“I’d like to put any rumors to rest about the ball fields,” said David Hughes of the Rochester Parks Commission. “These ball fields right now are running top notch.”
Hughes attended the Rochester Board of Selectmen meeting May 18 to dispel the previously discussed notion that the ball fields of Rochester are overcrowded this season and logistically unprepared for the vast use of the fields.
There was a late start to this year’s game season due to the snow and ensuing mud that encumbered the beginning first week or two. But as it stands now, Hughes said, the fields are busy hosting a number of different leagues in addition to the Little League, but there is room for everybody.
“We had a rough start,” said Hughes, but schedules have been worked out to avoid conflicts, including the use of the baseball diamond outfield for lacrosse games when there are no baseball games. “We’re also working with the schools,” said Hughes, hoping to access the soccer field behind Rochester Memorial School for a practice field. “It’s not the best field, but it is a field that they can practice on.”
Hughes had some ideas on future expansion, such as converting the parking area next to the skate park into a lacrosse and soccer field, which Hughes said is currently not used very much. He also tossed around the idea of taking land behind the Senior Center, which would increase the area of the Dexter Lane fields.
But with a limited budget of $15,000 for parks and recreation, money is tight, he said.
“If you’re looking to spend money,” said Hughes, “we don’t have it.” Hughes said the commission manages any shortfalls with private donations. “It’s a viable piece of property.
Hughes stuck around after his informal talk to present his Town Meeting warrant article to purchase a new water pump for field irrigation, which both the selectmen and the finance committee – present that night to make their recommendations – voted to support.
Also during discussion of the articles, things got heated between selectmen and members of the Rochester Emergency Management Services over an article proposing to space out the Personnel Plan Employee Step Rate Increases from a period of one year to two and three years in between steps.
Currently, non-union, non-contract employees are reviewed annually, and those rated highly proceed to the next step, which cuts off at step ten. The average salary increase per step advancement is three percent, plus any other cost of living and longevity increases. Board of Selectmen Chairman Richard Nunes said that averages to about a 4 to 5 percent pay raise every year an employee moves up a step.
“The whole idea of increasing the amount of years … is so, if you don’t max out in ten years, the town will save money,” said Nunes. “The whole idea was basically to save money.”
If adopted, the article to amend the Personnel Bylaws would affect four out of the 15 employees covered under the Personnel Bylaws.
“I don’t think it’s right we single out those four people,” said Volunteer Fire Department Captain Jeff Eldridge. He suggested amending the article to specify “new hires” only, and not current employees. “That would be a little more user friendly to those four employees.”
Town Administrator Michael McCue said the board has discussed the proposed article with the Personnel Board, which voted in favor of the article, and the group all agreed to apply the bylaw change to all employees rather than only new hires.
Chief Dispatcher Tracy Eldridge said, looking at the steps as presented, current employees “already committed to the town and stuck around would lose.”
“Wouldn’t it make more sense to flip it?” said Tracy Eldridge.
Nunes said the proposed change in the article reflects the federal employee step system, allowing for annual step increases until step four is reached, 104 weeks in-between steps up till step seven, and then 156 in-between steps up to step ten, the maximum step.
Tracy Eldridge and Captain Eldridge both made comments on amending the article on the Town Meeting floor to change the language to affect only new hires.
“A quick Band-Aid was thrown together in three weeks,” said Captain Eldridge. “…If we just adjust this Band-Aid a little bit, it will stop all this indecisiveness … at Town Meeting.
The Town budget already reflects the step increases for employees affected next year. Captain Eldridge said it was like “the rug being pulled out” beneath those four employees.
Also during the meeting, an article that selectmen removed from the warrant, which would allow members of the Board of Assessors to serve as appointed positions that report to the Assessors Office, was added back on after Assessor Diana Knapp presented a petition of 12 signatures.
The article was initially prompted by the recent election of Debra Lalli to the Board of Assessors. Lalli is currently a clerk that reports to the Board of Assessors. Selectmen voted to approve the request.
The next meeting of the Rochester Board of Selectmen is scheduled for June 1 at 6:30 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.
By Jean Perry