Reading Town Meeting Approves $87.8 Million Budget
Proposed substance abuse program cut failed.
After two and a half hours of budget review last Thursday, Reading Town Meeting approved an $87.8 million budget for the coming fiscal year.
So what? You ask. Your property taxes fund a large chunk of the budget.
Property taxes this fiscal year, which started on July 1, 2011 and will end this coming June 30, accounted for 69 percent of town revenue, according to the Town Meeting Warrant.
That revenue goes toward town expenses from schools to public safety, public works, the town’s library, and more.
The town also receives state and federal aid and other local revenue, from excise tax to building permits to the new meals tax.
During the budget presentations, one motion was made to cut $68,000 from the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse. The town will pay that amount after a grant ends this coming September, according to Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner’s recommended budget. The town is applying for another five-year grant, but will not know the result until August. Bill Brown made the motion.
The town has seen 11 deaths since 1985, Hechenbleikner responded, due to substance abuse.
“I do not want to go back there,” he said.
The town plans to add one police officer to help address substance abuse enforcement. The School Department is taking several initiatives, in curriculum at the middle schools and high school, “to address the needs of high school youth with substance abuse and other issues,” according to Hechenbleikner’s budget overview.
The only other change-the-budget motion made during the budget review: to cut $50,000 from the school budget. Jack Downey made the motion because, he said, he has seen classroom teachers moving out of the classroom and into school administration. He declined to name those people.
Both budget-cutting proposals failed by a significant margin on a hand vote.
Reading’s finances are good, Hechenbleikner told Town Meeting. The proposed budgets are “sustainable,” he said, after “somewhat painful reductions in this fiscal year’s budget; they’ll keep departments functioning.
But Congress doesn’t have its financial house in order, said Finance Committee member Barry Berman. So expect less aid, he said.
On the school side of the ledger, town schools have been level-funded for three years, Superintendent John Doherty told Town Meeting, and eliminated 34.8 positions. Among the 12 school budget staffing requests for the coming fiscal year, Doherty said: health education teachers – one at the middle school level, 1.6 at the high school; a high school teacher for the therapeutic support program; an in-school suspension coordinator; and a social worker.
Curious about the exact amount of money that Town Meeting approved for the fiscal 2013 town and school budget?
Town Meeting will convene again Monday. Ten warrant articles remain. One of those articles is expected to generate debate: whether to reduce the size of Town Meeting from 192 members to 144 members – from 24 to 18 members from each of the town’s eight precincts.