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As Sequester Deadline Approaches Uncertainty Looms for Impact on Reading

The sequester would automatically go into effect Friday, March 1 unless Congress takes action to stop it.

With uncertainty as to whether $85 billion in federal sequestration spending cuts will be stopped by Congress before Friday, officials in Reading are keeping a close eye on the issue.

Without action from Congress, the sequester would go into effect automatically on March 1, reducing spending by the state in a number of areas, including education, the environment, health, military and law enforcement, the White House said.

The White House recently released a statement outlining the impacts the sequester would have state-by-state, including Massachusetts.

According to reports, one area that could be impacted the most on a local level are the schools.

Massachusetts would lose $13.9 million in education funding and another $13.9 million in cuts to education for students with disabilities.

"The effects of sequestration are far-reaching and complex. It is probable that some of our residents will be directly impacted in their professions, and many will see impacts to services that they use," Assistant Town Manager and Finance Director Robert LeLacheur said.

"The financial condition of Reading is strong, and we expect to weather any short-term impacts of sequestration without any noticeable change in our levels of service," he said. "Over the winter we partnered with several other communities and applied for two large Community Innovation Challenge state grants. The funding for the CIC grant program was significantly reduced quite suddenly – probably influenced by that anticipated trickle-down effect -  and we were not successful in either application. While this does not impact our current level of services, it does put us a step behind making some technological improvements for the future."

LeLacheur said state and federal funding have always been a concern.

"Last summer we began discussion in earnest about how the federal situation might impact Reading, and the FY14 budgets currently in front of FINCOM have been fashioned with that concern in mind," he explained.

Karl Weld February 28, 2013 at 04:33 PM
Massachusetts could lose $27.8 million in education funding. Divided equally between the 351 cities and towns comes to around $80,000/municipality. Remember when someone brought up the fact that $50,000 from an electronic billboard would would pay the base salary for a teacher? So now we have to look at a possible school budget reduction affected by federal actions. Actions (or in this case no action) have consequences.
Rob February 28, 2013 at 05:01 PM
You can't just keep printing money. You've got to start cutting now, or it'll be worse down the road. How quickly could we make up 80k by requiring town employees to work until they are 65?
Ron Powell March 01, 2013 at 05:39 AM
Actions have consequences; however, most people don't consider actions in a vacuum. They conduct a cost/benefit analysis. In this case, residents determined that the degradation of property values, the effect on the character of the town, and the general aesthetic effect were not worth $50,000 -- especially when proponents of the sign in the past were opposed to other revenue enhancing opportunities that involved their part of the neighborhood, and especially when they seem to ignore the fact that the simpler less contentious solution is to fill the empty commercial space in town. This was a very easy proposal to reject for anyone with a broader, more fair-minded perspective. You lost, move on.
Karl Weld March 01, 2013 at 03:32 PM
Ron, as a member of the Economic Development Committee I'm fully aware of the vacant commercial space in town and am actively working to fill it. We lost a huge opportunity for commercial development with the Addison property. Do we have other space that needs to be filled? Yes. Should that space be filled before we expand? Ideally, yes. We can't, however, make developers and landlords fill their empty space. We can only work with what they're willing to do. Is there more that Reading can do to encourage that type of action? Yes. But the Town would need to decide if Tax Incremental Financing (or other such things) is something we want to allow to encourage more commercial development. P.S. At our current tax rate property values in the affected neighborhood would have to decrease by $3.3 million to equal the $50k in revenue this sign could generate. After speaking with a few realtors, I've been told that that scenario is highly unlikely given the fact that the properties' values have been basically set by the fact that they are already located next to or near the highway. In short, the placement of this sign would have little impact on value.
Ron Powell March 01, 2013 at 06:55 PM
Walking home from my run this morning, I passed by the electronic sign at the Honda dealership on Walkers Brook Drive. It's the one that glows in the night sky -- the power of ten thousand candles bathing poor homeowners in the Town of Wakefield (not even our town). I thought about just how cornball that sign looks contrasted with the rest of the Town. I thought of the residents on Border Road, and West Street, and Archstone Road, and lower South Street, and I was reminded once again that we did right by them. We do a lot of things right in this Town. We don't do everything right, but we got this one right.
Karl Weld March 01, 2013 at 07:29 PM
We may very well have, Ron. I'm merely pointing out that most of our fiscal issues are not of our making and are largely out of our control. That we, as a community, need to armor ourselves as best as possible to meet the service requirements we've agreed this community wants with all means available (see: passage of local meals tax). That means investigating and vetting ALL sources of revenue, weighing the pluses and minuses. And making decisions based on facts and not playing to base emotions with hype and fear.
Ron Powell March 02, 2013 at 01:16 AM
From the Assistant Town Manager's remarks, it appears that sequestration does not affect the Town's level of service at all. At least not in the short-term. The only impact, per Robert LeLacheur, involved the Aerial Flyover and Community Access to Information applications that were part of Community Innovation Challenge state grants. Both programs sound like the kind of projects that are nice-to-haves, but not the types of projects that would be a high priority during a budget crisis. There is absolutely no threat of school budget reduction as a result of the federal funding decrease. Please, let's indeed do make decisions based on facts, rather than playing to base emotions with hype and fear.

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