November Town Meeting concluded its business on November 18 after approving motions under ten different articles. The motion under Article 16 amended Section 6 of the Zoning Bylaw adding dimensional and density controls to mixed-use developments in Business A districts. The motion also amended language in the bylaw, aligning it with Section 5 which was amended under Article 15 last Thursday night. Again, as with Article 15, there was significant discussion regarding setbacks. Town Meeting member Angela Binda made an amendment proposal to change the proposed five-foot setback requirement to ten feet. This amendment proposal was then amended to change the setback requirement to fifteen feet. Town Meeting member John Arena urged his colleagues not to vote for the amendment, arguing that Town Meeting needed to “Put faith in the boards, committees, and commissions to judge these issues fairly.”
After much discussion, both the amendment and the amendment to the amendment failed to pass. There was some confusion regarding the motion as the setback requirement in the motion had been changed to five feet from the zero foot setback requirement that was published in the warrant report. This change was made to reflect the vote on Article 15 that changed the setbacks for corner lots to five feet. Town Meeting member John Halsey proposed an amendment to return the setback requirement to zero feet. While several members argued in favor of the amendment, it also failed to pass. Ultimately, by a vote of 131-16, the motion under Article 16, with the five-foot setback requirement, was approved.
Town Meeting moved on to approve the motion under Article 4 to amend the Fiscal Year 2020 budget adding just over $1.5 million from the town’s free cash reserves. When questioned, Town Manager Robert LeLacheur reported that the free cash reserves currently total over $15 million. In FY 2020, there will be savings in insurance premiums and debt repayments which partially offset an additional $2.2 million in spending. This amount included the three modular classrooms for Birch Meadow Elementary School added to the Capital Plan last Tuesday evening. Forty thousand dollars was also added for designs for the Birch Meadow complex and for an open space study.
The motion under Article 5, to repay a bill from a prior year was approved, as was the motion under Article 8 to rescind prior authorized debt, specifically $460,000 of sewer improvements and $900,000 for lights at Birch Meadow. The sewer improvements were accomplished with state money and the lighting quotes were significantly higher than what was authorized, thus delaying the project.
The base income for cost of living allowances for retirees was increased from $12,000 to $14,000 by the motion under Article 9. This will increase the pension for most of Reading’s municipal retirees by 60 dollars a year at an annual cost of $267,300. The motions under Articles 10 and 11 asked Town Meeting to allow the town to enter into contracts of greater than three years with LDS Consultants as Affordable Housing Monitoring Agent for Reading Woods and with Covanta for rubbish disposal. Both extended options will provide the town with a stronger bargaining position. The motions under both articles were approved.
Town Meeting approved the motion under Article 12 to continue the home rule petition for senior tax relief. This relief was approved three years ago and helps approximately 180 senior citizens annually “age in place” in town by reducing their property tax burden. The motion under Article 17 sought $35,000 for a private audit seeking natural gas leaks in town. The belief is that there are more than 120 leaks already reported by National Grid. Town meeting member David Pinette opposed the article, stating that National Grid already was responsible for the detection of leaks and even if more leaks are found, National Grid does not have to respond to any findings. Proponent David Zeek responded that due to National Grid’s detection schedule, it was possible for a leak to go undetected for up to three years if the town waits for National Grid. The motion under Article 17 was approved.
Three of the four instructional motions under Article 2 were approved, two directing the Select Board to pursue more renewable energy options and one directing the board to develop a town-wide tree policy. The instructional motion that did not pass required a review of the percentage of the budget split between the schools and municipal services in town. Several members spoke in opposition, stating that this process was already in place.
Town Meeting adjourned sine die at 11:50 pm.