135 voters turned out in Rochester Monday evening, October 22, to vote for the five articles on the warrant for the annual Special Town Meeting. The event was held in the Rochester Memorial School cafeteria.
The first article, which was also the hottest item on the agenda, would spend $897,000 of the town’s money on various capital improvement projects around town. 11 items make up the list of projects, with repairs and renovations to the Town Hall being the most expensive.
Town Administrator Richard LaCamera outlined all parts of the project individually. $250,000 of the total cost of the projects would be to renovate the historic building, but only the exterior. New windows, roofing shingles and siding will be replaced on the existing structure; everything inside will remain untouched.
“We are trying to protect the integrity of the town hall,” said LaCamera. “It’s the center of town and it’s a building we must protect going forward. I’m sure most of you have noticed the condition of the town hall right now is in dire straits.”
The building, which is 120 years old, would be renovated to make it more maintenance-free. The current roof would be replaced with 40-year shingles, which require much less upkeep than the present material. Although the building would be renovated on the outside, LaCamera ensured residents that the building’s aesthetic appearance would maintain the historical look.
In addition to the town hall, the roofs on both the Police Department and Council on Aging would be replaced for $35,000 apiece. A handicap lift at the Plumb Library for $25,000 would make it more accessible. A new combined gas/diesel fuel tank for $125,000 would replace the two existing tanks, which are currently 30 and 20 years old, respectively. Renovations to the bathroom at the Fire Department would cost $25,000.
For town vehicles, the warrant outlined $60,000 to refurbish two firetrucks in order to extend their lifespan 8 – 10 years. New fire trucks cost approximately $425,000 each. A new highway dump truck with plow ($55,000), Highway mower ($100,000), Fire Chief Vehicle ($40,000) are all listed under the warrant as well, in addition to $17,000 for new Fire Department radios.
In order to pay for these projects, the town would use $277,000 of free cash in the town’s budget to pay for the first four years of the payments, until more money was made available a few years down the road when some of the town’s debt expires.
Several residents applauded a question raised by one voter, who wondered why all of these projects are being addressed now as opposed to gradually over time.
“I think your tactic about handling this is incorrect,” said the resident. “I’m sorry, it is just ridiculous to spend $900,000 all at once for maintenance items that should have been gradually taken care of over the years.”
Financial Committee Chair Peter Arminetti responded to the concerned resident.
“We are not spending $900,000 in one year. We do not have that money,” said Arminetti. “The reason we are doing them all at once now and we were putting them off before was because we didn’t have the budget.”
Furthermore, LaCamera explained the building projects and vehicle purchases have 3.25 percent and 2.75 percent interest rates, respectively.
“The market is extremely competitive right now,” said LaCamera.
The article passed 94 – 27 for all 11 capital project items.
Articles 2, 3 and 5 all passed unanimously. Article 2 outlined Right to Farm Bylaws in order to help protect the town’s right to farm down the road if and when more residents move into town. Article 3 outlined the details of the installment of the photovoltaic project previously recommended by the Planning Board.
Article 5 approved the town to build new multipurpose and little league fields at the Dexter Lane recreational facilities using money from both a state grant and Little League money. The state will fund 58 percent of the project and the Little League will fund the remanding balance.
Article 4, which looked at agricultural and residential structure regulations, was tabled for further discussion.
By Katy Fitzpatrick