During a brisk Monday night meeting, the Rochester Board of Selectmen approved the Annual Town Meeting Warrant and special warrant presented by Town Administrator Richard LaCamera. The Town Meeting will take place on May 20 at 7pm at Rochester Memorial School.
The town’s Fiscal Year 2014 operating budget shows a 3.7 percent increase from 2013’s and stands at $18,413,066. Rochester residents will see slight increases for many appropriations across the board, with the biggest jump earmarked for the EMT budget: $321,675 from $191,878.
Emergency services aim to upgrade to Advanced Life Support status from Basic Life Support, necessitating more equipment and personnel. In addition to the strengthened public safety, officials forecast better revenue opportunities for the town with greater call volume and billing reimbursements. An informational meeting on the proposed change will take place at the Town Hall on May 6 at 7:30 pm, preceded by an overall review of the Town Meeting Warrant at 7:00 pm.
LaCamera said he anticipates few if any contentious items at the Town Meeting, but possibilities include Article 9, the Semi-Annual Preliminary Tax Payment System, as well as Article 10, the Health District Withdrawal.
Article 9 reads as follows:
“To see if the Town will vote to accept the provisions of Section 57C of Chapter 59 of the Massachusetts General Laws and establish a semi-annual preliminary tax payment system, said system to be implemented beginning Fiscal Year 2015; or take any action thereon.”
The switch to a semi-annual preliminary tax payment system entails, for example, a bill issued on April 1 for a October 1 due date, and an October 1 issuance for an April 1 due date. The Board of Assessors supports a change, which it argues could help residents better plan their payments. The system would represent a departure from Rochester’s current set-up of semi-annual collection, with bills sent out 30 days prior to deadline.
Article 10, meanwhile, asks the town to “vote … to withdraw the Town of Rochester from participation in the Marion Rochester Regional Health District; said withdrawal to take effect on the last day of Fiscal Year 2014 and further, to approve and to authorize any necessary action by the Rochester Board of Selectmen and/or Rochester Board of Health to effectuate this withdrawal, or take any action relative thereto.”
While the language might be unassuming, the implications could be thorny at Town Meeting, as legal interpretations of liability and bitterness over broken agreements emerged during a recent Board of Selectmen session that broached the withdrawal amid hostile exchanges and walkouts. Citing fiscal advantages and questions of efficiency, Rochester wishes to dissolve its membership in the Regional Health District and work up its own employment arrangement with Director Karen Walega, which has angered other members of the Rochester Board of Health.
“Oh, you heard about that?” LaCamera deadpanned to a reporter at Monday night’s meeting. “Yes, it could be an issue.”
By Shawn Badgley