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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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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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