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Special Town Meeting Sends Debt Exclusion To Voters

Reading Public Library. Credit: Patch file photo.
Reading Public Library. Credit: Patch file photo.

Reading Town Meeting approved bringing a $3.5 million debt exclusion override question to the voters last night. 

Despite the snow storm, Town Meeting went on due to the importance of the timing of the question. 

The debt exclusion question — $3.5 million for the Reading Public Library renovations — will be on the April 1 ballot. Town Meeting voted 109 to 13 to put the question to the voters.

To read more about the library's building program, click here.

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M February 25, 2014 at 03:06 PM
So, I just read the minute from last Selectman's meeting where this was discussed. The ANNUAL approved increase in taxes for this library additional debt is currently $150 for an "average" home assessed @ $400K, and this increase would itself increase by 33% per home (50/150) to 200? I doubt it will be conveyed this way to the voters. I've lived in town for nearly 14 years and have never found anything lacking in our library. Our library's hours are superior to just about every other noblenet library and the facility itself is just as good as Stoneham, Melrose, Peabody, and Saugus, on a par with Lynnfield (they have nicer furniture but, it seems to me, fewer books and meeting spaces). Wakefield's is "nicer" in appearance, but they all have the same books . .. which is what the library is, first and foremost, for. It does seem like this state of the art renovation is just as much to create space for private functions like meetings and private academic tutoring, as much as for general public benefit. Perhaps the library can pass along some of the renovation costs to the users who are requiring much of the newly created spaces.
Nikki February 26, 2014 at 10:26 AM
There is a timely comic in Wednesday's Globe: A man is telling his daughter about the new state-of-the-art library in town, and the daughter looks up from her Kindle and says, "Isn't that sort of like building a state-of-the-art blacksmith shop?"
M February 26, 2014 at 11:45 AM
That is cute, but I have a kindle, and a nook color, and I don't see that ebooks will be the "only" way to read books for a very long time. Look at all the proprietary formats out there - just like with listening to audio (which has evolved from records to 8 tracks to cassettes to mp3s - which aren't even standardized). I'd hate to trash all the books and depend on only one type of electronic format - which then becomes unusable, and possibly not-convertable (or expensive to convert) in 5 years. Think about that with books - even 1000 years later, assuming the paper/ink is still intact, you can still read it. I think there's room for both. Moreover, not every book has been deemed worthy of digitization - do we lose those? Then there's the copyright issue, where a seller like Amazon had to take bake digital copies it sold (of "1984", ironically), because it did not have the correct copyright. When you buy an ebook you aren't really buying anything, just a license to read it. With a book, you can buy it, resell it to another, read as many times as you like, and not be tracked. There are implementations that can control how long you can look at an ebook and how many times you can read it. I can see coming in the future systems that track what you're reading, how long, etc., just like reading an online news page - and that sell you adds or share that info. In contrast, there is a certain refreshing privacy about a book. You can read it any way you like, wherever you like, without need of electricity or perpetual digital rights. Finally, speaking of 1984, there is the issue that if only digital copies exist of something, it is very easy for government or someone else to make a change to the original digital copy, such that earlier "versions" are lost forever (rewriting history, etc.). This can be detected via digital watermarking, but still the original is lost. They can't really change a printed copy in your hands, though. Not to get too off the library track with my rant, but just trying to show that print media still has value. And that blacksmith - today those skills would be readily used in high paying welding jobs! So don't sell the blacksmith short!
Ronald D'Addario February 26, 2014 at 04:21 PM
Hello everyone, M, I think you pretty much covered the issue in areas I never thought. I would like to add that our renovated and expanded library would be ready to support whatever the 21st century library (multi-media center, community forum, community center, cutural center) might require. I don't believe we can know now what we will need in the future. It is exciting times and we should prepare for them. Also, many people can not afford all of the gadgets now available. The library can make many of them available to those people. Presently, the library has a number of Kimbals available for loan and a number of subcribed websites we can use at no cost. It makes sense to have our library be the best we can make it especially for a future that is very unpredictable. Ron
mary m March 10, 2014 at 05:24 PM
Hey folks. Just got a post card from the "Vote YES" group. April 1 is voting day for approving another $3.5 Million for library funding. I called town hall and absentee ballots are available two weeks before the election. Anyone interested in the outcome of this issue should put both dates on the calendars AND set alarms and reminders not to miss the opportunity to be heard.
