Special Election set for October 18
At their August 16th meeting, the Board of Selectmen voted 4-0 to ask the voters for a $7.5 million dollar override in a single ballot question at the Special Election to be held on October 18. They did so after rejecting motions for $9 million, $8.5 million, and $8 million respectively. The $7.5 million represents $6 million to retain town and school services at their current levels, and $1.5 million to add new services or restore services that have been cut in both the town and school portions of the budget over the last several years.
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In the town portion of the budget, the additions could include a school resource officer, an additional fire fighter, more library staffing, and other administrative costs. The School Committee has not yet prioritized their additions, but several options include middle school health classes, full-day Wednesdays for elementary students, and the restoration of some Advanced Placement and elective classes at RMHS. Officials from the town government and the school department were quick to point out what would happen if the override does not pass, mentioning 30 positions would be lost in the school department alone, mostly teachers. “By great management, and cost saving measures we have masked what it actually costs to run town government,” Selectmen Barry Berman commented. The rising costs of energy, and especially health insurance were blamed for the anticipated deficits in the coming years if the override is not successful. “What is driving this is costs beyond our control,” Selectman John Arena lamented.
The vote came after a presentation by Town Manager Bob LeLacheur and Superintendent John Doherty illustrating what gains could be made by asking for an amount over the 6 million dollar base. A spirited discussion followed that lasted almost an hour and a half. Multiple residents and several members of other town committees offered their points of view as well. School Committee members Jeanne Barowski and Elaine Webb offered passionate calls for an even higher override amount than was finally decided upon. “We need to do the best we possibly can for the students of Reading,” Webb added. The $9 million dollar amount that was rejected represented a possible fifteen percent property tax increase to the average Reading taxpayer, an amount that was deemed too high for the Selectmen to endorse. The $7.5 million dollar amount finally agreed upon would be between an eleven and twelve percent tax increase.
There will be a town-wide financial forum on September 1 at the RMHS Performing Arts Center to further educate members of the community about the financial challenges the town government faces.