continuing with the RFP process by expanding the scope of the usage of the building to allow for more responses. Karen shared that 25 Haven is the same size as the Pleasant Street Center and asked why it should be pursued if our current center is inadequate. Carlo suggested the board continue with an RFP or feasibility study to include 25 Haven, Jackie agreed, and that all options should be discovered and vetted to present to Town Meeting. Chris suggested saving money on the feasibility study, having a lot of insight already into what options exist. Mark was supportive of a feasibility study regardless of what option the board pursues, so the right information is presented to town meeting and the voters and issuing another RFP to make sure all options are discovered and evaluated. The board then voted 5-0 to move to authorize the Town Manager to issue an RFP to continue to explore additional options.
The board then went into executive session to discuss the potential acquisition of 17 Harnden Street by a vote of 5-0 and did not return to open session.