The Select Board voted 5-0 to offer senior tax relief at 150% of the state circuit breaker at its October 2 meeting. Last year the relief was 200% of the circuit breaker. Select Board member Dan Ensminger suggested the amount during a discussion about the program with Assessor Victor Santaniello. Last year there were 194 applications for the property tax program out of which 182 qualified. This year there have been 177 applications with 175 approved. There were 114 repeat filers for the aid with 59 new applicants. Several members of the board expressed concern as to why 69 people who received the aid last year did not even apply this year. While a few may have sold their homes or passed away and eight moved their homes into trusts, Santaniello suggested that the amount of the tax credit from Reading combined with the state circuit breaker may have raised the income of some people enough that they did not qualify for either program this year. Member Barry Berman suggested the issue could be managed with offering the relief at 100% of the state circuit breaker. Member Vanessa Alvarado stated that the 150% rate “makes sense to not be too jarring for people’s financial planning.”
Santaniello also reported that there has been $840,000 of new tax growth in the past year. This added to the 2.5% annual property tax increase and the $4.15 million override amount add up to to a $73.8 million tax levy for the next fiscal year. This will break down to $14.26 per thousand residential tax rate, or $8,435 for the average house in Reading. Board members discussed the possibility of a split tax rate between the residential and commercial sectors. During public comment, Lisa Egan, Director of the Chamber of Commerce, expressed concern over a potential split tax rate stating that summer was slow for local retailers and that the state’s “Grand Bargain,” signed recently by Governor Charlie Baker, will cost businesses more than they can handle. “The one-two punch [of the Bargain and split-rate property taxes] will close more businesses in town,” Egan suggested. The board asked Santaniello to provide information as to what various split rates would look like in order to make a decision at its October 16 meeting.
Reading’s Legislative Delegation Visits
Reading’s legislative delegation met jointly with the board to discuss how various state issues could affect the town. Representative Bradley Jones reported that negotiations regarding the use of the state’s budget surplus were “in process” and that determination should be made in the next few weeks. Jones did say that there would likely be more money for school safety, the special education circuit breaker, and Chapter 90 funds. He also reported that Fiscal Year 2019 funds were being collected over expectations. The bond bills have been passed and are already on the governor’s desk for his signature. The South Main Street repair project is out for bid and should begin in April of next year. Select Board member John Halsey asked if there could be a partnership to place lights at the crosswalks where Bancroft Street and Cape Cod Avenue cross Route 129. Residents have expressed concern as these are primary walking routes from the schools to the library. Both Jones and State Senator Jason Lewis suggested that a solution could be worked out.
Lewis thanked the board for inviting the delegation. “We can’t do the best job possible without communication,” Lewis stated. He reported on what the legislature had been working on during the last session. He reported on the Economic Development Bill, new funds for police training, treatment and prevention funding for those suffering from addictions, and automatic voter registration. He also shared that an update to the Chapter 70 formula for state aid to schools which has not been updated since 1993 was “gaining traction.” Halsey expressed concern about the number of unfunded mandates from the state. Representative Jim Dwyer noted that he had filed a bill three years ago about restricting the mandates and that Jones had filed a similar bill this year. Both bills were stuck in committee. Halsey thanked Dwyer for his ten years of service on Beacon Hill. Dwyer, who is not running for re-election, declared, “Reading will always mean a lot to me.”
The Select Board voted 5-0 to close the state election warrant for the November 6 election. Town Clerk Laura Gemme let the board know that absentee ballots are now available. The board voted 5-0 to issue a proclamation for Girl Scout Troop 7309’s Silver Award Project. Town Manager Robert LeLacheur reported that Erica McNamara had returned as executive director of the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse and that there would be no need to close Washington Park for rodent mediation.
Residents expressed concern during public comment regarding workers parking on the street at the Lincoln/Prescott Street development. The permit for the project specifically states that workers should park on-site or at an alternate location. Chair Andrew Friedmann expressed his frustration. “They violated their permit for quite a while and there are no consequences,” he commented. Assistant Town Manager Jean Delios assured the board that workers would be parking on the site once the cement foundations had been poured. She also stated that the developer had been told, “This is not a practice that the town of Reading will tolerate.”
The Select Board adjourned to executive session at 10:05 pm.