Reading, MA — At its annual reorganization meeting, as the Select Board welcomed new member Jackie McCarthy to the board, it also voted 5-0 to appoint newly reelected Mark Dockser as chair of the Select Board for the coming year. Dockser thanked the board for their confidence in him and noted that he takes the responsibility of the role very seriously. The board also voted 3-2 to appoint Karen Herrick as vice chair. Select Board member Chris Haley was also nominated for vice-chair. Haley stated that he believed that having him as vice-chair could show a divided town that the board could work together for the common good. Select Board member Carlo Bacci also voted for Haley as vice-chair. Haley was appointed as board secretary by a vote of 5-0.
The Parking Advisory and Recommendation Committee (PARC) presented a series of recommendations regarding downtown parking to the board. The Select Board established PARC to be a group of town officials, residents, and business owners charged with studying issues related to parking in the downtown and proposing possible solutions to the challenges faced with parking in the area.
PARC chair Bernard Horn related PARC’s methodology, which included reviewing past parking studies, a town-wide parking survey, ten open meetings, and a February 10 public forum. Horn described that the bulk of PARC’s time was spent talking about the two municipal parking lots: the Upper Haven (CVS) lot and the Brande Court lot. Horn continued, sharing that approval of the recommendations could create additional parking turnover downtown, increase the total number of spaces, including an increase in the number of unrestricted spaces, and create more designated employee spaces. Horn also related that the recommendations would lead to fewer spaces for commuters.
Local business owner Liz Whitelam shared about on-street parking. The PARC plan would increase the number of employee spaces from 123 to 236 by utilizing spaces in the “outer core” on Lowell Street, Woburn Street, High Street, Chute Street, and a few others as designated all-day spaces with a permit or two-hour spaces if not being used. PARC also proposes reducing the cost of employee parking permits to just $25 to encourage participation in the program. Whitelam shared that creating spaces on Ash Street and Gould Street could also add fifty-four customer spaces.
PARC’s plan retains the current on-street resident spaces north of the train tracks and adds nine resident spaces on lower Sanborn Street. Whitelam also proposed that the parking sticker regulation for the town-owned lots at the depot be reduced from 10:30 am to 9:30 am.
PARC member Karen Rose-Gillis presented a plan to add solar-powered kiosks to the two downtown parking lots. In this plan, one hour or less of parking would be free. Parking would cost $1 an hour for one to four hours of parking and cost $5 per hour after four hours. Parking in the lots would remain unregulated after 5:00 pm. The committee believes this would increase turnover in the lots and create more parking opportunities for customers.
“It’s a combination of creating turnover and empowering people with other options,” Whitelam shared.
Other PARC members chimed in on the issue. PARC member Thomas O’Connor shared that he was opposed to kiosks and suggested that the parking enforcement officer could provide the same results. PARC member Jay Jackson also suggested attempting to decrease traffic in the area through increased walkability and bike-ability in the downtown.
PARC member John Weston closed the presentation with a proposal to commission a feasibility study on the building of a parking structure downtown. A feasibility study would study locations for a garage, safety issues, access problems, costs, and potential funding. Weston urged having the study to clarify what options are for a parking structure. “We need to, as a town, look at it,” Weston shared.
The Select Board continued the public hearing on the issue to May 3 at 7:45 pm. The board also voted 5-0 to extend the sunset of the PARC until July 31.
Water & Sew Rates
Town Manager Fidel Maltez proposed a plan for water and sewer rates that would contain the combined increase to 2.9% in Fiscal Year 2023. The plan uses $350,000 in sewer reserves and $750,000 in water reserves to offset costs. In addition, Maltez proposed using $550,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to offset costs further. While approving the plan, Bacci proposed an additional $100,000 from sewer reserves and swapped the two numbers for water. That is, taking $750,000 from APRA funding and only $550,000 from water reserves, a fund in which there is only currently $3.2 million. “This affects everyone in town,” Bacci offered. After discussion, the board settled on a $650,000 request from ARPA. A public hearing on water and sewer rates is planned for May 17.
Maltez also reviewed a “tiered” billing plan for water and sewer that Wakefield has recently implemented. Plans are to enlist a consultant to study the issue.
Town Manager Goals
Maltez further presented his goals for the coming year. “Goals should be aspirational, not operational,” Maltez opined. The four areas for his goals were listed as earning the trust of the staff and community, supporting the schools, economic development, and infrastructure improvements. He then listed multiple sub-goals under each section. McCarthy praised the plan as having both “specific and measurable metrics.” The board will do a mid-year review after 180 days of Maltez’s employment, with a full review after a year.
The board voted 5-0 to accept a plan for boards, committees, and commissions to request funding for projects from the Select Board. Historical Commission member Jonathan Barnes expressed concern that the typically budgeted amounts for the committees were now folded into the $15,000 line item for the Select Board reserves, creating additional steps for boards to manage everyday expenses. The Select Board also voted 5-0 to remove Susan Churchill from the Trails Committee.
Haley suggested the board create a proclamation on safety and inclusion in response to a letter to the editor published before the election. Resident Bill Brown had spoken previously during public comment, defending himself against allegations made in the letter. Brown issued a similar statement during public comment at the April 14 School Committee meeting. Dockser shared that he was not convinced that a proclamation would produce the results Haley desired but committed the Select Board to review the “Community of Excellence” document it had created in the past.
The Select Board adjourned at 10:45 pm.