After significant debate and a vote of 104-42, the Subsequent Town Meeting approved $900,000 for the purchase of trash and recycling barrels for every residence in Reading. The article creates a solid waste revolving fund managed by the Direct of Public Works. A similar article failed to be approved by the Annual Town Meeting in April.
Town Manager Fidel Maltez explained that each household in town will receive one sixty-four-gallon trash barrel and one sixty-four-gallon recycling barrel designed for automatic trash removal. Households may lease an additional trash barrel at a rate of $200 a year and may receive an additional recycling barrel on a case-by-case basis. Maltez also noted that smaller barrels will be available upon request and that the barrels will not contain RFID tags.
Maltez shared that the “trash gate” issues that occurred in 2023 “opened our eyes to the changing nature of the [trash removal] business.” He also shared that the town will see a $1,000,000 increase in expense and be forced to have automated trash pick-up when it negotiates its next contract in 2026.
“Manual collection will not be an option,” Maltez stated.
He continued explaining that automated trash pick-up is safer for employees, resulting in fewer missed days, and will be more attractive to those who bid on the contract. Maltez also stated that transitioning now will save future costs and “give Reading residents a better product and better services.” He also highlighted the goal to reduce waste and increase recycling.
Maltez ended his presentation by sharing that an informal town survey showed that eighty-four percent of households already use one sixty-four-gallon barrel or less for their trash, with only sixteen percent using more than one sixty-four-gallon barrel.
Debate on the issue ranged from concerns about extra costs for larger households, use of the barrels prior to the end of the contract, and the disposal of barrels that are currently owned by residents. The issue of bulk item pickup was also raised.
Several town meeting members attempted amendments. One, proposed by Town Meeting member John Sasso, aimed not to limit the number of barrels. Sasso argued that this charge was a “policy change,” noting that the town does not charge per student in school or public safety visit. Maltez had pointed out that the lease for a second barrel covers the additional waste disposal costs, not the barrel itself.
Another proposed amendment would allow residents to purchase a second barrel instead of leasing one. In opposition to the amendment, Town Meeting member Martha Moore asked, “Why is it assumed that a family of one should subsidize a family of eight?”
A third amendment, proposed by Town Meeting member Thomas Wise, suggested that the total amount allocated for the purchase should be reduced to $600,000 to allow for conforming, currently-owned barrels to remain in use and a sticker system to be employed instead of the town-provided barrels.
All proposed amendments failed to pass, and Article Seven was approved as written.
Town Meeting also approved Article Three, which changed the capital plan, resulting in an additional $1,531 net change in Fiscal Year 2024 and $275,000 in FY 2025. Town Accountant Sharon Angstrom explained that voting to amend the plan does not authorize any spending but helps in planning. She reported that the town has $20.16 million in reserves, $19.5 million of which is in free cash.
Under Article Four, Town Meeting also approved $248,500 from free cash to be added to the FY 2024 budget for items such as increases in property and casualty insurance, professional services, and final adjustments for pay and class increases.
By a vote of 147-3, Town Meeting approved Article Six appropriating $2.14 million for the Birch Meadow Project Phase Two. Community Services Director Genevieve Fiorente explained that this amount is for the design and construction of the project, which includes expansion of parking on Bancroft Avenue and in the RISE parking lot, a new playground, and two new basketball courts. She also noted that any final plans would need to receive Community Planning and Development Commission and Conservation Committee approval prior to construction.
Town Meeting member Karen Janowski questioned the expansion of the number of basketball courts, where usage is uncertain, as opposed to pickleball courts, which are known to be in high demand. Fiorente explained that there are currently only three usable public outdoor basketball courts in town and that the new courts will be used both for pick-up games for kids and teens as well as for Recreation Department programming. Neighbors objected to pickleball at Birch Meadow due to the noise, though Fiorente did indicate that Recreation “has in mind” a location for pickleball.
Articles one, two, and five were tabled, and Town Meeting adjourned at 10:40 pm. Subsequent Town Meeting will reconvene on Thursday at 7:30 pm.