With no amendments to the budget, the new flood plain bylaw, or the fiscal year 2015 budget, the May 19 Town Meeting was over in less than two hours after a half hour Special Town Meeting to pass two articles.
Article One to cover the unanticipated costs of fiscal year 2014 passed without much discussion, but Article Two to accept a Section 26G of Chapter 111 of the Mass General Laws stalled for a while for discussion over how having a Board of Health member who works in septic installation could affect the Town.
The law would allow a board member who installs septic systems in the Town of Rochester to sit on the board with no seeming conflict of interest, granted that an independent party inspects the work.
Voters recently elected William David Souza, a septic system installer, giving rise for the first time the need to adopt Section 26G of Chapter 11, a move former board member Sandra Keese condemned on the Town Meeting floor. Souza won against Keese, who served on the board for about 20 years, beating her by 15 votes.
“Be very careful of what we decide tonight,” Keese cautioned voters, calling the article a “dangerous slope,” and a dubious precedence for future members serving on other boards.
Keese said Souza could have a “possible unfair advantage” over his competition by sitting on the board and inspecting their work.
A resident named John Taylor said there could be conflict of interest issues saying, “It’s a slippery slope as far as keeping other vendors out.” He continued, “Perception is reality…you get dragged down a hole once you start.”
Selectman Naida Parker addressed the issue saying, “The voters elected this person to the board,” pointing out that Souza is not a town employee, rather he was chosen by the people to serve. She said this article is the State’s solution to the problem.
Board of Health Chairman Dale Barrows said other Towns, including Wareham, Mattapoisett, and Fairhaven have offered to perform the inspections at no cost to the Town of Rochester.
Planning Board Chairman Arnold Johnson spoke out in favor of the article, saying, “I think it’s very crazy to have someone who ran and was voted by the people…to give up a piece of his livelihood [in order to serve on the board].”
He said it might not be “healthy for the Town, but it’s out of necessity.”
The article passed by Town Moderator Greenwood Hartley’s rough estimate of 50-20.
Moving on to the Annual, Article One to accept the annual report passed quickly, but Article Two discussion bounced back and forth between Board of Assessors Chairman John Mello and Finance Committee Chairman Kristian Stoltenberg.
The Board of Assessors salary was reduced from the FY14 amounts to $10,000 each in the budget, but the FinCom only recommended $7,000 per board member.
Mello argued in favor of amending the article to keep the requested $10,000 because this year was a recertification year and the board members would be performing more duties than any regular year, which elicited no sympathy from Stoltenberg.
Stoltenberg said the increase in the assessor’s budget to increase the assistant assessor from part time to full time would result in less work for the Board of Assessors, and the funding had to come from somewhere.
“I don’t think we’re being unreasonable,” said Mello. “After fiscal year 15 things will change.”
The motion to amend the article failed, and the article passed.
The only other article with significant discussion was the operations budget Article Five, specifically the part about solid waste disposal.
The solid waste line item jumped from $178,129 in FY14 to the FY15 amount of $228,861 due to the Town’s switch from internal trash and recycling pick-up to the ABC Disposal automated trash and recycling program beginning January 1, 2015.
Although the line item increased, as Town Administrator Richard LaCamera pointed out, the recycling line item was reduced from the Highway Department budget.
The budget article passed by a significant majority vote.
There was absolutely no discussion regarding Article Nine to amend the Flood Plain District Bylaw that was so controversial during Planning Board discussions.
Johnson simply announced that the vote to recommend the article was unanimous, and so was the Town Meeting vote in favor of the article.
The other articles that all passed are as follows:
Article 3 to accept the amended Classification and Compensation Plan;
Article 4 to authorize seven revolving funds accounts for the library, recycling program, hazardous waste recovery, Rochester Country Fair Committee, Cultural Council, Council on Aging, and Board of Health, totaling $111,000;
Article 6 to appropriate $300 for planting of shellfish in Marion;
Article 7 to appropriate the $305,695 of Chapter 90 funding to repair roads and bridges;
Article 8 to adopt a $100 fine for failure to license a dog kennel;
Article 10 to change the Annual Town Meeting quorum from 75 to 100 to reflect the increasing population, and 50 members for a Special Town Meeting.
This was LaCamera’s last Town Meeting as the town administrator, and Town Meeting members gave him a round of applause for his seven and a half years of service.
By Jean Perry