Select Board Candidates Meet at RCTV Forum

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Reading, MA — Incumbent Christopher Haley and challenger Tara Gregory, who are both running for one seat on the Select Board, met at RCTV for a forum to discuss the issues this past Thursday. The event, moderated by Alan Foulds, featured questions posed by Robert Holmes of the Daily Times Chronicle and Catherine Robertson of the Reading Post.

Haley, owner of a local business, shared that he is a fifteen-year resident of Reading who moved here to take advantage of the environment and raise a family. He noted that he has not missed a single meeting in his three years on the board, highlighting his participation in both the PARC and ARPA subcommittees. He twice referenced the fact that he came to the forum with no notes but only with a letter from his daughter stating why voters should choose him to represent them for the next three years.

Selectboard Candidate Night at RCTV 2024 – Photos by Kenan Cooper

Haley shared that he believes that board members should respect one another and that labeling him for one recent meeting and not the hundreds of others in which he has participated is not warranted. He indicated that, apart from the Killam School and senior center projects, MBTA Communities is the greatest challenge facing Reading in the coming years and that his role would be to continue to advocate for residents in the process. He does not believe Milton followed the wisest course in defying the law and wishes to limit Reading’s risk moving forward.

Haley is satisfied with the Town Manager process, even with its challenges, and has complete confidence that the new Town Manager, Matthew Kraunelis, will retire from Reading. Haley would eliminate Oakland Road as a site for a new senior center and would focus on one of the other two possibilities. He is opposed to any increases in the split tax rate as he believes that doing so will not solve the problem of rising taxes. However, he stated that he has been working with the state delegation to improve and amend the small business exemption law, which could make the split tax more reasonable.

Select Board Candidate Chris Haley

Haley feels as though the Business Improvement District plan is an increased burden on small businesses, and he wants to find ways for Reading to be more open to commercial enterprises to come and stay in town. If American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds were left over, he would allocate them to water reserves. He opposed the tiered water rate system as “inequitable,” especially for those living in apartments.

While he supports both the Killam and the senior center projects, he wants to ensure that Reading gets what it needs while keeping it affordable. “We are not going to get the Taj Mahal, but also not its opposite,” Haley declared. He also shared that while he sees some pros and cons, he could not support participation in the Community Preservation Act at this time over a concern for the increase in taxes participation would bring.

Gregory is a fire protection engineer who has lived in Reading since 2020, is a member of Town Meeting, and serves on the Partners and Allies for an Inclusive Reading committee. Gregory stated a belief in fair taxes, greater accessibility, and thoughtful and intentional zoning as areas of interest. Gregory wants to foster a culture of accountability and transparency in the Select Board, with the board taking a more proactive rather than reactive role in town issues. “We can’t have a functioning board if some members are constantly sniping at others,” Gregory stated.

Select Board Candidate Tara Gregory

Gregory sees affordability and rising taxes as issues facing Reading in the next three to five years and suggests the use of the affordable housing trust and the split tax rate to help ease the tax burden on residents. Gregory believes that MBTA Communities should be part of an overall downtown improvement and development strategy.

Gregory favors a plan for the senior center by which the current Pleasant Street Center would be renovated as opposed to a new site being chosen, noting that its downtown location is more easily accessible for residents. Gregory supports a split tax rate that is in line with neighboring communities, ensuring that residential and commercial tax rates increase simultaneously.

Gregory stated that Reading should follow a different route than Milton and not vote against MBTA Communities zoning as the consequences for doing so would be too high. Rather, Reading should use the opportunity to plan for desperately needed housing. Gregory supports the formation of a Business Improvement District in Reading to help encourage commercial growth. Gregory would support the use of any remaining ARPA funds to develop alternative parking sources downtown.

Gregory supports the tiered water rates plan voted on by the Select Board this past fall but notes that the rollout of the plan needs refinement. Gregory “definitely supports” Reading participating in the Community Preservation Act as it could open up new opportunities for grants and allow other “investments that could pay off down the road.”

Reading’s local election is on March 5 at the Hawkes Field House, with polls opening at 7:00 am. Early voting will be in Town Hall starting on February 24 and continuing to March 1.

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