First In-Person Session in Two Years
Reading, MA — With a strike of his gavel, Moderator Alan Foulds opened Reading’s 379th Annual Town Meeting on Monday, the first such meeting to be held in person since 2019. After the opening formalities, including the swearing in of all 192 newly elected members, the meeting got underway with the tabling of articles two and three. Article two, reports, were tabled as they are published in the warrant report. Article three, instructional motions, traditionally are addressed at the end of the meeting.
Article 4 – Capital Plan
Article four proposed to amend the town’s capital plan. Considerable debate was generated by a $110,000 proposal to add pay kiosks for the two downtown municipal parking lots to the capital plan. At its April 19 meeting, the Select Board listened to suggestions from the Parking Advisory and Recommendation Committee (PARC) to improve downtown parking. As a part of this plan, PARC proposed that kiosks could be established in the two lots. PARC suggests that one hour or less of parking would be free. Parking would cost $1 an hour for one to four hours of parking and would cost $5 per hour after four hours. Parking in the lots would remain unregulated after 5:00 pm. The PARC believes that this would increase turnover in the lots and thus create more parking opportunities for customers. The Select Board will hold a public hearing on the issue on May 3 at 7:45 pm.
Several Town Meeting members expressed concern over the plan, suggesting that having to pay for parking would discourage patronage of downtown businesses. Although Town Meeting member Mark Ventura offered an amendment to remove the kiosks from the changes to the capital plan, the amendment failed to pass despite considerable discussion. Select Board and PARC member Chris Haley reminded Town Meeting, “The Town is not looking to make money on parking; it is more about getting [employees] to move to outer areas and free up spots downtown.” After continued debate, Article four was carried using a hand vote.
Article 5 – Amending the FY 22 Budget
Article five contained proposed adjustments to the Fiscal Year 2022 budget. Town Manager Fidel Maltez explained that this includes $650,000 in savings from the health insurance line and $30,000 in savings from the Vocational Education line, $250,000 of which is being earmarked to fund Reading’s Other Post Employment Benefits liability. The other $430,000 would be added to $468,000 from Reading’s free cash reserves to fund items such as replacing a video detection system for the traffic lights at the corner of Woburn Street and West Street, replenishing the Finance Committee reserve fund, and the digitalization of public health records.
Town Meeting member Bill Brown proposed an amendment to increase the termination pay for former Town Manager Robert LeLacheur from $17,000, as decided by the Select Board, to $51,000 to recognize LeLacheur’s service to the town. Several members spoke favorably about the amendment, with Town Meeting member John Halsey asking Town Meeting to “do the right thing.” While the amendment continued to generate considerable discussion, it was noted by Town Counsel Ivria Fried that even if Town Meeting allocated the money, the amount of any termination pay is still under the purview of the Select Board. Arguing that bonuses are best left to the private sector, Town Meeting member Vanessa Alvarado noted, “We are a town, we don’t have profits, we have tax dollars.” After the proposed amendment failed by a vote of 66-97, the motion to approve Article five carried using a hand vote.
Town Meeting adjourned at 10:20 pm and will reconvene on Thursday at 7:30 pm. It is expected that Town Meeting will begin its deliberations on the Fiscal Year 2023 budget on Thursday.