Select Board Reviews ReCalc Survey

Reading, MA — Dr. Caitlyn Coyle from the UMass Boston Center for Social Demographic Research shared the results of the Reading Center for Active Living Committee assessment process with the Select Board on Tuesday. Coyle shared that her organization was hired to help guide a public engagement and planning process for how the community should be moving forward with future needs for a senior or community center.

The assessment had three components: three community forums, four focus groups, and a survey. The survey had 1,470 responses. Coyle reported that 26 percent of the community is over the age of 60, and that this is expected to grow to 29 percent by 2030. Eighty-one percent of those surveyed intend to stay in Reading long-term, but fifty percent cited affordability as their primary concern for staying in town. Twenty-five percent also indicated that accessibility and infrastructure issues were concerns as well. Thirty-eight percent of those surveyed prefer a seniors-only center, while 48 percent prefer an all-ages approach to a new center. Coyle did point out that the percentage of those surveyed who prefer a seniors-only center increases dramatically in those over the age of seventy.

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While 32 percent of respondents prefer a downtown location for a new center, 48 percent have no preference as to location. Parking and transportation issues are of primary concern for those who took the survey. The potential cost for a new facility was also of concern; though 63 percent would be willing to pay at least a $100 annual increase in taxes to provide for a new center, 46 percent would be willing to pay an additional $200 a year.

Coyle has concluded that there is broad support in town for an additional community gathering space. However, more information is needed, including how it may fit into the existing network of community resources. She also concluded that the cultivation of an accessible and inclusive space is vital and that older adults value having their own spaces and experiences with peers. The final conclusion was that any new space needs to have sufficient capacity to meet a wide variety of needs, including the necessary staffing to provide programs. The final written report from Coyle is expected on Wednesday.

Equity and Social Justice Update

Director of Equity and Social Justice Sudeshna Chatterjee presented what she referred to as “a very exciting first ten months” to the board. Chatterjee described her role as a town-wide resource for education, support, and resources aimed at making Reading an inclusive, diverse, and equitable community. She stressed that her role is advisory, supportive, and not involved in enforcement on any level.

Chatterjee stressed that she had entered the position utilizing best practices such as the use of data, a collaborative and cooperative approach, inclusive processes and organizational climate, and being open for feedback. She has focused on developing educational events and programs, resourcing and advising town departments, partnering and relationship building with community groups, and networking and professional development with state and federal organizations.

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Some community needs Chatterjee suggested are inclusive and adaptive recruitment activities for those with disabilities, help with skills to start tough dialogues, and addressing community building and the political divide in town. Chatterjee also noted that a grant had been secured to help with a community needs assessment. She continued that the only data currently available is census data and that the grant will add to the census to help allow for strategic planning.

Chatterjee has already been advising town efforts such as the upcoming affordable housing plan. “[Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] is most effective when we plug it into the town-level strategic planning,” Chatterjee noted.

After a presentation from the Partners and Allies members for an Inclusive Reading group that Chatterjee works with, Select Board member Karen Herrick thanked Chatterjee for her efforts. 

“You’ve accomplished a lot in a short period of time,” Herrick commented.

At the urging of board member Christopher Haley, the Select Board also revisited the issue of town-sponsored holiday displays on the common, specifically related to the potential placement of an atheistic symbol along with the already approved Christmas tree and menorah. Board member Jackie McCarthy discouraged any action during this holiday season. 

“I disagree with the legal opinion that allowing a Christmas tree and a menorah means that we have to allow any and all symbols,” McCarthy stated. She continued, stating a belief that the Supreme Court rulings on the issue suggest that each request should be assessed on its own merits. She continued to suggest that decisions be made by “looking for what the consensus of the town reflects.” McCarthy did encourage the idea of revisiting the entire holiday symbol discussion in January when it is less time-sensitive.

Member Carlo Bacci questioned how the board was to know what the consensus of anything was without asking. He also reiterated that the process up to this point had been flawed and that “it is not the time to discuss anything of this nature.” Bacci also encouraged future dialog on the issue.

Chair Mark Dockser followed with his thoughts. “We do have the right to speak as government,” Dockser indicated. “It does not imply in any way that we will accept anything that comes; it is in fact, exactly the opposite,” Dockser suggested that the topic be discussed in a broader way in a retreat format in January. Town Manager Fidel Maltez did note that the civic function permit policy for use of the common was under review and could be brought to the board in the spring.

In other business, the board voted 4-0-1 to approve extending the rolling band of debt for the water tower project until August. It is expected to be converted to long-term debt at that time. McCarthy abstained from the vote. By votes of 5-0, the board also renewed the liquor licenses for sixteen restaurants, six package stores, and three clubs in town.

The board adjourned to executive session at 10:10 pm for the purpose of discussion regarding valuation and strategy about the possible acquisition of the former Walgreens building at 17 Harnden Street.

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