Reading, MA — The Board of Selectmen voted at their November 7 meeting to establish a small split tax rate that would shift twenty-five percent of the $362,192 tax burden for the Senior Citizen Property Tax Relief to commercial properties. This move will set the tax rate for residential properties in town to $13.86 while commercial properties will have a tax rate of $13.91. The new rates will increase the tax levy on the average commercial property in town by $79. The shift will also provide approximately $34,000 in additional revenue to the town.
The move came after a lengthy discussion in which the Selectmen voted 3-2 to increase the tax relief factor from 100% of the state circuit breaker amount voted on at their last meeting, to 200% of the state circuit breaker amount. Selectmen John Halsey argued that the plan had always been to give as much relief to seniors as was reasonably possible. Of the 195 seniors who applied for the program, 182 met all the requirements. Selectmen Barry Berman argued that the program was new and that the town should ease into it, staying with the 100% factor previously allocated. Concern was also raised that giving too much relief could have the unintended consequence of making a few seniors in town ineligible for both the circuit breaker and property tax relief next year because their incomes would be too high. Selectmen Andrew Freidmann offered an amendment of a 150% factor to split the difference between the two. The amendment failed by a vote of 2-3.
Once the vote occurred to increase the factor to 200%, the discussion shifted to the split tax rate. By state law, any tax relief granted must be born by residents, but towns are allowed to have split rates for residential and commercial properties. Berman was concerned that even a small tax rate split would send the wrong message to the business community in town. “We are better when both [residential and business] are strong,” Berman affirmed. Local business owner Michael Doyon also urged the board to retain parity in the tax rates, sharing with the board that many local businesses were just barely able to stay open. Resident Angela Binda reminded the board that Town Meeting had passed an instructional motion to shift some of the tax credit burden to commercial, if possible.
The board also heard an update regarding the Postmark Square Development on the site of the former Post Office on Haven Street. It extended the Human Rights Advisory Committee for eighteen months, and Chair John Arena advised the board that the report of the override survey results will be shared on November 14 at 7:00pm in the RMHS Library. The public is welcome at this event.
Town Engineer Ryan Percival presented a report regarding the maintenance of the roads in town. Over the last ten years, over thirty-five miles of road have been repaired. The most recent Pavement Conditions Index (PCI) study gave the town a very healthy 77 out of 100, up five points over ten years ago, with forty-six percent of the roads in town being rated at a PCI 86 or higher. Currently the town allocates an additional $400,000 annually to what is received from the state for road maintenance. If the level of funding stays the same, Percival reported that the town could retain the 77 PCI rating it has achieved for the next ten years. With an additional $300,000 annual funding, the town could increase its rating to a PCI 82+ in ten years. Town engineers have road repair plans scheduled for about four years out. Selectmen Dan Ensminger asked about repairs to South Main Street. Percival reminded the board that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is responsible for everything south of the train tracks. South Main Street is on a list to be repaired, but the needs of that list have not been funded at this point.
Selectmen video from RCTV
Percival also led a brief discussion about raising some of the fees charged by the town for water connection to new properties, and fire suppression system fees for commercial properties. Percival recommended a complete review of the policies of the Department of Public Works. No action was taken by the board.
The meeting adjourned at 11:30pm.