Letter: We Can Be a Model Town – If We Choose to Be…

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Much has already been written on these pages about the Proposition 2½ override vote that will be taking place on April 3, 2018. So I would like to use this space to dispel, at least anecdotally, what is an unfortunate stereotype. And that is that Reading’s seniors are the biggest opponents of a successful override. I have spent many hours over the past few months knocking on the doors of strangers to help get out the word about the importance of this vote to the future of our town. And I cannot tell you how much support I have found amongst our seniors who truly understand that this is about something bigger than themselves and beyond their pure and direct self-interests.

On September 12 of 2016, at a Special Town Meeting called by our Board of Selectmen, our representatives at Town Meeting voted to approve a “Senior Tax Relief” measure which had the justified and admirable goal of making it easier for qualifying seniors living on fixed incomes to age in place. This measure had the effect of “shifting” a certain amount of the property tax burden from those seniors considered most at risk to the balance of Reading’s taxpayers. In point of fact, the Senior Tax Relief program was advanced and adopted specifically to offer at-risk seniors property tax relief in anticipation of the need for a Proposition 2½ override to address the town’s financial crisis. I believe that this was an example of Reading at its very best. We came together and did the right thing for our seniors because they are an integral part of our community and we, as a society, have an obligation to take care of those who are most in need. One of the recipients of this Senior Tax Relief program has recently taken to these pages to attack and insult his neighbors and fellow residents who do not agree with him with respect to the need for a Proposition 2½ override. While I and many others find this individual’s behavior abhorrent and regrettable we should refuse to let it taint our impression of an entire generation of Reading’s senior citizens, most of which I have personally found to be pleasant, thoughtful and caring.

Which brings me back to the vote that will be on the ballot on April 3. Make no mistake that our children are the other particularly vulnerable segment of our population. They have no voice in this debate. Yet they will disproportionately feel the impact of its outcome. For those of you who may be inclined to vote “No” in order to “send a message” to [insert town or school official here], understand that the pain that you may wish to inflict will not be felt where you intend it to be but, rather by our youngest generation of children and the teachers who we trust every day with their lives and their futures. We have an opportunity to come together as a town on April 3 to do the right thing for our children, just like Town Meeting did the right thing for our at-risk seniors on September 12, 2016.

If we do this, I believe that Reading will be held up as a town that others in the state will point to and say “Reading did it the right way – they are the model”. On the other hand, if we are shortsighted and don’t go to bat for the youngest generation and the school system that is the bedrock of our community I fear that these same towns will be pointing to us very soon and saying “Look what happened to Reading. They really dug their own grave, didn’t they?…” 

The choice is ours. Let’s tune out the hatred, vitriol, and divisiveness of those that wish to tear this town apart and instead simply ask ourselves what kind of a town we want Reading to be in the future. Let’s choose to be that model town that is admired across the state for coming together to do what’s right – for our seniors and for our children.

Please join me in voting “Yes” on April 3.

Todd Merkle
Sanborn Lane

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