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I am writing in response to questions raised and comments made by Christopher Haley, a member of our Select Board at the Reading Center for Active Living Committee (ReCalc) Meeting on Wed, April 6, 2022, at 1 PM.
The forum was engaging and well-formatted to hearing what members of our community felt about transitioning from the Pleasant Street Center to planning for a Community/Cultural Center as the population demographics in Reading continue its shift toward an older citizenry (21% in 2017, currently 26% and projected to increase in the coming decades).
The UMass Gerontological Institute staff have done a remarkable job outlining the issues and needs related to these changing demographics in their report of 2017, and I’m certain they will have some additional thoughts that will be helpful for future planning. The majority of the residents present at this meeting appeared to be >60. Their comments were respectfully received, as were their concerns about high cost of taxes in our Town and need for more affordable housing. Comments were consistent with those raised in 2017, as the majority of this demographic continues to exist on fixed incomes.
I understood the purpose of this meeting was to discuss future needs, not on how the project would be funded. Mr. Haley asked those in attendance how many would utilize a new center. Additionally, he asked how many were amenable to having their taxes increased to accommodate a new center. I found his question patronizing and very insensitive to a population living on fixed incomes that had just a few minutes earlier voiced concern about the high cost of living in Reading need for more tax relief and affordable housing.
After the meeting ended, I spoke with the gentleman asking the questions and learned he is a member of the Select Board, Christopher Haley. I asked him if he and his family would use the center in the future. He indicated that this plan will never pass Town Meeting. I ended our conversation by adding, “you have got to acquire a more positive outlook.”
After that exchange, I wondered if this entire exercise and use of the UMass consultation services will be futile with people’s time and tax money wasted. In 2003 I started a business within Mass General Hospital and Physicians Organization and am well aware of the fiscal issues and need to determine financing methods. There’s always a need to ascertain how projects will be funded, but this forum was neither the time nor place to do it. This will be an essential conversation down the road by those governing our Town. It will require innovative thinking AND a “Can Do Spirit.” As the demographics shift the answer cannot be a knee-jerk reaction: “raise property taxes.” We need to be considering tax equity and ensuring that all Town residents needs are recognized. I’m hopeful our Select Board and Town Meeting will work toward that goal.
I have reviewed this letter with The Reading Neighbors Network Executive Committee, and all members feel strongly it reflects their feelings as well.
Treasurer, Reading Neighbors Network