Select Board Budget Hearings Begin

The Select Board began the Fiscal Year 2020 budget process on Tuesday, December 4 as they listened to reports from four department heads about the work of their departments and what additional budget items might be needed for the coming fiscal year. Town Manager Robert LeLacheur noted that thanks to the override, this was the first budget year in his twenty-two years that there was no talk of reductions and layoffs in the town departments, but rather talk of progress.

Assistant Town Manager Jean Delios gave the first presentation, highlighting the work her department does with staffing eight different active boards and commissions in town including the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Community Planning and Development Commission, and the Recreation Committee. She reported that the override provided for a full-time Commissioner of Buildings whose work overseeing the various inspectors has been of extreme value. Delios gave similar praise to the expansion of the Elder Services director role from part-time to full-time which was also a result of the override. Delios reported that in the building division, seventy percent of permits are processed in less than twenty-four hours. Recreation saw over 6,000 registrations for its programs last year and anticipates even greater numbers this year. The health division did 260 food inspections during the year while administering 695 flu shots over ten flu clinics this fall.

The town is still seeking to fill the Economic Development Director position, and the Select Board voted 5-0 to give direction to the town manager to continue to fund the position for the next three years. The department is seeking to add a clerk position in 2020 as well as an increase in hours for the public health nurse and the substitute elder services van driver.

Director of Administrative Services Matt Kraunelis presented his budget next. This department oversees the town manager’s office, the town clerk, operations, human resources, and communication and technology. Kranuelis went into detail to highlight how communications have changed over the five years he has been in Reading, noting that now over 2000 people “follow” the town’s Facebook page. Kraunelis asked that a Human Resources generalist be added to the budget as the person currently in that role is shared with the school department. He also noted that there will be fewer elections in the coming year and that because of this, there will be savings in that line item.

The Finance Department budget was presented by Town Accountant Sharon Angstrom. This department has three divisions: accounting, assessing, and general finance. The override provided for a new assistant accountant, who was hired from within. The Finance Department collects 125,000 payments a year. These include tax bills, water, and sewer payments, and 25,000 automobile excise bills annually. The department also manages payroll for 1,200 employees of the town, schools, and the Reading Municipal Light Department. Angstrom is asking for two employees to have their hours increased from thirty-two and a half hours a week to thirty-seven and a half hours a week.

Newly hired Department of Public Works Director Jane Kinsella gave a report on her department which is responsible for road maintenance, plowing, park upkeep, vehicle maintenance for all departments, and the cemeteries all over town. She asked that three long-term temporary employees in the parks be changed to two year-round park laborers, two long-term temporary employees in the cemeteries become one year-round and two short-term temporary employees and that the one long-term highway temporary employee become a year-round position. The long-term jobs typically last from April to December and the short-term for the summer months only. These changes will allow for greater consistency in work and less outsourcing in weather events.

The FY 2020 budget hearings will continue on Wednesday, December 5 with presentations from the Library, Public Safety, and the Facilities Department.

The Select Board voted 5-0 to extend the sunset date of the Trails Committee to June 30, 2021. It voted 4-1 to approve twenty-one FY 2019 goals for the town manager. Member John Halsey voted against the motion, as he saw the final goal, dealing with staff training, as coming too close to micro-managing the town manager’s work. Member Barry Berman referred to the process used this year to evaluate and set goals for the town manager as “sloppy” and proposed a discussion to streamline the process. Chair Andrew Friedmann agreed to put the discussion on the calendar. The board voted 5-0 to continue an inter-municipal agreement with Wakefield regarding the shared assessor. The agreement is for the next three years.

Friedmann reported to the board on the progress of the Lincoln/Prescott Street development. There continues to be resident concern over worker parking, communication of road closures, especially during the morning rush hours, and keeping sidewalks clear in the winter months. The contractor is working on these issues.

Berman reported that he attended a Wakefield zoning board meeting where a proposed 140 unit 40B development on Tarrant Lane in Wakefield was discussed. The development will be right on the Reading line with direct access to South Street and Hopkins Street in Reading. Berman suggested that the Reading select board and the town planning staff be active in these discussions as it is obvious that there will be a significant impact on our community from the development.

The Select Board adjourned at 10:25 pm.

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