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Town Meeting Rejects Funding Annex Study

Rochester Special Town Meeting

By Jean Perry

An article to appropriate $20,000 towards a feasibility study for the construction of a new Town Hall Annex failed after a majority voted against Article 5- and against all three selectmen.

Questions arose despite Town Administrator Michael McCue's explanation of how the Town needs an annex of its own in order to circumvent an imminent increase in the cost of leasing the current location on Marion Road.

Interest rates are good, said McCue, and financial assistance from the State is available, so the time to begin studying the feasibility of constructing a new annex on Town-owned property between the Council on Aging and the Police Station on Dexter Road was now; however, Town Meeting members thought that later would be a better time.

One Town Meeting member said he himself leases land to towns in New Hampshire, and never is it better for a town to quit leasing in order to build, saying the price would be "astronomical." Just look at the Rochester Memorial School project, he said.

"I thought we did a study already on the existing town hall," wondered resident Nancy Mello. She asked how much the lease costs the Town annually, and got conflicting answers from the panel of town officials on the stage. Someone said it costs $38,000 annually, causing a bit of a stir amongst residents, until McCue stated the correct number was $2,300 monthly or $27,600 annually. McCue estimates that the next lease term would cost $2,500 monthly or $30,600 annually.

Other Town Meeting members who spoke said the Board of Selectmen should have appointed an ad hoc study committee to form a more concrete plan before asking for the money so that residents would have a clearer idea of what the Town wanted to pursue. And that is exactly what the Board of Selectmen will do at its next meeting, stated Chairman Brad Morse later during a follow-up interview.

The vote was 19 in favor, 22 opposed.

Town Clerk and Selectman Naida Parker's Article 4 to appropriate $10,000 to purchase a new voting machine ultimately passed, but not until a resident's request for clarification turned into an unnecessary "civics lesson" as Steve Burke himself put it.

Burke asked why the article stated two options - to either purchase or lease the equipment, asking which one it would be. Parker proceeded to describe the sorry state of the current machine before describing the one she wanted to purchase.

Parker said it took over five years for the federal and state government to approve this new class of voting machines, and she listed the upcoming elections for the next two years.

"Hey, you and I are high-fiving each other," said Burke, assuring Parker that he was in favor of the article, but not needing too many details. He said all he wanted to know was whether the Town would buy the machine or lease it.

The chairman of the Rochester Finance Committee said FinCom recommended the Town purchase the machine. The vote to approve was unanimous.

Article 8 to amend the existing Home Business Zoning Bylaw, which the Planning Board and Zoning Bylaw Subcommittee worked on for months, was struck down, falling short of the required two-thirds vote to pass the proposed amendments.

Resident and Rochester Constable David Hughes initiated some doubt amongst voters when he challenged the Town's ability to enforce one particular part of the proposed amendment that would restrict storage of vehicles on the property of a home business to locations not visible to abutters.

"If it's registered, you can't touch it," said Hughes, asserting that the Town could not regulate the locations of stored vehicles.

Town Counsel Blair Bailey argued that the Town was perfectly within its right to enforce stored vehicle placement, as it currently does under other circumstances.

The vote was 29 in favor, 20 opposed, but the article failed without the two-thirds majority vote.

The Planning Board during its October 14 meeting voted to withdraw its Article 7 that would have amended the table of contents of the Zoning Bylaws, changing section numbers from Roman numerals to Arabic numerals. The board was not satisfied with the final result, and chose to hold off until the Annual Town Meeting to reintroduce the article.

The other five articles passed unanimously, including Article 1 to appropriate an additional $30,000 for Veteran's Services, and Article 2 to transfer $36,900 from the Special Education Costs Stabilization Fund to defray unexpected SPED costs for fiscal year 2015.

Article 3 allows the Cemetery Commission to transfer $800 from the Cemetery Lots Fund to buy back a cemetery plot from a purchaser who no longer wants it, and Article 6 will appropriate $15,000 toward the Town's Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB).

Article 9, another Zoning Bylaw-related article that simply grants "Flexible Development" its own section within the Zoning Bylaws passed unanimously with no questions from residents.

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