The board of selectmen set the fee structure for the new split compost and depot parking stickers at its meeting on October 24, by a vote of 5-0. The current stickers are $25 and allow access to both the compost center and to depot parking. The board had previously decided to split the fees, one sticker for the compost and the other a combined compost and depot parking sticker. The fee for the new compost-only sticker for 2018 will be $25 with a $10 discount for seniors. The new comprehensive parking and compost sticker will be $150. The new fees are intended to more closely reflect the actual costs of operating the compost facilities and maintaining the parking spaces at the depot. Concern was expressed about the unintended consequences of increased fees, such as commuters seeking to park in the adjoining neighborhoods. The Selectmen will monitor the situation and post new parking regulations if needed.
Town Assessor Victor Santiello gave an update regarding the new Senior Tax Relief program to the board. He reported that there were 195 applications for senior tax relief and that 182 of them had been approved. The total relief will cost $181,096. This will create a $0.04 increase in the tax rate for the remainder of the residences in town, raising the tax rate to $13.83 per thousand while leaving the commercial tax rate at $13.79 per thousand. The board voted to approve the relief by a vote of 5-0.
By law, the costs of senior tax relief must be born by the residential tax base. The selectmen can, however, seek to even the tax rate through the use of different tax rates for residential versus commercial properties. Santiello suggested that if a split tax rate of a meager 1.0028 were adopted for commercial properties, then the tax rates would even out at $13.83 per thousand. The board will have a public hearing to decide on the split rate at its November 7 meeting.
Town Accountant Sharon Angstrom, gave a final report on the Fiscal Year 2017 budget. The town had higher than anticipated revenues of $1.3 million at the end of the fiscal year. Most of the increase was because of increased excise fees, larger than anticipated investment income and reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for expenses incurred in a 2014 storm. Unused funds from the budget are returned to free cash at the end of the fiscal year. Much discussion ensued around how to help the public understand that “free cash” was really an emergency fund and most of it is not usable for regular expenses.
The selectmen also voted 5-0 to support Articles 3, 4, 6, and 7 to Town Meeting. They did not take a position on Articles 8, 9, and 10 as these articles involve bylaw amendments and the board typically does not take a formal position this type of article.
The board plans to host a joint meeting with the school committee, board of library trustees, and finance committee on November 14 to review the results of the selectmen’s override survey conducted this fall. Time and location of the meeting are to be announced.
During the reports at the beginning of the meeting, Town Manger Robert LeLacheur read a letter to the board about the concerns he has about the tone of public discourse in Reading in recent months. His feeling is that it has become more contentious and partisan. Quoting Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan, LeLacheur said, “There is no partisan way to plow roads or fix potholes.” LeLacheur went on to recall the 2006 Town Meeting where the move to the MWRA was debated. “It was done with respect and courtesy, despite the wide difference of opinion.” LeLacheur commented. “that was a high point.” he continued. LeLachuer noted that he had to refer two separate instances to the police in the past week where public officials or employees felt they were threatened by a member of the public either verbally or in writing. Both cases have been investigated and the police feel there is no significant cause for concern of violence. LeLacheur stated that due to the tone of the comments, he had no choice but to refer them to the police.
Selectmen Chair John Arena also took the opportunity to announce his candidacy for re-election to the board of selectmen. “My team has been busy getting my campaign organization ready. I welcome the opportunity to answer a question or provide any information; please feel free to contact me by email or phone, or follow me on facebook or Twitter @johnjarena.” Arena announced.