Annual Town Meeting Will Continue Thursday May 4th
Town Meeting was dominated by presentations on Monday night, May 1. The meeting started with a vote not to reconsider Articles 20 a zoning ban on commercial recreational marijuana facilities in town, which was approved last Thursday night. After this, Town Meeting took Article 2 (Reports) off the table.
The first report was the annual “State of the Town” report and was given by new Selectmen Chair John Arena. Arena began by highlighting several accomplishments that the town has made in the past year. Among these were Senior Tax Relief and the opening of the newly expanded library. He then defined two major projects that the Selectmen would be focusing on in the coming year. The first was an observation Arena made that a second Proposition 2 1/2 override needs to be attempted, this time using as many resources as possible to help voters understand the Town’s financial situation. He committed to preparing two municipal budgets, one with additional funds from an override included and one without, to better help citizens see what would be lost without increased revenue. Arena asked the School Committee to do the same, suggesting that the two budgets be presented in similar formats to aid voter understanding.
The second project Arena emphasized is further economic development in town. Through the use of a series of slides, Arena showed the uphill battle the town faces in this regard, but reaffirmed that future sustainability of services demanded a proactive approach to attracting larger scale commercial or industrial development in town. The text of the address has been published by the Post and can be read HERE.
The next report came from Finance Committee chair, Mark Dockser, who reviewed the process for the development of the Fiscal Year 2018 budget and used this opportunity to lay some financial facts before the members. He then made a motion for Town Meeting to approve a budget of $104,551,681, which is balanced through the use of $1.2 million from the Town’s free cash reserves.
Town Manager Robert LeLachuer walked through the cost centers of the municipal budget, noting areas of increased and decreased spending and their respective reasonings. The Public Safety budget calls for the reduction of one police officer and one firefighter. The Public Works Department will also see the reduction of one full-time seasonal worker that will reduce the number of crews working from two to one for the summer months.
The School Committee budget was introduced by School Committee Chair Jeanne Barowski and explained by Superintendent John Doherty. After Doherty explained how the school budget is divided, he mentioned that the budget includes a reduction of staff, including seven teachers.
Barowski returned to the podium to answer some concerns raised in a letter to the editor submitted by Linda Phillips and published in The Daily Times Chronicle and The Reading Post. Phillips, a member of town meeting, called for a point of order while Barowski spoke. Visibly upset, Phillips complained that Barowski targeting her by name was inappropriate. As Moderator Alan Foulds restored order, Barowski explained that the questions posed had been in public and that she felt a public response was warranted. Upon reflection, Foulds decided that since the questions had not been raised in Town Meeting, it was not appropriate for Barowski to continue.
LeLachuer finished the budget presentation by addressing the town’s water and sewer enterprise funds, sharing that rates would increase in the new fiscal year. Town Meeting adjourned at 10:20pm and will resume Thursday night.