Reading, MA — By a vote of 4-0, the Select Board decided to set the speed limit on Haverhill Street to 35 miles per hour. The new speed limit will encompass the entire 2.35 miles from the rotary to the North Reading border, excepting the school zone at Killam Elementary School.
Over a year ago, the board had set the limit to 30 miles per hour, but the state department of transportation (MassDOT), referring to a decision by the board decades ago, declared that it had jurisdiction over the road, not the Select Board. MassDOT did its own traffic study and determined the new 35 miles per hour limit would be supported, dependent on Select Board approval. The new speed limit will commence upon final MassDOT endorsement and the placement of new signs.
Kevin Sexton, from the Board of Health (BoH), updated the Select Board on the COVID-19 situation. Sexton said that four businesses reopened this week after full inspections. The BoH is working on contingency plans for replacing the school nurses who have been doing contact tracing for the town, assuming school re-opens in September. Sexton also shared that the BoH is discussing what might happen with summer camps and is planning a conversation with Town Clerk Laura Gemme regarding safe elections this fall.
Town Manager Robert LeLacheur announced that there will be another face mask distribution on May 20 from 9:00 am -11:00 am for residents aged sixty and older and for those who are medically fragile. LeLacheur guaranteed that everyone who comes will be able to get masks, so there is no need for residents to line up early. He also related that home delivery of masks to those who can not come to the distribution has been happening and will continue.
The Board discussed the 60 vacancies for volunteer positions available in town government for the coming year. Of special concern is the vacancy that will be created on June 4 with the resignation of BoH chair Emmy Dove. The board encouraged interested residents to go to the town website and apply if interested.
Community Development Director Julie Mercier joined the board to discuss how the town should deal with the need to hold public hearings, while still observing physical distancing guidelines. LeLacheur stated that “When we started, we had no guidance [from the state], now we have a lot of guidance.”
After discussion, it was agreed that boards, committees, and commissions were encouraged to continue with the business of government. “Government must continue.” Vice-chair Anne Landry declared. Mercier agreed with the board not instituting a policy for public hearings, “Best practices for one commission might not be best for another.” Mercier commented. Gemme agreed, “one policy is not beneficial to the boards,” she said citing the challenge facing the Board of Registrars and its upcoming public hearing regarding the challenge to the recall election petition. Gemme commented that this board would need to hear from each person whose signature is being questioned, creating the challenge. She also indicated that the Board of Registrars was eager to hold its public hearing. Gemme also agreed to post and maintain best practices for boards and committees on the town website as they evolve, updating the site when necessary.
The Board also voted 4-0 to renew the 20-Year Agreement between the Reading Municipal Light Department and the four towns it services. The Board was updated by LeLacheur on what Town Meeting may look like in June. Legislation on town meetings has passed the state Senate and is currently working its way through the House. The board also had a brief discussion regarding the revised Fiscal Year 2021 budget which was presented on May 12 to the Finance Committee.
After hearing from members about what other communities do, the board had consensus regarding public comment at their meetings. Landry suggested a plan to emulate in-person meetings as closely as possible, allowing comment at the beginning of the meeting for issues, not on the agenda. Members of the public will be allowed to enter the meeting on Zoom and make their comments, subject to the typical rules. Any emails received during the meeting will be printed in the packet. The issue was tabled until chair Mark Dockser, who was absent from the meeting, could lend his input. The same was true for a discussion on how to best present meeting minutes, and with a planned discussion on communication.
The Select Board adjourned at 10:05 pm.