Reading, MA — Town Meeting, during its first virtual meeting in history, voted 154-8 to approve the Fiscal Year 2021 budget of $119,015,708 on Monday, June 15. The budget includes over $26 million of shared costs, $29.5 million for town government, $48.3 million for the school department, and $14.7 million in enterprise funds. To balance the budget, town meeting authorized the use of $2,068,000 in free cash reserves. This will still leave over $13.5 million in free cash, which is well over the Finance Committee guidance of 7% annual costs held in reserve.
Several questions were asked by members regarding the effects of COVID-19 on the budget including concerns about the projected amounts of state aid, the costs of personal protective equipment for the beginning of school in September, and how many amendments to the budget might need to be made at the November town meeting. Both Town Manager Robert LeLacheur and Superintendent John Doherty stressed that the situation continues to have many unknowns, many of which hopefully will be clearer in November.
Town meeting began by postponing ten articles from the warrant in order to attempt to complete the meeting in one session. It also voted 159-21 to amend the capital plan, reflecting revenue concerns resulting from COVID-19. Discussion was generated around the moving of a $1.3 million ladder truck for the fire department up four years. LeLacheur explained that when purchased, it was expected that the current truck would last twenty years, but experience with the vehicle has shown that the truck is now expected to last only fifteen years. He continued to explain that maintenance on the truck is costing the town “six figures” each year. Fire Chief Greg Burns shared that the current truck has a 2007 engine that is no longer manufactured and has a troublesome emissions system.
Town Meeting voted 172-8 to make minor amendments to the FY 2020 budget. It also voted 178-3 to make payments for the Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) fund. A 182-2 vote approved $2 million of debt authorization to rebuild the Sturges Sewer station. Town Meeting, by a 181-2 vote, chose to accept Chapter 90 highway funds from the state.
Three instructional motions were approved by town meeting as well. The first asked the Select Board to consider amending the charter to expand the Board of Health from three to five members. It passed by a vote of 132-22. The second asked Town Meeting as a body to condemn the actions of the Minneapolis police officers that resulted in the death of George Floyd. Town Meeting agreed by a vote of 124-15. The third and final instructional motion, by a vote of 107-28, asked the Finance Committee to give a report as to the process for placing items on the capital plan and to report on how many items from the plan are completed within three years.
Town Meeting adjourned sine die at 11:40pm.