Town Accountant: Reading Has A Credit Rating of AAA – Could Get 1.503% Interest Rate
At its meeting of June 27, the Board of Selectmen opened with public comment. First up was Bill Brown who informed the Board that the director of the Cemetery Board of Trustees was resigning primarily due to money. Next, Board of Health member Nancy Docktor stated that she was confused as to why there was a police detail sent to a recent Board of Health meeting, raising the issue of communication to the Board of Health from the Board of Selectmen. She made a second point, stating that multiple Public Health Services employees have left in the past months and added “not everything is related to salary.” Finally she asked them to investigate staff retention problems. Public comment ended with discussion on whether or not the Board of Selectmen could commit to the April 3 date for a ballot override question. It was determined, through input by Town Clerk Laura Gemme, that no commitment to the April 3 date could take place until they have all of the information, and have the exact numbers for the override to close the warrant.
The Selectmen then discussed the town’s Hazard Mitigation Plan which outlines the responses and procedures for foreseeable hazards such as hurricane, earthquakes, and flooding. Board Chair John Arena opened the debate by pointing out several typos, including one that could have changed the anticipated potential cost of a hazard by an order of magnitude. In combination with multiple other typos, Selectman John Halsey questioned if the board should adopt the plan. “It should be a living document” he said, calling it a “weak document,” and stating “just because it is what it is doesn’t mean we should embrace it.” Arena then asked Community Development Director Julie Mercier what the consequences of not adopting the plan would be. According to Ms. Mercier, the retainer of $25,000 has already been paid, and FEMA mandates that the plan be updated every five years. On the second point the Town of Reading is already outside the five year window – the last Hazard Mitigation Plan was updated in 2010. This could impact potential grants from FEMA, none of which the town is looking for in the next few weeks. Selectmen Halsey, Arena, and Andy Friedmann all argued to wait on adopting the plan for now. The plan from the Selectmen is to get amendments to Julie by the next meeting.
The Selectmen then reviewed the Department of Public Works policies. The major changes that were discussed included creating a new fee structure, primarily of commercial or development use (i.e. hydrant testing, fire flow testing), and amending where ownership of the DPW lines begins. This would mean that instead of the DPW owning the lines up to the owner’s house, they may only own up to a private property line. Selectman Dan Ensminger commended the DPW on its excellent work maintaining the lines to the owners’ houses. Arena asked if the “the DPW is to come back with a proposal.” Ryan Percival, town engineer, responded “It is reasonable to say we will have something in the fall.”
Following the DPW discussion, the board opened its discussion on the water tower on the corner of Auburn Street and Beacon Street which needs to be replaced. Tenants, in the form of cell phone carriers, are currently also using the towers. The current plan put forth by the DPW would mean that the town of Reading would own the cell tower and the water tower, and lease the cell tower to the carriers. It is hoped that this would be completed within the next two years.
First to speak with a public comment was abutter Mark Dulaney. He brought up concerns that there was no communication with the neighborhood until now. “Not one person on this board talked to the neighborhood…I’m dumbfounded.” Arena pointed out that this is only the second time it has come before the Board of Selectmen, and that this is only the beginning of the public process. A discussion with the engineers then covered the scouting of a new location, aesthetic considerations, and replacement needs. Arena also cautioned against reading “too much into reactions here” in terms of how far this idea has progressed.
Three more abutters raised concerns about health risks and what this might do to property values. They asked if it might be safer for a taller tower, or if the stronger equipment that would be put on the new tower might mean harmful radiation. Ensminger did brief research on the topic of safe radiation, and found no evidence for any health concerns. He also stated that the radiation from a phone is worse than the potential radiation from the tower. Stephen Crook also commented that the regulations of cellular towers are all under FCC jurisdiction. Regarding property value changes, Arena noted he is sensitive to this issue, and Berman added that “we don’t want to shove a project down the throat of a neighborhood, but we also have to deal with the water tower.” Arena finished by saying that the town will have to find a way to preserve the utility in the best way possible.
Sharon Angstrom, the town accountant, then led a brief discussion on the debt sale. She stated that the town has a credit rating of AAA, which means the town could get an interest rate of 1.503%. She also noted that the Massachusetts School Building Authority owes the town $1.48 million, plus the legal fees related to the high school litigation. John Halsey asked for an accounting on the completion of the High School project. The motion to accept the debt sale of $6.645 million general obligation municipal purpose bonds carried 5-0.
The meeting adjourned at 9:33 p.m.