Special Town Meeting
Reading, MA — On Tuesday, the Select Board voted 5-0 to close the warrant for a Special Town Meeting called for October 18. Of the nine articles proposed on the warrant, the four featuring capital expenditures generated significant discussion amongst the board members.
Article five proposes a possible debt authorization of $1.5 million to renovate portions of the police station, creating a new training room and emergency command center and office space for the Coalition for Prevention and Support and the new mental health position. While recognizing the need for the additional space, Select Board member Mark Dockser questioned whether or not the article was premature given the lack of discussion over priorities for capital spending in the greater community, specifically mentioning proposed improvements to the Birch Meadow Complex and discussions regarding additional senior/community center space. The board voted 2-0-3 with Dockser, Herrick, and member Anne Landry abstaining to recommend article five.
Article six proposes debt authorization for phase two of the performance contracting work that was started over a decade ago. This would make energy and conservation and similar updates to several town buildings. The cost for these improvements would be $4.8 million, much of which is likely to be recaptured in efficiency savings over the next ten years. Town Manager Robert LeLacheur explained that the quotes on these projects are only in effect until the end of the year and that Town Meeting approving the plan would aid Reading’s “Green Communities” recognition. Chair Karen Herrick questioned whether or not a more holistic approach was needed to energy efficiency in the town. Article six was recommended by a vote of 3-0-2, with Landry and Herrick abstaining.
Article seven asks Town Meeting to approve an additional $2.5 million debt for the Auburn Street water tower project. This is needed due to the increased cost for steel and other cost increases. The original $4.5 million Town Meeting approved has already been borrowed. A vote of 2-0-3 was cast to recommend article seven, with Landry, Dockser, and Herrick abstaining.
Abutter Mark Delany asked the board to delay a vote on the project due to the increase. Delaney argued that the new cost of the project now makes it unclear if replacing the tower is more cost-efficient than maintaining the current tower. Member Carlo Bacci expressed concerns regarding increased costs and wondered whether or not materials costs would decrease once supply chains returned to normal. Herrick agreed, “The project price has doubled, and that is troubling.”
Article nine would authorize the Select Board to enact its right of refusal for five buildable parcels on Grove Street, currently for sale by the Meadowbrook Golf Club. This land could be used as a possible access point and parking area for the Town Forest. Member Chris Haley indicated that he would like to see about the possibility of creating access from the former water treatment plant site before expending the money on these parcels. “I am in favor of open space,” Haley commented, “but not $2.25 million open space.” The board was split by a 2-2-1 vote on the recommendation of article nine. Bacci and Haley voted against the recommendation, with Landry abstaining.
Subsequent Town Meeting
The board also voted 5-0 to close the warrant for November’s Subsequent Town Meeting. Eight articles are proposed, including support for a $317,422,620 building project at the Northeast Metropolitan Vocational Technical School. According to LeLacheur, Reading’s share of the project could be around $4.5 million. It is unclear if this could be paid on one lump sum or would have to be paid off with an annual payment, which would increase Reading’s overall investment due to interest costs. LeLacheur shared that if even one community voted not to support the project, then a single-item election would occur in all the communities the school serves, with a simple majority needed for approval.
Town Manager Search Update
The board met with Bernie Lynch from Community Paradigm, contracted as the consulting firm for the town manager search process. Lynch said that his firm has been “extremely active in this realm” having conducted over 70 searches in the past six years. Lynch also shared that he believes it is feasible to complete a contract with a new town manager by the end of the year.
Town Manager Performance Review
The board completed LeLacheur’s final annual review with mostly positive comments. Landry commented, praising LeLacheur’s work in restructuring the Health Department. Both Herrick and Haley offered positive comments regarding LeLacheur’s work ethic. Dockser added, “Getting through this phase of COVID-19 was a major task and major accomplishment.” Bacci added, “Our finances are in such good shape because of Bob.” LeLacheur thanked the board for its review, praising those he works with, “The reason the town is in good shape is because of the great staff.”
The Select Board adjourned at 10:55 pm.