Published October 24, 2019

By MAUREEN DOHERTY

NORTH READING — With the bulk of the debate at the town’s October Town Meeting focused on a few big ticket items, the remaining warrant articles were handled efficiently.

Once the debates concerning Articles 7 and 10 were over, the rest of the meeting’s business was retired relatively quickly. Voters debated whether the town should be financing half of the expenses ($175,000) for the proposed roadway improvements to the unaccepted portion of Swan Pond Road. They also debated over whether to add $125,000 to the FY20 town counsel budget  to appeal a decision related to the Ch. 40B application at 20 Elm St. Both of those proposals passed.

At the outset of the meeting, with nearly 550 voters in attendance, appreciative rounds of applause were offered to three retiring employees and public servants. Recognized were Superintendent of Schools Jon Bernard, who will retire Jan. 1, 2020; Conservation Commission member Martin Weiss, who retired from the board after 29 years earlier this month; and Joseph Foti, a former Select Board member and more recently, a member of the Finance Committee.

A moment of silence was also offered to acknowledge the recent passing of two longtime employees. Martin Fair, and Ruth K. Leyden. Fair had served as the town’s Health Director for 35 years, retiring in 2015 but continuing to assist the department in reviewing septic plans until last spring. Leyden had served the town’s Community Planning Commission as its longtime planning administrator in the 1970s and ’80s.

Article 2: Voters unanimously approved one outstanding prior year bill of $6,538.18 to cover the clean up cost of a hydraulic fluid leak caused by a breakdown of the DPW’s street sweeper.

Article 3 — By a unanimous vote, $200,000 was transferred from certified Free Cash into the town’s Capital Improvement Stabilization Fund. This action increased the fund balance in this account to $1,085,080.67.

Articles 4 and 5— Voters agreed to pass over both of these articles unanimously. Article 4 is the town’s Stabilization Fund, otherwise known as the “rainy day” fund. It presently has a balance of $2,990,845.89.

Article 5 is the Other Post Employment Liability Trust Fund (OPEB), which has a balance of $1,844,317.48. This fund is used to reduce the town’s annual appropriation for health insurance for retired employees. Transfers into both funds are typically made at June Town Meeting.

Article 6 — Voters unanimously appropriated a sum of $301,557.52 from Free Cash into the town’s Participating Funding Arrangement. This amount represents the town’s portion of the remaining funds from the FY20 employee health insurance program. This reserve account pays the town’s portion of future health insurance costs and helps stabilize year-to-year increases in the cost of insuring employees. It was also noted that the employee portion of this funding arrangement is held in reserve separately.

Article 8 — This article, a placeholder in the event the town needed to “rescind authorization to borrow” was also unanimously passed over because the town does not have any bonds in need of rescinding.

Article 9— While not unanimous, a majority of voters agreed to appropriate an additional $250,000 from Free Cash for Special Counsel Legal Expenses for the the town’s ongoing legal action related to the Secondary Schools Building Project with the intention of holding the architect and the project manager responsible for what the town deems significant unanticipated increases in the cost of the project.

Select Board member Stephen O’Leary said they believe this sum will bring the case through to its trial. It was also noted that the town has been counter-sued and will have to defend itself.

The town has expended $1,140,000 on this case to date, going back to 2015, and has about $220,700 remaining in the fund from prior transfers. This action began in the fall of 2015 with legal action against both PMA Consultants and architects Dore and Whittier.

According to O’Leary, in March 2012, Town Meeting approved $107,728,000 for the Middle/High School building project. A debt exclusion override was approved at a subsequent election. A year later, the town had to return to Town Meeting seeking another $15,000,0000 followed by another debt exclusion override to complete the project. If the town wins this case its attorney’s fees would be covered in the settlement.

Article 11: A request to “Appropriate Money for Intergenerational Center Design” was passed over. The town is currently involved in developing its Facilities Master Plan, which should be completed in the spring of 2020. A few weeks ago the town completed its 10-year Master Plan (2018-2028).

Article 12: To facilitate intersection improvements at Concord Street, Fordham Road and Riverpark that would include pedestrian walk lights to enable employees in one office park to safely walk to and from the Cummings Property across the street (where a Dunkin’ Donuts is located), voters agreed to authorize the Select Board to accept both “temporary and permanent interests in lands adjacent or contiguous” to these intersections.

The private companies are footing the expenses, including a traffic study by Vanesse, the cost of conveyance, as well as the construction costs.

Article 13: The voters also agreed to transfer industrial property at 70 Concord St. from the tax title custodian, where it has been held due to the failure of this company 30 years ago following haz-mat incidents at the site, to the Select Board. Property taxes and interest owed to the town exceeds $500,000, according to T.A. Mike Gilleberto. The town’s Economic Development Committee has been working with the Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) to move this site back onto the tax rolls.

Article 14: Voters passed over Article 14, the last article, because there were no zoning bylaws being proposed to be amended.

Correction: Under Article 9, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the amount initially appropriated for the construction of the Middle/High School in March 2012.