North Reading Selectman Candidates Answer Questions at LWV Event
Selectman Steve O'Leary, Maureen Harty-Vacca and Joe Foti discuss issues facing North Reading Tuesday night.
The candidates fielded questions related to the tax rate, major issues in North Reading, a proposed water treatment facility and trash pickup rates.
Split tax rate
All of the candidates were opposed to a split tax rate.
"It would be very difficult to implement a split tax rate here right now based on the fact that we only have 13 percent commercial properties," Foti said. "Typically, when you look at the Department of Revenue and you look at the numbers, they suggest minimally a 20 percent commercial tax base. We don't have that yet."
Having a split tax rate would not increase revenue for North Reading. The town has a prime location for businesses since it is right off Route 93, but it is unable to provide a sewer or a water source for larger companies, Harty-Vacca said
A split tax rate will save the average homeowner $450 at most, O'Leary said, but will increase the tax rate of a business by $6,000.
Major issue facing North Reading
Harty-Vacca said that a major issue in town is the ability to maintain services without increasing taxes. She believes that it was generous of residents to support the school building project, but is aware that the tax increase will be a struggle for some families.
"The town needs to be financially responsible without the need to increase taxes," she said. "I would like to be part of a team that figures out the way to do that."
O'Leary agreed with Harty-Vacca and also noted maintaining public services, the water supply and sewerage issue as major problems for the town.
Foti concurred with O'Leary stating that the lack of sewerage is an issue for the town, as well as the water supply.
When asked how they think the sewer project can be moved along, O'Leary said that the town has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in studies on the project, acquired land and put in a signifigant amount of time and energy, but they still need the state to back the project for it to be successful.
"It is a 48 to 50 million dollar project," O'Leary said. "We need to make sure that we have the cash flow to support that.”
Foti thinks that the project discussions have been going on too long and that "at some point action has to be taken." He believes that the town should be at the point where they are ready to go forward with the project, and find "creative financing." As a member of the Board of Directors for the MWRA, he has a background in wastewater and water that will aid him in moving the project forward if elected, he said.
Harty-Vacca understands that a project of this magnitude takes years to develop, but thinks the issue “needs to be one of the top five on our list.” She would like to find a way to get the project financed without burdening tax payers, given the recent approval of the school building project.
When asked if they think the existing trash services costs are fair, the candidates all believed that they are not.
Harty Vacca said, "I would love to see the trash fees rolled back into the tax rate."
O'Leary does not think that the trash services costs are fair or equitable, but said that the board has not found another way to do it.
"We are constantly challenged with taking a look at it," he said.
The Board of Selectmen capped the number of barrels residents are allowed to put out for the first time last year, he said, and they are looking at curtailing that even more to reduce costs.
Foti suggested looking at the current contract with the hauler.
He is in charge of that in his current position as Director of the DPW for Chelsea and by negotiating their contract he was able to save the town $500,000. It’s a service that has to be provided, he said, but he would like residents to “get the most bang for our buck.”
The League of Women Voters also had Town Moderator John Murphy and School Committee member Karen Errichetti say a few words.
"I love the job, that’s why I am running again," Murphy said. "I would like your vote even though I am running uncontested."
Karen Errichetti, who is still a doctoral student, said, that she is running again “to ensure that they [students] have everything they need to be successful.” She is very excited to run again and looks forward to working with the entire school committee, she said.