M March 10, 2014 at 11:38 PM
To everyone who got those yellow cards, please look at tonights's school committee agenda at the link below - note that they want money for a design study to be voted on at April's town meeting, and note the estimated construction costs of the three new pre-K schools that this design study is directed towards (22 million to 27 million, in today's dollars). These cost estimates (and after the library, we know how good "estimates" are) can be found about 7 pages in. Now, how does an 18 million dollar library sound? Yes, 5 mill is from state and we pay 13. 5 if override approved - for now, until it goes up. Which do you think will make Reading a more "desirable" town and/or add to YOUR property values - a new school or a renovated library? Which do you think the state has the power to MANDATE that we provide to all eligible persons? Do you think this town has the money to pay for both of these huge projects right now? http://www.edline.net/files/_yHCTI_/d7ca46d6c4d948533745a49013852ec4/SC_MEETING_3.10.14.pdf
mary m March 11, 2014 at 12:47 AM
Thanks M for reminding everyone to look more closely at what is going on with our taxes and how quickly our wallets are about to be impacted beyond the library vote. Tax payers take note in addition to everything else 1. We ARE still paying for the high school 2. We WILL be paying for a Kilam renovation whatever it will be! 3. We WILL be paying for the pre-K program whatever it will be! Knowing we have these necessary big ticket items looming in our future how can we justify voting for more $$$$ for the library?
Ronald D'Addario March 11, 2014 at 03:41 PM
A Vote for Jeanne I urge my fellow Readingites to cast their vote for Jeanne Borawski for School Committee on April 1st. Jeanne has an impressive resume that has prepared her for this position. Not only has she served as a town meeting member and a member of the finance committee, she has served as an appointed school committee member filling a vacated spot last fall. In addition to her wide experience in town government, Jeanne is a Massachusetts certified educator in English and has taught high school English for a number of years. As a mother of two young children, Jeanne is sensitive to the need for full time kindergarten as well as the vital importance of quality education for all of our children. In the winter of 2011, I saw Jeanne in action as she, Kevin Sexton, Peter Hechenbleikner, and I raised funds for our sister city, Reading, Kansas. They had just suffered massive damage from a series of tornadoes that tore through their town. Jeanne gave of her time and talents without reserve. With her effort, we were able to help our friends in Kansas. For these reasons, I ask you to vote for Jeanne Borawski on April 1st to prepare our children for the 21st century. Sincerely, Ron D’Addario
Ron Powell March 14, 2014 at 11:49 PM
No, spending $13.5 million for a state-of-the-art library is not a fiscally responsible investment, irrespective of how maudlin the appeals made by proponents to do it "for the children." The harsh reality is that the same principals who are telling us that we have limited choices regarding the library are the ones who grossly understated the cost of the renovation. And underpinning all of this is a Library Director who believes she is entitled to your money and a blank check to support her vision. If you love children, if you love libraries please consider giving of your own time and money to your already excellent town library. If you cherish fiscal prudence and the needs of your neighbors, do not vote for this debt exclusion override.
mary m March 23, 2014 at 08:48 PM
NOW I am MORE than really CONCERNED. I just read David Hutchinson's quote in the today's Sunday Globe North section (3/23) regarding the request for an additional $3.5 million more than the already approved $14.9 mil for the library project. He stated "It's a little of everything ... It's like a credit card bill; it just adds up." REALLY!!! SERIOUSLY!!! With that kind of attitude how can we be sure it is not going to continue to add up? I am at a lose for words
M March 23, 2014 at 09:49 PM
And we should not forget the $25-$30 mil pre-K/K facility that will be coming up for a vote this fall (to be discussed at tomorrow's school committee meeting - they will pick one of the options to move forward). As we all know, nothing ever comes in at budget - so if you factor 10% increase (at least) on both the library (from 18.6 mil to 21 mil, rounded up, only 5.1 mil covered by state) and the school (say 28 mil to 31 mil), we're talking about 46 mil in new spending to be approved over the next year. Divide that up over 10 years by all the households in Reading, and it's over $500 per year ADDED on top of every property tax bill, just for these projects.
