Town Manager Previews Town Meeting

Reading Town Manager Fidel Maltez – Photo by Kenan Cooper

Reading, MA — In preparation for Subsequent Town Meeting, which begins on November 14, the Reading Post sat down with Town Manager Fidel Maltez to review the town meeting warrant. The warrant, the list of items of business up for discussion at Town Meeting, is 23 articles long. Maltez suggested it could take upwards of four nights to complete.

Articles one and two appear on every warrant. Article one gives time for reports. Maltez shared that Moderator Alan Foulds requested that reports be in written form for this Town Meeting. There are two reports printed in the warrant report booklet, which is available on the town’s website. One, from the Reading ARPA Advisory Committee, reports on its process and ultimate recommendations to the Select Board on how the American Rescue Plan Act could be distributed. The second is an update from the Reading Center for Active Living Committee.

Article two allows for non-binding instructional motions to be made. This article is typically tabled to the last night of the meeting. Maltez is not aware of any instructional motions currently intended.

Reading Town Manager Fidel Maltez

Article three amends the capital improvement plan. Maltez highlighted three proposed additions to the plan. The first, for the current fiscal year, is for $60,000 to resurface the tennis and basketball courts at Sturges Park. Maltez noted that he had heard about this need several times during his tenure as town manager. If approved, this work is scheduled for the spring. For Fiscal Year 2024, an additional $175,000 is proposed for the rebuilding of the tennis and basketball courts at Barrows Elementary School. The current plan only spends $25,000 on this issue. Maltez also noted that $80,000 for the police department to replace their firearms had been added to the plan. He shared that firearms typically have a ten-year life span and the department’s current weapons are twelve years old. Maltez continued, stating that replacing the entire supply of firearms is advantageous from a training and maintenance perspective.

Maltez highlighted three changes asked for under article four, which amends the FY 2023 budget. Included is $52,000 for pay and class adjustments for frontline workers. These adjustments result from a pay and class study conducted for the town to ensure adequate pay for employees and remain competitive in the hiring market. Another proposed addition to the budget is for $22,000 to increase the Pleasant Street Center reception position to full-time. Finally, Maltez noted a $40,000 request for pedestrian and traffic improvements in the Birch Meadow complex.

Reading Town Manager Fidel Maltez

Article five appears on every warrant and authorizes the payment of past year’s bills. Maltez believes this article will be tabled as no past year’s bills need payment at this time.

Article six seeks to dissolve the current affordable housing trust and create a new one that can spend funds more nimbly and raise funds to encourage affordable housing in town. The article would also transfer just over $400,000 from the dissolved fund to the new fund. Maltez noted that Reading was a trailblazer in establishing the affordable housing trust fund in 2001, but in the twenty years since, the model Reading adopted has proven to be too cumbersome. Maltez shared that Town Meeting in April made it clear that the current structure is not working. “It is time . . . to create this new entity,” Maltez stated.

Reading Town Manager Fidel Maltez

Article seven asks the town for $2.2 million from free cash reserves to hire an owner’s project manager (OPM), conduct a feasibility study, and develop schematic designs to replace the Killam Elementary School. Many in town know that this issue has been discussed for many years. Director of Facilities Joe Huggins shared at the August 29 School Committee meeting that the current building, which was built in 1967, has been well-maintained over the years but has never had a major renovation. 

Huggins noted that, although the building did receive a new roof in 2010, as well as some new windows and an update to the heating system as a part of performance contracting, it is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), nor does it contain a modern fire suppression system. Huggins continued to explain that the building has lead in the drinking water, is not energy efficient, and that there is water infiltration through the foundation. The building also has poor sight lines to the front door from the main office, creating a security concern. Additionally, some classrooms can only be accessed through other classrooms.

At the same meeting, Killam principal Sarah Leveque shared the complexities of using the building programmatically. Leveque detailed the conversion of closets with no windows and poor ventilation into learning spaces. She also shared that several staff members share office and therapy space, that there are few areas for small group work or instruction, and that space for educational interventions is sub-standard, often requiring the use of hallways.

The Killam building project was accepted into the first phase of approval for Massachusetts School Building Authority reimbursement. The final action required in this phase is the town committing the funding for the OPM, the feasibility study, and the schematic plans.

“During my interviews and during my onboarding process, there is no project more important to Reading than the Killam School,” Maltez opined.

The Reading Post will preview warrant articles eight through fifteen in the next Town Meeting Preview article early next week.

Part II [Here]

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