Town Meeting Begins

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Reading, MA — After the swearing-in of new members by Moderator Alans Foulds, Town Meeting opened with the State of the Town remarks by Select Board chair Carlo Bacci. In his statement, Bacci declared that “Reading is in a strong and stable financial position.” He commented on town projects that have been or are nearly completed, such as the Auburn Street water tower and the lot five Town Forest parking area on Grove Street. Bacci spoke about recent events on the Select Board, suggesting that it is time to “stop the spread of false information that pits neighbors against neighbors.”

Bacci concluded by highlighting upcoming projects that the town will need to prepare for, such as the Killam Elementary School, MBTA Communities, the work of the Town Charter, the senior center, and possible development on Symonds Way.

Reading Town Meeting 04/25/24 – Photo by Kenan Cooper

Community Development Director Andrew MacNichol reported on progress being made towards compliance with the MBTA Communities law. The law will require Reading, along with 176 other communities, to enact zoning changes to allow for increased housing, especially in areas near the depot. MacNichol was quick to point out that the law only requires by-rite zoning, not the actual building of developments. 

“We get to choose how and where we will comply,” MacNichol noted.

The original plan was to bring proposed zoning updates to this Town Meeting, but community feedback and input have pushed the timetable back. The plan now is for Town Meeting to discuss proposed changes to Reading’s zoning in November.

The longest discussion of the evening was around Article 13, which asked Town Meeting to appropriate $75,000 for continued compliance research, consulting, and design to achieve MBTA Communities compliance. Town Meeting member Mark Ventura suggested that more than $75,000 is needed as the impacts on traffic, schools, and other infrastructure issues related to compliance with the statute should also be studied. This was followed up by Town Meeting member Mary Ellen O’Neill offering an amendment to increase the funding to $150,000, arguing that the Planning office in Town Hall is without two of its three staff members.

Community Development Director Andrew MacNichol and Town Meeting Member Mark Ventura

Significant discussion arose regarding MBTA Communities in general and about possible rulings regarding the constitutionality of the law coming this winter. MacNichol noted that Reading’s finalized and approved plan is due by the end of December and that any ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court on the matter is unlikely before that time. Both the amendment and the main motion were approved by a hand vote.

Also, by a show of hands, Town Meeting approved the motion under Article Four to amend the capital plan. The most significant change being to move work to replace the gymnasium floor and bleachers in the Reading Memorial High School (RMHS) field house to the current fiscal year. Town Meeting also approved a series of minor amendments to the Fiscal Year 2024 budget totaling $313,000, which will be taken from free cash reserves. During the discussion, Chief Financial Officer Sharon Angstrom reported that the town has just over $19 million in free cash reserves.

Town Meeting approved using $300,000 towards its Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) liability under Article Seven. Five hundred thousand dollars was budgeted for this item, but unexpected increases in health insurance and other benefits have resulted in the amount in this line item to be reduced. According to Angstrom, only 14% of the town’s OPEB liability has been funded, though she noted that Reading is better off in this area than many communities.

Approval of Article Nine appropriated $95,000 for repairs to the alarm panel at Coolidge Middle School. Funding for this article came from leftover funds not used in the Parker Middle School roof replacement.

By a vote of 135-0, Town Meeting also approved $200,000 for design work to replace the floor and bleachers at RMHS. Just over $98,000 of the funding uses the remainder of the Parker roof fund, and just over $101,000 will come from free cash. In the same article, Town Meeting also approved $1.7 million of debt to complete the entire project. 

Facilities Director Joe Huggins noted that the slab under the current floor was not waterproofed correctly which has caused the rubber surface to adhere to the concrete incorrectly. This has created splitting in the floor, requiring ongoing maintenance. Huggins shared that the condition of the floor has caused concern for possible injuries as well, though none have yet occurred. 

Huggins continued to report that the new floor will have a thicker rubber surface, bringing it into compliance with current regulations. He also stated that the current bleachers, which are original to the building, are not ADA-compliant and require “thousands of dollars” of maintenance each year. Angstrom reported that the design work is scheduled for this year, with the replacement occurring during the summer of 2025. Payments on the debt will not begin until FY 2026.

Article 11 was also approved, amending the bylaws to impose spending limits on the use of the inspections revolving funds. Article 15 approved an easement for Reading Municipal Light Department providing electric service to the new Gazebo Circle booster station.

Articles Three, Six, and 16 were tabled. Articles Eight and 14 were indefinitely postponed. Article 12, the FY 2025 budget, was also tabled as traditionally, Town Meeting prefers to begin a session with that article. The budget will be discussed and voted on as Town Meeting resumes Monday evening.

Town Meeting adjourned at 9:35 pm.

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