Reading Select Board Candidates Explain Why They're Running
Feb 20, 2019 06:23PM
● By Dan Marra
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READING – With four candidates vying for two seats on the Select Board, Reading residents will have a tough decision ahead of them in the spring town election. Running for the board is incumbent Barry Berman, town meeting and finance committee member Mark Dockser, Reading resident and business owner Carlo Bacci, as well as Anne Landry an attorney and a member of the finance committee and a town meeting member.
Below are some of the reasons the candidates are running:
As the only incumbent, he is finishing his fourth year on the board. Berman is proud of his role in both override votes the town took part in – the failed vote in October of 2016 and the successful override last year. It was that failed vote that Berman used as motivation to work with residents in passing the second override.
He created a survey to see why residents voted against the override and what it would take to get them to vote for it. It was those responses – make it smaller, explain how the money will be used and how the town will raise money other than increasing taxes – which Berman credits for helping get the override passed the second time around.
“I think people saw the leadership I was able to bring in this key decision,” Berman said. “We had been suffering the last five or six years with drastic cuts – not having enough public safety, losing the middle school language program, losing teachers. Without the override we’d have more layoffs.”
That being said, Berman understands the important of bringing additional revenue to the town. He’s cited Reading’s accomplishment of reaching the state’s 10 percent threshold for affordable housing, as well as the board’s work to “reinvigorate the downtown” by adding 225 new households.
“The challenge is how to grow the tax base while maintaining our bedroom community,” Berman said.
According to Berman, the town has worked to increase business in the Walker’s Brook Drive area, as engineering firm Weston and Sampson is moving in to the old Keurig headquarters, calling it a “huge win” for the town.
But it’s his experience that Berman touts as one of his greatest benefits to the town, being involved in town boards and committees for over 15 years.
“We need to set the vision we have for the town for the next 10 years,” said Berman. “I have the experience to get the job done. I’ve worked on these issues forever. We need a unified town – one that supports our seniors who built this town and for the young families who are the future of the town.”
For the Town Meeting member, he’s looking to bring pragmatic leadership to the Board, as he looks to act as a compass for the town.
“We are doing many good things but seem to have lost our way in terms of how to focus on the town’s best interests, make progress and leave the divisiveness behind,” he said.
As all the candidates have talked about, Dockser wants to advance Reading’s economic stability in a business and resident friendly manner.
“We have great businesses in town that need our support to help our downtown to thrive,” Dockser said. “At the same time, we have lots of exciting new development happening with residents sharing concerns before, during and after construction.”
According to Dockser, he will do this through two initiatives. First, he will create a business-focused task force to support our local businesses and secondly, he will create a clear focus on improving customer service, with clear accountability.
He is also an advocate to place a new senior center/community center on equal footing with other future core projects. But for him, the biggest issue facing Reading is to achieve the town’s priorities, while working toward Economic Sustainability.
“It is about being the community that we want to be, taking care of our residents, businesses and employees, and balancing how we raise money and how we spend it,” Dockser said. “Economic development is critical to this growth and it needs to serve the community well.”
Dockser has been a resident of the town for more than two decades, and has labeled himself an “independent thinker” who has been on town meeting for 20 years, saw his three children attend Reading public schools and has been on the Finance committee for nearly a decade.
“Setting clear goals, improving accountability, and nurturing the will and ability to work together to achieve the best outcomes are how I lead my work and community life,” Dockser said. “I will ask questions, take positions, assure that we raise and spend our money wisely and efficiently, and give my all to make sure that we do the best we can for our community.”
The only candidate running without a background in town politics, Bacci is running because of his “frustration.” The local business owner does not like the direction the town is going. And according to Bacci, one of the reasons he’s running is because of the split tax rate the ReadingSelect Board passed in the fall.
Bacci said he was “very disappointed” when the Select Board voted to institute a split tax rate for businesses after “more than 20 businesses pleaded with them not too.”
“It is a revenue neutral tax,” Bacci said. “We are just shifting the burden disproportionately to commercial properties and the businesses that rent from them. While many residents donate money and volunteer their time, it is our business community that has given thousands and thousands of dollars to our schools, non profits, and countless other charities.”
Bacci said that he is concerned the Select Board “will continue to burden our small business owners.”
The Reading business owner also expressed concern about the recent override votes in the town as a “way to run town government.”
“While the Town side of government seems to have stabilized its annual growth in costs, I am concerned that our School Committee cannot find a way to live within its [Proposition 2 ½) budget constraints despite a stable or declining school population,” Bacci said.
According to Bacci, the biggest issue facing the town is sustainability. He said that the board “isn't looking at sustainable solutions such as growing our business tax base as opposed to residential tax overrides and commercial split taxes.”
Bacci cited his experience as a business owner understanding the regulations and challenges local businesses face that can make it difficult for them to thrive in the town, going on to question the developments being built in Reading.
“I do not want any more large residential projects approved until we find out how these developments affect our schools and infrastructure,” Bacci said. “While our tax revenue will increase, what will be the impact on the need for town services?”
Bacci said that he will look for ways for Reading to be more fiscally responsible, even looking for private/public collaboration on future development projects. He also wants to help the town’s seniors and veterans, as “they choose to age in place.”
But it’s the town’s future projects that Bacci feels he’s best suited to oversee on the Board.
“My business experience has given me a unique perspective on how to manage money and distinguish between needs and wants,” Bacci said. “We need more economic development in town that brings in much-needed revenue. We must make Reading more business-friendly so we can reap the tax benefits from developing and redeveloping our downtown and Industrial areas. That means cutting red tape in the permitting process and being open to new ideas for revenue generation.”
Reading resident, Anne Landry is bringing more than a decade of experience in public service to her candidacy as she works to advocate “for the welfare of all members of our community”. She is an attorney, as well a finance committee and Town Meeting member.
While mentioning the town’s biggest hurdle of finding ways to generate new revenue, Landry also wants to foster “an inclusive and welcoming community”. She cited the importance of community organizations, partners, and stakeholders that came together to embrace diversity and support human rights in the community.
“This is particularly important in the wake of the anti-Semitic, homophobic, and racist vandalism we have experienced in town” Landry said. “The Select Board should play a leadership role in setting the right tone and supporting the work of ensuring that Reading is a welcoming community for all.”
Landry has focused her campaign on unifying the town and being someone who can work with others in the town to make local government work better.
“I will bring a collaborative, coalition-building, problem-solving approach to the Select Board, where I will advocate for efficient, effective, and user-friendly town government,” Landry said.
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