Select Board Approves 900K in ARPA Funds for Senior Services

Reading, MA — By a vote of 5-0, and with the Reading ARPA Advisory Committee (RAAC) recommendation, the Select Board appropriated $900,000 of the American Rescue Act (ARPA) funding for services to senior citizens Tuesday night. In a presentation similar to the one at the RAAC meeting last week, Assistant Town Manager Jean Delios outlined the request, reminding the Select Board that seniors make up about twenty-five percent of the population of Reading and have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. “The [senior] population is much larger than what was planned for thirty years ago,” Delios noted. Delios also shared results from the 2017 UMass Gerontology Institute study, which affirmed the 140-year-old Pleasant Street Center’s inability to meet the needs of seniors in the community. This past winter, these realities led the Select Board to establish the Reading Center for Active Living Committee (ReCALC).

Delios outlined a plan that she referred to as “a bridge to the future” to provide increased activities and programs for seniors in the interim. These include bus trips, wellness programs, the rental of additional space in town, and a contracted volunteer coordinator over the next two years. Also included in the funding request is $300,000 for a feasibility study once the ReCALC finishes its work and makes its recommendations. Select Board chair and ReCALC member Mark Dockser informed the board that these recommendations could be ready sometime this winter.

Director of Public Health Adetokunbo Solarin updated the Select Board on the progress of COVID-19 in the community as well as other work of his department. There are currently seventy-five active COVID cases in Reading. There have been a total of fifty-three deaths from COVID since the pandemic began, though only one since the beginning of the year. Solarin encouraged residents to get vaccinated to continue to combat the illness and noted a vaccination clinic on June 3 at Coolidge Middle School from 2:00pm to 4:00pm. He also shared, “At this time, there are no discussions about reimplementing a mask mandate.”

Solarin also highlighted Metropolitan Area Planning Council guidance suggesting that the Board of Health be expanded from three to five total members. Doing this would require a change to the home rule charter with the state legislature’s approval. Board of Health chair Rick Lopez supports the expansion. He cited that two board members cannot even talk with each other under the current rules due to open meeting laws. “[The current size of the board is] very restricting and diminishes the efficiency and effectiveness of the board,” Lopez commented. Board members Paula Curren and Kevin Sexton echoed Lopez’s remarks. “I don’t see a downside to having five members,” Lopez concluded. The Select Board will continue to pursue the matter, possibly placing it on the Town Meeting warrant for November.

Conservation Administrator Chuck Tironne and consultant Krista Morvac presented the Open Space/Recreation Plan update. The presentation highlighted five goals of the plan, including financial support for the use of open space and recreational activities, creation of a network of open spaces, paths, and walkways accessible to all residents, and the protection of natural resources and habitats, adapting to the impacts of natural hazards and climate change.

By a vote of 5-0, the board also approved the “doing business as” name of Ricky’s Liquors to Reading Liquors. It had a discussion around the establishment of a committee to utilize the funds in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and directed Town Manager Fidel Maltez to issue a Request for Proposal regarding the leasing of space in town for senior activities. The board also voted 5-0 to declare police car twelve as surplus. It will be auctioned off in the near future.

The board also had a discussion regarding the establishment of a working group to develop proposals for the use of the “Zanni” property on Symonds Way. Select Board member Carlo Bacci created the proposal, not wanting to see the use of the property get “kicked down the road” the way other projects have been. While Dockser agreed in concept, he questioned the timing, seeking to wait until ReCALC has more information to report regarding the potential relocation of a senior or community center, possibly once the ReCALC survey results are ready in December. Other issues such as the membership of the committee and the scope of its charge were discussed as well. The board will take the issue up again at its June 14 meeting.

The Select Board adjourned at 10:40pm.

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