Candidates Address the Issues

Moderator Kevin Vendt with candidates Melissa Murphy and Tara Gregory

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Reading, MA — This past Thursday, Tara Gregory and Melissa Murphy, the two candidates for the open seat on the Select Board, participated in an issues forum sponsored by RCTV. After opening statements, the candidates responded to questions on several issues facing the town that were posed to them by this reporter. After the back-and-forth on the issues, the forum concluded with closing statements.

Tara Gregory is a fire protection engineer who is a town meeting member and has worked with several local community groups, including PAIR and the Coalition of Us. Gregory loves the walkable downtown, green spaces, and small businesses that Reading has to offer. Gregory promises to provide fresh eyes, energy, and extensive town government volunteer experience to a position on the Select Board. 

Gregory proposes to help the Select Board take a proactive role in the community, with more transparency, accountability, and improved communication, as the best way to regain the community’s trust. If elected on May 14, Gregory intends to run for the seat again in 2025.

Gregory believes that expanding the split-tax rate is “necessary to correct the long-standing imbalance that occurs when residential properties increase faster than commercial values.” Gregory also noted that eighteen of twenty-three nearby communities have higher commercial tax rates than Reading. Gregory believes that Reading should pursue participation in the Community Preservation Act to enhance affordable housing and outdoor recreation and “help supplement stuff residents would be paying for anyways.” Gregory would like to see a broader-based community center that would serve seniors during the day. Gregory prefers a downtown location for such a center to allow for greater accessibility.

Gregory hopes that the plans for MBTA Communities compliance will help incentivize small multi-family housing that helps enhance affordability in Reading. Gregory does not believe that Reading should follow the path taken by Milton and other communities that have defied the law, but rather, Reading should move ahead and plan to comply and then adjust zoning as needed. Gregory thinks that the initial rollout of the tiered water rates did not equitably address the costs accessed to multi-family homes and apartments and that because of this, the plan needs to be revisited.

Melissa Murphy is a sixteen-year resident of Reading, a former paralegal, and a Town Meeting member who has been a part of the Wood End Elementary School PTO and school council. Murphy loves Reading for its restaurants, shopping, and walkable Town Forest. Murphy quickly sought to correct misinformation that had been shared about her online. Murphy clarified that she does not nor ever has supported book banning. Murphy also explained that she was not simply opposed to a menorah display on the common, but rather that she was opposed to all religious symbols on the common.

Murphy acknowledged that many residents are frustrated by some of the recent behavior of some members of the Select Board. Murphy stated that the board needs more transparency, that she expects to work with all members, and that she is able to have difficult discussions with other members. Murphy also intends to run next year if she wins the election on May 14.

Murphy noted that over 200 communities in the Commonwealth do not have any split tax rate. Murphy is concerned that increasing the split will cause commercial rents to rise, thus forcing businesses to raise prices. “The last thing I want to see is our small bookstore, sandwich shop, or boutique shopping business be put out of business because the residents can no longer afford to shop there,” Murphy shared. Murphy also believes that the Community Preservation Act (CPA) is unsuitable for Reading as two large debt exclusions are coming soon. Murphy does not believe that it is reasonable to support both a larger split tax rate and the CPA, as any taxpayer savings from one will be spent on the other.

Murphy supports the concept of a broad-based community center with specific options for seniors. Murphy prefers Symonds Way as the location for the new center. Murphy thinks that it would be a mistake for Reading not to include affordability in any MBTA Communities solution. Murphy believes that Reading should only develop a plan that addresses the minimum legal requirement that allows for wiggle room if the Supreme Judicial Court changes the rules for the law.

According to Murphy, the tiered water rates need to be revisited as the current system provides no incentives for residents of multi-family buildings to conserve. Murphy also noted that the current tiers affect seniors, young families, and low-income residents, many of whom live in multi-family housing, more than other residents. Murphy also believes that Reading should investigate allowing second water meters to help with costs and encourage conservation.

The election for the open seat on the Select Board will be on May 14 in the Hawkes Field House. Polls open at 7:00 a.m., and  RCTV’s Election Coverage will start after the polls close at 8:00 pm. 

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