Fred Van Magness Sr. March 24, 2014 at 09:48 AM
Do not miss the current Fin
M March 24, 2014 at 09:59 AM
Seems like it will be quite a school committee meeting tonight, with the Selectman and Finance Committee also in attendance - no doubt that $25-30 mil preK/K project will be heavily discussed.
Fred Van Magness Sr. March 24, 2014 at 10:05 AM
Do not miss the current Fin Comm actions where they are allegedly interested in spending down Free Cash and then moving forward with a plan for a Prop 2 1/2 Override for Operating Expenses. They put the concept of yet another override on the table at last weeks Fin Comm meeting. It is consistent with the apparent current agenda of tax and spend. Just look at their financial review track record on the Library project. As another example, they are apparently ready to spend $400,000 out of Free Cash for the Early childhood Education Center without a community discussion of the concepts and long term costs. Any override that the Fin Comm puts forth, assuming voter approval, will be a permanent increase in taxation....forever !!! Stay tuned to this important departure, if it gains traction, from controlled spending as it will have a very significant increase to your tax bills along with the other major capital projects being contemplated.
M March 24, 2014 at 10:18 AM
Fred, what is the free cash being spent on re: Early Childhood? The design/study? Seems like that should not be spent/allocated unless voters approve moving forward with it.
Fred Van Magness Sr. March 24, 2014 at 10:35 AM
I believe it is for design, etc. and will need to be approved by Town Meeting.
mary m March 24, 2014 at 10:43 AM
Thanks Fred for the fin com info. Like 98% of Reading's residents, I was not aware of the fundamental change in how the Finance Committee views their responsibilities to all taxpayers. One thing M forgot on his list of projects that will need financial backing is the Killiam School upgrade,which is an important current need that keeps getting left off the "we need money" for ..." list. Looks like the $500 plus ADDED to our current tax bill M mentioned is going to grow closer to $600+. How many two income gainfully employed homeowners or business owners in this town do you think have an extra $500-600+ to spend? How many non-employed, elderly or single parent families have this kind of money? What is happening to this town is a travesty.
M March 24, 2014 at 11:04 AM
Mary - thanks for reminding re: Killam, I knew of it, but haven't heard it brought up in SC meetings in ages. The difference with Killam (I thought) is that we don't have a choice about whether to make those changes - aren't many required for ADA compliance? A year or 2 ago I think Bill Brown said they would at about $70 per year to avg property tax bill, then there would be another $50 or so for water/sewer improvements (that have not yet been mentioned/approved, but are needed). One way to think of this added $600 or so is to really think of it as the 10-year cost, i.e. $6000 per household. At least. That is pretty significant. But, I would rather spend it on a new school than the library, if I had to choose. The pre-K/K facility could be made into a full on elementary school, if need be. The library is functioning well as it is, and unless it is in danger of collapsing onto patrons, its expansion is a luxury.
Fred Van Magness Sr. March 24, 2014 at 11:07 AM
You also have the following major capital programs under active discussion.....DPW New Crossing Rd. Garage upgrade, Cemetery Garage Upgrade/new building, South Main St Renovations Phase II, Water Distribution Pipe Upgrades over a number of years at +/-$25 million. The Fin Comm has an important role to sort all this stuff out and see how it fits in the overall financial picture of the town.
