After careful consideration and having attended School Committee meetings, FinCom meetings, Selectmen meetings, Financial Forums, Community Listening sessions, and Town Meeting, I am voting NO on October 18 on the question of supporting a $7.5 million override for the Town of Reading.
I believe the Town is in need of an override, but I do not believe that the override should be $7.5 million. The Town has suggested that they need $4 to $4.5 million yet they are requesting an additional $3 to $3.5 million to budget in some cases a list of wished for or wanted services. I want to vote for an override that fills the gap in our current budget needs and not to support creating a larger budget or adding additional services or positions.
Reading residents are facing, in the very near future, several additional financial requests that are not included in this override but are desperately needed projects. These will be the Killam School and DPW garage renovations. These will be put forth as debt exclusions, such as the High School or Library projects, both of which have ten plus years left on them. The estimates on these new projects have been suggested as $5-8 million for the Killam School and $18-22 million for the DPW garage.
Then there is the unknown debt amount that will be created from settling the High School building lawsuit; I don’t suggest to know the millions that that will be passed on to the taxpayers. In addition, Town Meeting recently passed a senior relief warrant for a small number of eligible Reading seniors that creates up to $1 million of lost revenue that will be passed on to all remaining taxpayers beginning next year.
This $7.5 million override, if approved, would be the third largest amount voted on in the history of Prop 2 ½. It would raise your property tax over 14% next year and that amount would be closer to 15% when you factor in the recent senior relief measure.
Like all Reading residents, I feel strongly that supporting our schools supports our town. However, at this time, I can’t support the budget requests from the School Department. In April they disregarded the recommendation of a $3.25 million budget from FinCom and presented a budget of $3.5 million with an additional request of $150,000 which was funded through the general fund. The School Department presented several budget requests that were, let’s say puzzling, one example was an increase request for paraprofessional funding when they had positions unfilled from the previous budget year. In a February School Committee meeting it was stated that the school budget was projected to be in the black by $200,000 at the end of the the 2015/16 school year.
There is a need to examine the fiscal challenges facing Reading and weight all of the current and future needs in considering an override vote. I am voting NO on October 18.
Precinct 1 Town member