Reading, MA — The Select Board voted 5-0 to set the water rates for Fiscal Year 2022 at $10.90 per 100 cubic feet on Tuesday night. The board also voted to set the sewer rates at $10.90 per 100 cubic feet. These represent a 1.9% increase over the Fiscal Year 2021 rates. Town Manager Robert LeLacheur originally proposed a 3% increase in rates. However, the board, led by Select Board member Carlo Bacci, determined that a lower increase was preferred, with many families still recovering from pandemic financial concerns. To maintain the lower increase, an additional $300,000 will be used from the water and sewer reserve funds. The additional funds will have to be approved by town meeting in November or in April. The board also voted 5-0 to retain the stormwater rate at $60 per unit.
Select Board member Chris Haley questioned why the rates are so high in comparison to other towns. LeLacheur replied that rates are higher in Reading because consumption is lower and that a better comparison to make is the actual bills as opposed to the rates. He suggested that the actual amount paid by Reading homes is similar to that which is paid by homes in other towns. “There are set costs to running a water system,” LeLacheur reminded the board. “You pay for them with higher water use or higher rates.”
The board discussed water and sewer policies, specifically, a new policy to not to have sewer charges for second water meters and whether or not to grant abatements for residents installing a new lawn. After discussing the issues, the board chose not to make any changes to its policies at this time.
The Select Board discussed how to respond to an open meeting law complaint (OML) filed against them by resident Walter Tuvell. The complaint concerns how the board handled removing an email from their packet that Tuvell claims were attributed to him but that he did not send. Town Counsel Ivria Fried outlined four issues in the complaint. The first is that a quorum of the board discussed the removal outside of an open meeting. The second is that the board violated its own communications policy to remove the email from its packet. The third is that the removal was a public records law violation. Finally, the fourth issue raised by Tuvell is that the board treats different members of the public differently.
Fried determined that complaints two, three, and four have nothing to do with open meeting law and are not under the Attorney General’s jurisdiction. She continued to explain that the board followed its policy when she, as town counsel, advised that the email be removed from the packet. She also shared that the packet is a tool used by the Select Board to be transparent in its business and that the board itself can determine what is to be included in the packet.
The first complaint is about two texts sent by chair Karen Herrick, one to member Mark Dockser regarding the removal of the email, and the other to member Anne Landry regarding the inclusion of the email. Fried gave her opinion that there was no violation of OML because, in her opinion, the two texts were about different issues. She also pointed out that Dockser and Landry were unaware of the texts sent by Herrick to the other member; thus, no deliberation took place. Fried did warn, however, that the texts were “brushing up close to the line as to what is permissible.”
Fried continued to suggest that the content of the texts could be included in the next packet, making them public. Haley also suggested that his texts to Herrick on the complaint could be published as he believes they are relevant. He also believes that Herrick’s texts in response to Tuvell on the original issue could be relevant as well. The board will continue to discuss its response to the complaint at its next meeting. Herrick did state that she will “recommit myself to doing everything in my power to maintain OML compliance.”
The board voted 5-0 to accept a name change for a class II business license application for the auto sales business at 1337 Main Street. It also voted 5-0 to allow a temporary alteration of premises for Bunratty Tavern, allowing the restaurant to serve liquor to sidewalk tables in a similar setup as last summer.
A public hearing was held to discuss Bagel World’s application to open their business at 5:00 am. The current bylaw states that businesses cannot open until 6:00 am. LeLacheur reported no other business in town except the twenty-four-hour gas station on Walkers Brook Drive has permission to open before 6:00 am. Landry raised the issue of noise coming from the site so early in the morning, expressing concern for abutting residential areas. Edward Kantorosinski, speaking for Bagel World, answered the concern by describing a new online ordering system, which he believes will mitigate the noise issue. He also believes that online ordering may ease traffic concerns as well.
Deputy Police Chief Christine Amendola outlined in a memo to the board the traffic issues at the site. She stated that there had been 335 official traffic complaints filed in the last five years. Amendola also stated in her memo that she believes that the early opening will not alleviate traffic issues at Bagel World, as most issues occur much later in the morning. The Community Planning and Development Commission has approved modified site plans to create a second drive-through lane for ordering at Bagel World. Still, the business is awaiting the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s approval of the plan as it involves curb cuts onto Main Street. “[The traffic situation at Bagel World] is not safe, and we need to figure it out,” Dockser advised. The board closed the hearing but took no further action at this time.
The board received a building security update from Director of Facilities Joe Huggins, who reported that the project in town and school buildings was “fully complete.” The next phase is updating the dispatch center, which, according to Huggins, should be completed by late fall. The board also received a “Green Communities” update from Director of Development Julie Mercier and Megan Aki from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.
The board voted 5-0 to renew an inter-municipal agreement with Wakefield regarding the POST program. It also voted 5-0 to sign the Statement of Interest regarding the replacement or updating of Killam Elementary School that will be sent to the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
The Select Board adjourned at 11:20 pm.