Department heads gathered with the Rochester Board of Selectmen to review the Special and Annual Town Meeting warrants, with minimal discussion that led to the recommendation of all relevant articles by selectmen and the Finance Committee.
The fiscal year 2015 operating budget, standing at $19,029,986 and featured on Article 5, passed with only a few remarks from Town Administrator Richard LaCamera, mostly identifying any significant increases in revenue, which is up $668,000, or 3.6%, according to LaCamera.
State aid is up $46,000, “Which I’ve expressed many times is a major disappointment,” said LaCamera.
Reimbursement for veteran’s services is higher due to increased services to a higher number of veterans in Rochester. LaCamera said the slight increases in state funding are especially challenging for the school district when it comes to Chapter 70 funds, which LaCamera stated should be higher than what it is.
LaCamera said state aid over the past five years has remained “pretty much level-funded.”
Residents are buying newer vehicles, said LaCamera, which has driven up the excise tax revenues, and an increase in licenses and permits has increased revenue to the Town as well.
One significant increase in the FY15 operating budget, as pointed out by LaCamera, is the EMS budget, up $132,000 due to the establishment of the Town-run Emergency Medical Service. LaCamera said ambulance fees the Town will receive for EMS services would ultimately cover $100,000 of that increase.
The Fire Department is up $30,000 for new equipment, and the school budget has increased $82,000 from FY14, which LaCamera called “excellent” because of the relatively small increase.
Warrant discussions began with the Special Town Meeting warrant, in which only two articles appear.
The first – to transfer and appropriate “unanticipated costs” for FY14 – brought on a bit of contention when Town Moderator Woody Hartley pointed out that a specific amount for those unanticipated costs was still absent from the warrant.
“The idea of the warrant is to warn the inhabitants of this town of what’s going on,” said Hartley. He asked, “Is it one dollar or $1 million?”
Hartley stated that the number given on the warrant does not have to be exact, in his opinion, but residents should know if they should expect around $10,000 or maybe even more. He added that without a ballpark figure, residents might not be able to assess whether or not it is significant enough to even appear at Town Meeting.
LaCamera rebutted by saying the exact number would be on the warrant by the Special Town Meeting, and that it is hard for “us” to be sure of the amount ahead of time.
“It’s a moving target,” said LaCamera. He said there are still two months left to FY14, which makes the estimating process tricky. “We do the best we can,” said LaCamera. “I won’t make a number up.”
The second Special Town Meeting article accepts a law that states an elected member of the Board of Health who works in the septic system installation business can sit on the board, but a conflict of interest must be avoided by having an independent party inspect any septic work completed by the board member.
Annual warrant Article 1 accepts the annual report, Article 2 approves elected official salaries, and Article 3 approves a two-percent increase in cost of living (COLA) for employees.
In addition to the FY15 budget article, Article 6 appropriates $300 to planting shellfish in Marion, Article 7 appropriates $305,695 in Chapter 90 funds, and Article 8 adjusts the fine for failure to license a dog kennel to $100, bringing it in line with other fines such as failure to license a dog.
Article 9 is the contentious Flood Plain District Amendment that has sparked debate among Planning Board members who are leaning toward not recommending the by-law amendment until FEMA flood map errors are corrected.
The Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee did not take a vote on recommendation for this article because it is under the jurisdiction of the Planning Board.
Article 10 increases the quorum for Town Meeting from 75 to 100, with a quorum of 50 for Special Town Meetings. Article 11 approves transferring money into the Stabilization Fund, but LaCamera stated that this year the Town would not be appropriating any funding toward the Stabilization Fund.
Also during the meeting, FinCom appointed Jim Austin to the Finance Committee.
The next public meeting of the Board of Selectmen will be May 19 at 6:30 pm at Town Hall.
By Jean Perry