M March 24, 2014 at 11:14 AM
Hmm, sounds like the $25 mil you cite above in capital programs would add up to another $500 per year (same as the school). I would say 90% of the folks I talk to (I've got kids in elementary school) are aware of the library, maybe half know about the pre-K/K facility (though not that it's so close to moving forward), and virtually no one knows about the major capital programs. I wish the town could do a brief email each week, like the "RPS happenings" email for the schools, just summarizing in a sentence or two the major agenda items for each town board meeting that week, with a link to the full agenda. This might increase awareness of these many issues.
Fred Van Magness Sr. March 25, 2014 at 10:37 AM
So last night at the School Committee meeting, they voted to ask Fin Comm tomorrow night for $485,000 from free cash to fund extra design studies. They are also going to ask for an additional $450,000-500,000 from free cash to fund operating expenses that the budget does not include. So the schools want roughly $1 million from free cash NOW. Now you see the reason why Fin Comm is moving to an Operating Override....and allows Free Cash to be spent NOW. Also note that the town voters have not approved anything for a Debt Exclusion on this Early Childhood Center. So they hope to spend $485,000 and have no guarantee the voters will ever approve it. This town is working backwards............ Tax and Spend is the new rule of order in Reading !! People need to call their BOS folks and make their opinions known...NOW !
Rich March 28, 2014 at 09:15 AM
I am not a fan of spending the amount of money needed to make the Highland School building into a state of the art library. It was a bad idea back in 1980 and continues to be one today. I think with the number of items that will be coming to the voters over the next few years, it is the right time to step back, reconsider and prioritize what is most important to the Town and the majority of its inhabitants. Personally, I would suggest purchasing the old Woburn Street School and make that the Library. I would imagine that the structural aspect, and the costs associated with it, of the current proposal would be diminished significantly. I laugh at everyone worried about the $5 million in "free" money from the state. Talk about letting the tail wag the dog. Convert the Highland School to house the School Administrative offices and perhaps the RISE program, using the building for what it was built for, not trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. This would free up more space at the High School (maybe they can restore the cafeteria to at least 1/2 of the size of the old one). I feel this whole library process has been rushed to beat the other pressing issues, knowing that if forced to choose amongst the upcoming proposals, it would not be supported.
M March 28, 2014 at 09:53 AM
Rich - what a great thought to move admin offices to library? The question is, where can library be moved to require the lowest in renovation costs? I think Woburn st for library would end up costing more than current proposal, alas, given the need to install elevators, "seismic code", etc, etc. What about the post office (which is moving) for the library? You could not ask for a more central location. Already handicap accessible, all on one floor, big parking lot out back that is ripe for expansion, etc.
Ron Powell March 29, 2014 at 12:55 PM
At the end of the day, responsibility lies with the residents who voted for the first override last April. We did not have enough data, we had serious questions regarding financing, we knew that there are other capital projects that will benefit the town and residents, and yet we chose to approve this debt override. I like M's idea for using the soon-to-be vacant post office building for the library. Surely it has most if not all of the building code features already in place, and can also be easily expanded.
Karl Weld March 30, 2014 at 09:02 PM
I have heard that the post office has been sold. Do not know to whom yet. As Chairman of the EDC, I hope to find out quickly. Fred is right. The Finance Committee is moving forward with discussions for a Prop 2 1/2 override to reset the tax base higher. And as he said that is not a one-year or debt exclusion situation. It is a forever situation. What I would like to see is our municipal officers and volunteer committees fight the real problem: Beacon Hill. Unfunded mandates in our schools and prevailing wage laws that inflate construction costs by 22% are the real threat to municipal budgets. Heck, even exempting municipalities from the gas tax would save us money, but they can't even allow that. Elections have consequences folks. If you want to stop paying through the nose for everything, start electing reformers to Beacon Hill. You can start on Tuesday by voting for Monica Medeiros for State Senate and start bringing some much needed balance to the debate on Beacon Hill.
Geoffrey Coram April 01, 2014 at 07:59 AM
I think it's inconsistent to oppose the $485k for the studies for the early ed center and yet berate the library building committee for underestimating the renovation costs because there wasn't money to do the necessary testing.
