RAAC Recommends $1.5 Million for Birch Meadow Project

Reading, MA — By a vote of 8-0, the Reading ARPA Advisory Committee (RAAC) recommended that the Select Board allocate $1.5 million of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to fund the phase one improvements proposed by the Recreation Committee at the Birch Meadow Complex. The proposed improvements include updated parking at the former Imagination Station site, a walkable “spine” trail through the complex, centralized bathrooms, a pavilion, and wetlands restoration. RAAC chair Marianne Downing noted that recreation concerns were the number one topic of interest for those who responded to the RAAC survey last spring.

Town Manager Fidel Maltez and RAAC member Geoffrey Coram

RAAC member Joseph McDonough spoke against the parking improvement, stating that he did not want to see the land covered in pavement and that adding parking discouraged walking or biking to the site. “I’d rather not see the money go to parking,” McDonough argued. Town Manager Fidel Maltez countered that the current parking situation is haphazard, constantly in need of repair, and environmental concerns to the adjacent wetlands.

After clarification from Burbank YMCA Executive Director John Feudo, the RAAC voted 8-0 to recommend the Select Board allocate $96,100 for inclusive programs aimed at children and young adults with high needs at the Burbank YMCA. Feudo shared that the programs, such as swim lessons, would be offered to Reading residents first, then, as space was available, to residents of other towns. Feudo expects the programs to begin in January if funded by the Select Board.

John Feudo, Executive Director Burbank YMCA

The RAAC recommended the Select Board allocate $13,500 to the Historical Commission for archival and document scanning purposes. The vote was 7-1. RAAC member Thomas Wise voted against the allocation. “If this is needed, this could be a budget item; in a $102 million budget, thirteen [thousand] is an easy fit.” Wise declared.

By a vote of 8-0, the RAAC recommended the Select Board allocate $22,500 to the Conservation Commission for Bare Meadow Stewardship maintenance, management of invasive species, and a bicycle rack at the Mattera Cabin. Wise argued against $2,500 for the bicycle rack, offering an amendment to eliminate it from the allocation. A vote of 2-6 defeated Wise’s amendment.

RAAC members Andrew Grimes, Thomas Wise, Mark Dockser, and chair Marianne Downing

After discussion, the RAAC voted 8-0 to recommend the Select Board allocate $46,200 to the Reading Food Pantry for one year of “inflation” gift cards, two new industrial freezers, and the hiring of a space needs consultant. The Food Pantry originally asked for three years worth of gift cards, but several RAAC members argued that the Food Pantry could always return to the Select Board for years two and three as funds for other projects were left unspent. Wise, in particular, noted that only $96,000 of the $250,000 allocated for public health had been used and that many of those supplies are still available to the town. 

The original motion was made by RAAC member Andrew Grimes for $31,200, not to include the space consultant. After an amendment by RAAC member Mark Dockser to increase the figure to the full $84,600 requested by the Food Pantry failed by a vote of 3-5, RAAC member Shawn Brant offered the compromise amendment of $46,200, noting, “[This allocation] is well aligned with the intent of ARPA.” 

The amendment passed by 6-2, leading to the successful final vote on the amended motion.

RAAC continued discussing the concept of premium pay for town and school workers who worked in person during the pandemic. Some RAAC members questioned if certain supervisory employees might opt out of the premium pay as both the police and fire chiefs had suggested they would. Members spoke about their ideas for funding, such as RAAC member Christopher Haley’s idea for a food truck to aid seniors and Dockser’s suggestions for affordable housing and the senior center.

According to calculations made at the meeting, RAAC has $1.917 million left to recommend, most of which will likely be allocated to premium pay and to water and sewer projects. RAAC will discuss these issues at its next meeting on October 12. The Select Board has final say regarding all ARPA money allocations.

RAAC adjourned at 10:25pm.

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