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ROCHESTER SELECTMEN'S MEETING

Selectman Wants Focus on Annex-Only Option

Rochester Board of Selectmen

By Jean Perry

Rochester Board of Selectmen member Richard Nunes announced on November 22 that he thinks the town should focus on exploring building options for a town hall annex only, after Town Meeting voters in October overwhelmingly rejected an article for $20,000 to hire an owners project manager to analyze options for a brand new town hall or town annex building.

"I think it's pretty clear that resources are limited and we really can't afford to do a new town hall," said Nunes, "and I really don't want the [town hall annex] building committee to continue to have meetings exploring those kinds of options such as a new town hall when, really, the townspeople don't want to go in that direction."

Nunes said he prefers that the focus stay on building a new town hall annex because the original intent was to cease having to lease the space from the Women's Club. A new town hall annex built beside the town hall and connected by a "breezeway" would be ideal, he said.

"...So that you don't have to directly abut the old [town hall] building in order to bring it up to code because it would cost millions to bring town hall up to today's code," Nunes stated.

Town-owned property located on Dexter Lane between the police station and the senior center is still an option, said Nunes, "But I think we should just focus on the annex and the need to get out of leasing town space..."

Selectman Brad Morse added that the town departments located at the current town hall annex are outgrowing the space, which is the real driving issue behind the need to explore town hall annex solutions.

"No matter what, it's going to cost money," Morse said.

Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar suggested inviting the town hall study committee to attend a meeting with the selectmen.

"I would like to hear their opinion on what they want to do and what they want to recommend to us," said Morse.

Nunes reiterated his position on the need to remain focused on an annex only.

"If it comes to a vote, that's [how] I'm going to be voting," said Nunes.

In other matters, in light of the approaching resignation of Chief Dispatcher Tracy Eldridge, the town administrator told selectmen that a meeting with Rochester dispatch center employees resulted in a temporary solution of sorts, which includes spreading out the chief dispatcher position's duties among the other employees.

"They would all like to see one of them be a lead to take the responsibilities," said Szyndlar, which would involve restructuring supervision of dispatch, modest wage increases, and the hiring of a part-time dispatcher to replace another's promotion to full-time.

"I think it's a great solution to a problem here," Szyndlar said.

Council on Aging Addresses Selectmen on COA Goals

Rochester Board of Selectmen

By Jean Perry

Rochester Council on Aging Director Sharon Lally told the Rochester Board of Selectmen on November 28 that the COA Board of Directors has been meeting regularly, planning short- and long-term goals for the senior center and the senior population of Rochester in general.

Lally said the COA has met with an outside consultant to assess the needs of the senior center and the aging population to form short-range plans that can be implemented sooner rather than later, as well as long-range plans that the town can work towards and prepare planning for.

Short-term goals that Lally deemed the "low-hanging fruit," relatively easy to achieve, include obtaining a one-day liquor license from the state so that occasional functions could be held at the senior center, and perhaps hall rentals could help boost revenue, as well as keep larger COA events in the town instead of outside venues.

"We're not looking for this to be a routine thing," said COA volunteer Woody Hartley. "Maybe just a one or two times a year thing.... We just want to let you know that it's something that we're working towards," Hartley told selectmen.

For long-range plans, Lally spoke of expanding the space at the senior center, saying, "We're bursting at the seams," calling expansion an immediate need, along with additional parking for the site.

Hartley said he hopes selectmen might consider expanding senior center parking into the adjacent town-owned lot so that seniors and other guests do not have to park so far away, with cars sometimes stretching all the way out to the abutting ball field.

Selectmen Chairman Naida Parker agreed that parking was an issue for patrons, "And walking is especially difficult on uneven surfaces," she added.

Next, Lally said an ongoing wish for the COA is to establish a senior supportive daycare program to offer social support for seniors with mild dementia who are isolated in the community.

"People who need to get out of their homes and may need some supervision and direction," Lally said.

Another need for the COA is to increase its support staff, as Lally said she already manages around 150 COA volunteers and feels she may eventually need help with their coordination. She added that there is a definite need for the expansion of hours of operation as well to include evening and weekend activities for seniors who still work during the week.

There was further discussion about transportation funding and an imminent need to purchase a new COA van and perhaps additional drivers as well.

"We are growing and growing," said Lally.

Hartley and Lally advocated for an increase in allowable senior tax work-off program hours, which is currently capped at $750 or 75 hours of service. According to Lally, the state has increased the allowable amount to $1,500 per senior citizen, and selectmen agreed that now might be the time to increase the cap to $1,000 or 100 hours of service.

"One hundred hours is certainly more amenable than seventy-five," Hartley said.

"We're on board with that," said Selectman Brad Morse.

"We're sold," said Parker.

No vote was taken that evening, but the board agreed that action would be taken in the near future to allow the senior tax work-off program increase.

Other long-term goals included research into adding more affordable senior housing to the town, as well as possibly forming an affordable housing trust.

Lally said the current population of seniors in Rochester is 1,435.

"And it's going to go up again before 2020 when the census is taken," she said. "We're a pretty big piece of the population."

"We are looking toward the future, and we are planning for the future," said Hartley.

The next meeting of the Rochester Board of Selectmen is scheduled for December 12 at 6:30 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.

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