M April 01, 2014 at 09:24 AM
485K is not for the studies, isn't for the actual full on design? The studies have already been done (at what cost, I don't know). I am glad they did the studies for the pre-K, because it helps town meeting members know in advance what they are voting on to be presenting to the voters. For the library, I don't know what studies were done up front, but it seems they spent a lot of time up front researching the icing (all the new interior features, the "cafe", fireplace, "meeting spaces," etc) and less on the cake (the structure itself). Maybe they assumed the structure just needed minor repairs, and I can understand testing walls and discovering crumbling, and how they could not see that. But, the other "unexpected expenses" (i.e., all the building codes issues like seismic code, stair tread height, etc) did not need a major engineering investigation; rather, noting those costs required "someone" with some knowledge of basic building codes in Massachusetts. The costs were not even listed in the first go-around, which makes it seem like the person with that kind of knowledge was not on the committee or did not review the committee's findings. I agree with others that the town does need some kind of an ad hoc building committee with at least some members having the knowledge necessary to review these kinds of things. So this fiasco does not happen again (esp with the pre-K/K project, should it move forward)
Barry Berman April 02, 2014 at 07:16 AM
At the special February Town Meeting I proposed, and Town Meeting overwhelmingly supported, an instructional motion to create a Permanent Building Committee in Reading. The Library process underscored the need to obtain reliable cost estimates and scope before any major municipal building project can request town funding. What I find curious is that I have heard the Library trustees criticized for not doing their proper due diligence on costs before requesting town funding for the renovation/expansion. At the same time people are complaining about the expenditure of $485k to produce schematics to properly bid the cost of the new early childhood learning center. You can't have it both ways. You have to spend money to get the proper information so voters feel confident enough to vote on a project. A Permanent Building Committee will guide proponents on the correct due diligence while giving the voters the comfort of knowing that everything possible was looked at before the funds are voted. Sometimes that means spending money before a project is brought to the voters.
M April 02, 2014 at 07:28 AM
Barry, you make great points and I agree we need a building committee. I think the criticism of the 485K comes in part because producing schematics, etc., implies that the voters, inherently, want and will pay the $30 mil plus for this early chldhood center. Some folks are saying, whoa, maybe let's double check with the voters that they will, ultimatetely, want and pay fora new early childhood center @ this site, at a cost of $30 mil plus (at least). The Supt views this as a done deal, but many in the town are frustrated at the money already spent on the Woburnn St School studies that amounted to nothing in the end, because the site was unsuitable. Folks with any knowledge of that spot could have told the Supt all of the exact problems that he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to find out. With the working committee on the next go around, it is hoped that much of the "common sense" input from the community was a factor earlier in the process. However, what is the harm on having the voters in this town decide that this is what we want in the first place? Everything is rush rush because we supposedly neeed the pre-K and FDK spots " now". Well, enrollment townwide is still essentially flat from year to year, we can redistrict to find spots, until the school is built. And there have been lotteries in the past (as recently as 2010) for non-special needs pre-K and FDK spots, so what is the urgency today.
Fred Van Magness Sr. April 02, 2014 at 07:31 AM
Barry, you cannot have it both ways as well. I certainly agree with your motion on a Permanent Building Committee, but why then does the School Dept. go off this past week and create their own Building Committee without regard to a town wide one as you proposed? And while it may make sense to spend the $485,000.00, the Finance Comm. decides to take the money out of Free Cash along with another $200,000 to offset more of the school budget desires and abrogate the town/school expense sharing mix agreed to a long time ago. You cannot have it both ways....a reasonable Free Cash account and spending the money. With less Free Cash, the town will face higher borrowing (interest) costs on their debt and face having to go to the voters for an Operational Override while also needing debt exclusions for the Early Childhood Center, etc. etc. It would be nice of the Fin Comm spent some time projecting and communicating the debt loads and tax impacts on households over the next ten years vs. just spending money. The easy answer is always Free Cash and just ask for more money. The tough answers are how to pay for it all.

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