Select Board Continues to Review Budget

Reading, MA — Library Director Amy Lannon presented her $2,095,025 Fiscal Year 2024 budget request, an increase of 3.75%, to the Select Board on Tuesday by sharing the Reading Public Library’s measurable return to the community. According to Lannon’s calculations, the library returned a value of $8,465,151 to the community in FY 2022.

Lannon also shared that the Library is in year four of a five-year strategic plan which has improved access to collections, engaged the community in learning, and fulfilled the library’s potential as a community asset. “Libraries are becoming spaces of transformative learning,” Lannon shared. She also highlighted the importance of human connections and experiences at the library that cannot be reflected in numbers.

Lannon reported that the Reading Public Library is the top circulating library per capita in the NOBLE network, but they are continually looking to expand access to their services. She also noted that the project to digitize their microfilm newspaper collection is nearing completion.

The requested library budget increases salaries by 4.8% and decreases expenses by 10.8%. As in other budget requests, the salary increases are a result of the pay and class study conducted earlier this year for the town of Reading. Lannon stated that the Board of Library Trustees made it clear to her that the employees come first.

Director of Facilities Joe Huggins presented the FY 2024 budget request for the Facilities Department. This department is seeking a $4,103,430 budget which is a 9.38% increase over FY 2023. The primary drivers for the increase are higher prices for electricity, natural gas, and water and sewer services. There is also a significant increase in the cost of alarm expenses.

Huggins shared that there were 3,493 work orders completed in FY 2022, an increase of 560 over FY 2021. Huggins also noted that only 13% of their work orders had to be outsourced in FY 2022, a ten percent decrease from FY 2021.

Finance Director Sharon Angstrom presented a request for an FY 2024 budget of $1,085,550, which is a 4.1% increase over FY 2023. Most of the budget is expended in the personnel with 12.93 full-time equivalent employees. Angstrom also presented the budget for shared costs at $30,820,00 or a 2.8% increase; most of the increase is in the benefits line item. Angstrom also noted that of the $6,066,806 budgeted for debt, $2,686,112 is for excluded debt. The excluded debt for the high school and for Wood End Elementary School is set to retire in 2024, while the excluded debt for the library is set to retire in 2025.

In summary, Town Manager Fidel Maltez shared that the requested budget from the department heads is $33,571,056, which is only $88,728 greater than a balanced budget. Maltez expressed confidence that a balanced budget will be achieved in time to be presented for Finance Committee review. He also indicated that after conversations with Superintendent of Schools Thomas Milaschewski, the town would be able “to take a big bite” into full-day kindergarten.

The Select Board had a conversation regarding potential sites for a senior or community center, specifically the site at 25 Haven Street, which has recently been put up for sale. At this time, there is also a development plan for the site under a site plan review by the Community Planning and Development Commission. The building currently on this site is the former Rite Aid building that once housed the Reading Municipal Light Department.

Select Board member Christopher Haley pointed out that at just under 8,000 square feet, the building is smaller than the one recently proposed at 17 Harnden Street. He also stated that this building is in worse condition, is only one story, but has seventeen parking spots and would be less expensive than the Harnden Street site.

The question at hand was whether or not to issue another request for proposal (RFP) to see if the owner of 25 Haven Street would be interested in selling the building to the town. Select Board member Karen Herrick, noting that the building has the same square footage as the current Pleasant Street Center, referred to the plan as “a real long shot.” She continued to press, “Why would we want to explore this?”

Chair Mark Dockser pointed out that the plan all along was for the Reading Center for Active Living Committee to conduct a feasibility study to determine possibilities for space in town. Dockser reasoned that both an RFP and a feasibility study could occur simultaneously. The Select Board voted 5-0 to direct the Town Manager to issue an RFP seeking the acquisition of property in town to be used for a senior center or other municipal use.

The Select Board adjourned to executive session to continue discussion regarding the property at 17 Harnden Street at 9:50pm.

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