Debt Authorization Performance Contract
Reading, MA — After approving all three of the remaining warrant articles, Special Town Meeting adjourned sine die on Monday. Article six, $5 million in debt authorization to continue performance contracting upgrades with the vendor Noresco, was approved by a vote of 119-52. Town Manager Robert LeLacheur explained that Phase I of the contract, first entered into in 2009, has produced higher than promised energy and financial savings through efficiency and other building upgrades in town. LeLacheur added that Phase II with Noresco would not promise the same level of savings as Phase I but will aid the town as it seeks a “Green Communities” recognition.
Travis Estes, representing the Climate Advisory Committee, cautioned against the motion as it includes boiler upgrades, specifically at Parker Middle School and the Police Station, which still rely on fossil fuel consumption. Estes suggested upgrades to heating systems with newer technologies which would help reduce the town’s reliance on fossil fuels. Town Meeting member Angela Binda expressed concern over the twenty-year rate of return on the investment. Select Board chair Karen Herrick agreed with Estes, suggesting that a “broader, more holistic look” is needed to improve efficiencies.
LeLacheur pointed out that if the boilers were to be removed from the plan, they still need to be replaced and that they would then be added to the capital plan as a high priority and likely at a higher cost. Town Meeting member Gregory Stepler pointed out that many of these newer technologies require significant building infrastructure upgrades, which he labeled “enormous challenges.” As an example, Parker Middle School has no ductwork in the building. Yet, the new technology systems in question require hot air distribution systems. According to Stepler, the installation would be a huge demolition and installation process, likely interrupting school operations.
Town Meeting member Barry Berman, who was on the Finance Committee in 2009 when the first Noresco contract was discussed, shared that now his only regret about the project is “that we did not spend more.” Town Meeting member Jeanne Borawski pointed out that if you remove the boilers from the equation, the project will pay for itself in eleven years which member John Arena referred to as a “no brainer.”
Auburn Street Water Tower
Article seven asked Town Meeting to authorize an additional $2.5 million to replace the Auburn Street water tower. Town Meeting had previously authorized $4.5 million for the project in April of 2019, but LeLacheur explained that added project scope and a time delay on the project has increased the price. Several members expressed concern over the rising costs, questioning the need for the tower, and suggesting an option of painting and maintaining the current tower for $2.5 million would be preferable.
Town Engineer Ryan Percival explained that the tower is needed for the system to maintain pressure and flow rates during the year. Select Board member Mark Dockser explained that though he had been skeptical at first when considering the cost of the new tower, “I now believe that we need to get this done and stop kicking it down the road.”
Finance Committee chair Ed Ross suggested a financing option that would use $500,000 from water reserves and borrow the remainder on a short-term loan, which could be paid for with funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Decisions on the use of these funds rest with the Select Board. Several members of the Select Board indicated that they would be open to discussions on the matter, though they look forward to a full process regarding the use of ARPA funds. Town Meeting approved the amendment by a vote of 148-13.
Ultimately, Town Meeting approved the entire article by a vote of 135-33.
Under Article eight, Town Meeting also accepted the grant of an easement on Gazebo Circle by a vote of 160-0. This easement will allow access to a new water pumping station in the area. A planned instructional motion under Article two was withdrawn.
Town Meeting adjourned sine die at 11:00 pm. Subsequent Town Meeting is scheduled to begin on November 8.