By a vote of 3-2, the Select Board decided to split the Fiscal Year 2019 residential and commercial tax rates at their October 15 meeting. The board reduced the minimum residential factor to .9984. The residential tax rate will be approximately $14.23 per thousand of value. The commercial rate will be approximately $14.46 per thousand dollars of value. The rates in 2018 were $13.87 for a residential property and $13.92 for a commercial property. After a presentation by Assessor Victor Santaniello, member Barry Berman gave presentation of his own, noting that since 2012, the average residential property has an increased value of thirty-four percent, while the average commercial property has increased in value by five percent. The tax burden has increased in a similar manner. Berman suggested that splitting the tax rate would share the burden more equitably. At the same time, Berman recognized the role businesses play in Reading, “We are a special town because of our small businesses,” Berman commented.
Several owners of local businesses and commercial properties spoke in opposition to the split. Most emphasized community involvement by local businesses, a poor summer of retail sales, the effects of the state’s “Grand Bargain” on small businesses, and the size of the increases that have already come from the passage of the override. Board member Dan Ensminger noted that between live speakers and emails, the board had received twenty-three communications against the split and only one in favor. The one in favor of the split mistakenly understood that a split would create more revenue for the town. Board chair Andrew Friedmann noted that “Businesses don’t like rapid change” while suggesting that a small split would be best. Ensminger and board member John Halsey cast the dissenting votes, indicating that the only split they would support would be to level the effects of the Senior Tax Relief decision from the last meeting. Halsey argued that businesses need time to reap the benefit of increased development in the 40R district downtown. “There will new customers walking past these businesses,” he stated, “let’s give them a chance to bring them in.” Reading’s split rate will be the smallest split amongst Reading’s neighboring communities except North Reading, which has a level tax rate.
The board voted 5-0 not to grant an open space tax discount, 5-0 not to adopt a residential exemption in town, and 3-2 not to grant a small commercial exemption. Both Halsey and Ensminger voted in favor of the exemption, suggesting that it might be worth the extra work for town staff if it could help even a few small businesses.
The board voted 5-0 to co-sponsor and endorse a rally on the common on Sunday, October 20 at noon. The rally, organized by Reading Embraces Diversity, is designed as a response to more anti-Semitic graffiti in town this week. “The intent of those who drew the swastikas is not at issue, but the impact [of the swastikas] does matter,” Friedmann commented.
The board witnessed the badge pinning of five new police officers. Two of these were hired as a result of new positions provided for by the override and three are filling the positions of officers who retired. There will also be three additional officers added to the ranks over the next several months. Deputy Chief Dave Clark reported to the board that the new officers will allow the department to move from reactive to proactive policing. This will include increased traffic patrols, officers on foot in the downtown, and mountain bike patrols of the parks starting in the spring.
The Select Board adjourned at 10:40 pm.