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Town Manager Recommends Shrinking Town Meeting

Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner recommended the Board of Selectmen consider taking steps to cut the size of Town Meeting due to the low level of participation over the past few years.

In conjunction with the fiscal year 2013 budget presentation at Tuesday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner recommended the board consider several initiatives this year, including a Home Rule petition to reduce the total number of Town Meeting members and an amendment to the Historical Demolition Delay by-law to provide an appeals process and a more participative process for adding to the inventory.

Hechenbleikner also recommended establishing an Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) trust fund, which would be funded through federal stimulus funds paid to the town for early retiree health insurance coverage and, possibly, from surplus FY12 health insurance budget funds, provided they are not needed to fund FY12 budget transfers.

Based on the low number of residents running for Town Meeting over the past few years, Hechenbleikner advocated a Home Rule petition to amend Reading’s Home Rule Charter to reduce members of the representative Town Meeting from the current 192 members to either 168, 144 or 120 members.

“Town Meeting is probably a little larger than we can sustain as a community,” said Hechenbleikner.

If approved by Town Meeting, this would go to the legislature, and once approved, would be on the ballot for the 2013 town election.

Also recommended was a amendment to the Home Rule Charter regarding the number of members on the Council on Aging.

Hechenbleikner said the council has been having difficulty filling its 10 seats, resulting in quorum issues, and indicated that the charter should be altered to provide for a number of members to be established by the Board of Selectmen, not less than five and not more than 10.

Among the rest of the Town Manager’s recommendations were an amendment to the town’s zoning map to correct inconsistencies between the published map and the intended map by adopting a new zoning map, zoning amendments to encourage redevelopment of portions of the Industrial Zoning District behind the , off of Ash Street, and considering updating additional pieces of the zoning by-law, including definitions, parking and loading and signs, with the an eye towards beginning the re-codification of the zoning by-law.

Hechenbleikner also noted that the mandates of several standing committees expire this year and advocated creating “sunset” schedules for each committee, established by the Board of Selectmen on a consistent five-year schedule to expire in June of 2017.

Here are the committees designated for action from the Board of Selectmen, per Hechenbleikner’s recommendation:

  • Advisory Committee on Cities for Climate Protection Program (ACCCP): Evaluate by June 30, and determine whether to continue.
  • Economic Development Committee (EDC): Evaluate by June 30, and determine whether to continue.
  • Human Relations Advisory Committee: Amend policy to implement “sunset” on June, 30 2017.
  • Trails Committee: Amend policy to implement “sunset” on June 30, 2017.
  • Reading Fall Street Faire (RFSF) Committee: Amend policy to implement “sunset” on June 30, 2017.

Other recommendations for Board of Selectmen action:

  • Adopt a policy regarding the duties and responsibilities of the Commissioner of Trust Funds.
  • Establish a process for the acceptance of “Old” Sanborn Lane as a public way. Hechenbleikner indicated that, through his conversations with local residents, he has come to believe there may be majority support for this measure.
  • Enter into discussions with the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) regarding the possible replacement of the Bear Hill Water Tank with a larger capacity tank owned and operated by the MWRA.
  • Recommend to the Board of Health action either approving or not approving a ban on the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies.
  • Consider action by the Town of Reading restricting the use of plastic bags for bagging customer purchases in local businesses.

Hechenbleikner also announced the start of a unique styrofoam recycling program that the Town Manager believes may be the first of its kind in Massachusetts. Monday through Friday, from 7:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., residents can bring items bearing a number six recycling symbol to the Department of Public Works garage at 75 Newcrossing Road. Styrofoam peanuts, however, will not be accepted at this location.

This program is part of Reading’s continued efforts to expand its recycling efforts and reduce the amount of trash sent to the incinerator. 

Fred Van Magness Sr. January 20, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Some solid suggestions by the Town Manager, especially the reduction in the size of Town Meeting. On the other hand, I am not sure what the potential restriction on plastic bags might entail. However, this sounds on the surface very onerous to the business community. Imagine Market Basket, Stop and Shop, Home Goods, and Home Depot no longer able to use plastic bags for customer purchases. WIll there be an adverse cost or reduction in business trade because of this? Will we see BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) as a way of life in Reading? I, like many, would embrace a more environmentally positive solution than plastic, but not at an increase cost to business. Today, people can find alternatives as an option but not as a restriction...there are reusable bags they pay for or people can request paper instead of plastic at some businesses. These are voluntary options. Before any governmental restriction or ban, I would want to see/hear a cost effective (less or equal cost than plastic) alternative proposed from the town that businesses can readily embrace and publicly advocate for. We will need more info and dialog on this one before it gets more traction. Is it the right thing to do...Yes, but we do need business buy in and advocacy across the board.

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