Select Board Preview April Town Meeting

After the Select Board met in executive session for seventy minutes on January 5, Town Manager Robert LeLacheur shared a preview of eighteen possible warrant articles for April Town Meeting with the board. Beyond articles typical for Annual Town Meeting such as reports, amendments to the current fiscal year budget, and the approval of revolving funds, two articles relating to tax assessments for veterans and gold star families, and two articles representing debt authorizations for capital projects have been proposed. One of these is for repairs to the Reading Memorial High School stadium turf, and the other for roof repairs at Parker Middle School.

Two other articles, one for a rearrangement of land ownership between the Select Board and the Conservation Commission and the other regarding zoning for outdoor business usage, are still in draft form. Still, LeLacheur shared that he expects them to be ready for April. The Fiscal Year 2022 budget will also appear on the April Town Meeting warrant.

Select Board members gave some guidance to LeLacheur regarding potential new positions for the FY2022 budget. Possible new positions include a public health director, a building code enforcement position, a recreation program coordinator, the promotion of a current police officer to sergeant as a civil rights officer, a mental health/social work professional, and an equity position for a new social justice organization. LeLacheur explained that the nine positions outlined in the department head budget request a total “over $500,000 more than we can afford” in an already tight budget year. LeLacheur suggested that creative budgeting could allow for one or two to be included in the budget he will recommend to the Finance Committee.

All five members of the board consider the need for a public health director as a priority. “Our top priority is what is going to help residents through the pandemic.” Select Board Member Vanessa Alvarado stated. 

Four members listed a civil rights police sergeant as a priority, with three listing the equity position and three listing the mental health/social work professional as priorities. The other area of importance mentioned was the expansion of public health nursing hours. 

Alvarado suggested that further board input should be given to LeLacheur regarding other budget priorities. The board intends to discuss the issue at its next meeting.

Chair Mark Dockser shared that he sent a letter to the town’s legislative delegation requesting that voting safety measures, including mail-in ballots, be extended beyond the current March 31, 2021 date. Reading’s local election is scheduled for April 6. 

Town Clerk Laura Gemme reported that 293 other communities in the commonwealth also have local elections after the March 31 date, with over 150 of them occurring in May.  Gemme also stated that she has a “99% belief” that the legislature will extend the deadline beyond March 31. Several board members expressed concern about whether or not the legislature would act in time to help Reading. “We need to mail ballot requests by February 10.” Gemme continued. When questioned if the election date could be moved up, Gemme replied that it could not as the election cycle is already in motion.

The Select Board also reviewed its communication policy with a few edits. It will now be sent for town counsel to review before a public hearing is scheduled on the matter.

The Select Board adjourned at 10:20 pm.

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