Reading, MA — The Select Board voted 5-0 to create an advisory committee to provide recommendations to the board regarding the best use of more than $7 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grants that the town has received. The original proposal, developed by Chair Karen Herrick and Select Board member Mark Dockser called for a seven-member committee, with two members each from the Select Board, the School Committee, the Finance Committee (FinCom), and one member of the Library Board of Trustees. This idea was amended by a 3-2 vote to expand the committee to eight members adding an additional FinCom member. Herrick and Dockser were the dissenting votes on the amendment. Select Board member Chris Haley encouraged the change as the FinCom had already proposed a committee that included three of its members, who the FinCom had already appointed. The committee is expected to do community outreach to develop recommendations for the use of the funds by October 31. The Select Board will make the final determination as to how the ARPA funds are spent.
The Select Board also voted 5-0 to appoint Dockser and Haley as its appointees to the advisory committee. FinCom, the School Committee, and the Library Board of Trustees will be asked to make their own appointments to the ARPA advisory committee as soon as is reasonable.
By a vote of 5-0, Town Accountant Sharon Angstrom was appointed to continue in her role through June 30, 2023. Angstrom also presented a quarterly report to the board regarding town finances. She shared that as of June 30, 2021, the town had met 12.87% of its Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) liability, up from 8.30% in June of 2020. This places Reading ninth out of 23 peer communities in terms of meeting those responsibilities. Angstrom noted that the state auditors commended Reading’s continued pursuit of meeting its obligations.
Angstrom recommended that $250,000 of the ARPA funds be designated by the board to cover possible COVID mitigation-related expenses, such as $80,000 already spent from the town’s green cash reserves for COVID test kits. The board voted 5-0 to allow the use of those funds. Angstrom also recommended that the board determine what, if any, severance package was going to be offered to outgoing Town Manager Robert LeLacheur upon his departure later this month. Angstrom shared that when the previous Town Manager, Peter Hechenbleikner, resigned, he was provided a package equalling three months salary. LeLacheur announced his resignation in August and formally announced on February 1 that he would be retiring.
The Select Board voted 5-0 to recommend an overnight parking proposal suggested by the Parking Traffic Transportation Task Force (PTTTF) to designate 35 parking spaces in the town-owned parking lot at the train station as overnight parking in a snow event. Residents taking advantage of the spaces could avoid fines and towing resulting from parking on the streets during a snow event, allowing snow removal crews to complete their work more easily. Deputy Police Chief Christine Amendola reported that 145 overnight parking tickets had been written by the department in January alone. In the plan, cars would need to be removed from the lot by 6:00 am to allow the lot to be available for commuter use. Assistant Town Manager Jean Delios mentioned that if the pilot program is successful, there may be opportunities to make arrangements for use of the MBTA owned lot at the depot, expanding the program in future years. A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for February 15 at 7:45 pm.
The board voted 5-0 to amend its policies regarding the evaluation of the town manager, bringing its policies in line with the contract of incoming town manager Fidel Maltez. The board also had a discussion regarding the usage of town-owned land on Oakland Road and on Symonds Way and received a report from Dockser about the progress being made regarding the use of the newly-purchased lot on Grove Street, intended as a parking area for the Town Forest. Dockser shared that the next step will be to approach Meadowbrook Golf Club regarding an easement for the use of an existing path to the Town Forest through its property.
The Select Board adjourned at 10:30 pm.