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1. Why did you decide to run for the Select Board?
Over the course of two campaigns in the past year, I have knocked on thousands of doors in Reading to learn about the concerns on my neighbors’ minds. As the local election season approached, a number of Reading residents asked me to run for the Select Board. As I contemplated the decision, what ultimately convinced me to run was the realization that the concerns Reading residents had shared with me fell primarily within the jurisdiction of the Select Board. Serving on the Board would allow me to make a real difference for my neighbors on the issues of concern to them: empty storefronts, the sustainability and quality of our town and school services, property taxes, development, and traffic.
2. How would you support economic development in Reading?
Reading needs to generate additional revenue beyond the residential tax base. I would advocate that we evaluate various types of businesses to maximize the net benefit to the town, as not all economic development is created equal. Some commercial establishments drain more municipal resources, while others generate more net revenue. The Select Board should focus on identifying what kinds of development will truly help to “grow the pie” in terms of NET revenue.
As we plan for long-term development projects and ensure that they are accountable to the community, we must not forget the near-term retail opportunities and should encourage the filling of existing storefronts. According to the Town’s website, Reading has 100,000 square feet of open commercial space- this is not insignificant. The town currently has a sizable amount of retail/office space for lease. We should take a two-pronged approach in filling this space:
- Actively seek new businesses. The Town needs to build on the past work of the Economic Development Director in making the case and proactively disseminating the information the Director had assembled as to why Reading is a great place for small businesses.
- Incentivize building owners/landlords. I would also raise the idea as a Select Board member of taxing empty storefronts as a way to incentivize bringing in activity to empty storefronts like the Walgreens downtown. This has been a successful tool used by other towns to encourage landlords to actively seek tenants. I would work with the small business community and my fellow Board members to ensure that any proposal did not burden property owners who have been proactive in seeking tenants.
3. How do you plan to support small businesses?
I am committed to supporting small businesses and a vibrant downtown area. It is worth revisiting the zoning in our smart growth district to allow for green space that makes the district an appealing place for residents and visitors to frequent and to support our small business community. I support the use of more signage on Main Street that will point residents and people passing through town to parking and to the businesses on Haven Street and other side streets.
I would also work to ensure that visiting and interacting with Town Hall is a positive experience for residents and businesses alike.
4. How do you expect or propose to make our override dollars last?
I am committed to sustainable spending of our tax and override dollars; I would wait for as long as would be responsible to go back to the voters requesting another operational override. I am open to opportunities both to reduce costs and generate new revenue.
On the cost side of the equation, I am encouraged that negotiations among our unions, town administration, and health insurer resulted in health insurance costs coming in lower than originally projected, as was presented to the Finance Committee at the end of 2018.
With Reading as built up as it is, we need to consider opportunities for cost savings and maximizing efficiencies afforded by technology and collaboration among departments even as we identify the best ways to grow the revenue pie through planned and accountable economic development. I would lead the Board in exploring opportunities for the Town and the Reading Municipal Light Department to discuss ways to maximize efficiencies, potentially by integrating their fiber networks or I/T systems and thus reducing costs.
I am open to other creative ways to save costs, including through solar energy. I have heard various perspectives in town as to whether our public buildings could generate energy and save energy costs through rooftop solar arrays. Other nearby towns have implemented successful solar programs. As a Select Board member, I would advocate for the Town to issue a Request for Proposals to industry to determine if this opportunity is viable for our town.
On the revenue side of the equation, I support planned and accountable economic development in town and attracting new businesses to Reading, as well as supporting our existing small business community and a vibrant downtown.
5. What are your thoughts on our upcoming capital needs and projects?
As a member of the Finance Committee, I voted on March 13th to approve the Town’s Fiscal Year 2020 $116.43 million budget- the first budget I have voted on since becoming a Finance Committee member in which the Town and schools were not anticipating or experiencing painful cuts, thanks to the voters approving an override last April. Ensuring the sustainability of those dollars is not a responsibility I would take lightly as a Select Board member.
As part of the budget discussion, I had an opportunity to ask questions about our capital plan. Some of the major upcoming capital projects include funding for building security, the renovation of Killam Elementary School, the Senior Center, and the DPW garage.
An investment in building security is scheduled and budgeted to begin this upcoming fiscal year. The Finance Committee, School Committee, and Select Board will meet in executive session in April to learn more about this project. At the Finance Committee’s Financial Forum in the fall, we learned that there may be opportunities to secure state funding for the project, which, if actualized, would be welcome and would relieve some of the town’s financial burden.
The other projects (Killam, the Senior Center, and the DPW garage) are much further from actualization or planning and will require a lot of leadership from the Select Board in the years to come.
Next steps on Killam will not be identified until the schools’ space study is completed. The School Committee will receive an update on the study later this month. It’s important that we ensure students at all schools have adequate space and safe conditions for learning. Hearing from Killam parents and other community members about the lead in the drinking water and the fact the learning space has been outdated for over a decade makes clear this project should rank high on the capital project priority list.
The Council on Aging is interested in being involved in planning but not in taking the lead on planning renovating or replacing our Senior Center. This leaves an opening for the Select Board to take a leadership role in identifying existing spaces in town to serve senior citizens, evaluating the anticipated space needs for our growing senior population, and identifying what interest there is in town for a new senior or community center, renovation of our existing senior center, and/ or utilization of existing community spaces in town.
I have discerned a lot of both excitement and concern in town about the possibility of moving the DPW garage to a regional site at Camp Curtis Guild, opening up the existing DPW site for possible economic development. While I am, likewise, intrigued by the prospect of revenue-generating economic development at the site, I am mindful that the project is still many years away from actualization and that we will have to be creative in our thinking about cost savings and revenue growth in the interim. Our Town Manager indicated, when I asked, that the next step in the planning for this potential project (there is, as yet, no agreement with the necessary stakeholders that it will take place) would be his having coffee with the Wakefield Town Manager- an important step in furthering the conversation, no doubt, but not one that indicates we are moving forward with a lot of speed, thus necessitating other ideas for revenue generation in the meantime. The DPW project still requires a lot of analysis and negotiation as to what is feasible and what kind of net revenue the potential project would actually generate for the Town, after initially requiring a significant investment. We need to engage in that deep analysis first.
6. What distinguishes you as a candidate?
I am the only candidate in the race who has devoted her career to public service. I attended the University of Richmond on a full merit scholarship and Emory University of Law on a merit scholarship that would prepare me to pursue a career serving the public interest. In positions at the local, state, and federal level through over a decade in public service, I had had the opportunity to collaborate with diverse stakeholders across political and bureaucratic divides in moving policy forward. I will bring a coalition-building, collaborative, and problem-solving approach to my service on the Select Board.
With a child entering RISE Preschool in the fall, I have a vested and long-term interest in Reading’s present and future. I am eager to ensure that the needs of all Reading residents, from children to senior citizens, are met for many years to come.
7. How do I reach you to provide feedback, ask questions, or express my concerns?
As always, I am reachable on my personal cell phone at 774-319-0381.