Rochester voters have a few choices in front of them for this year’s April 11 Annual Election.
There are two contested races – Board of Selectmen and Planning Board – and on March 27, the people had a chance to hear from the candidates themselves during a candidates’ forum at the Council on Aging.
Current Zoning Board of Appeals Vice Chairman and Finance Committee member David Arancio was first at the podium to speak about his candidacy for Board of Selectmen.
Arancio moved to Rochester eight years ago, with a background in field safety and risk management and management of a small construction subcontracting company.
His intention as selectman is not what he can do as selectman; rather, he wants to be part of the municipal fabric, he said, which includes two other voting members of the board – a board that some have observed hasn’t always worked well together, he said, “And I want to be part of that change.”
“We (three selectmen) need to take the input from the town, we need to digest that, and we need to work together on that,” Arancio said.
Arancio said most of the highlights of his time on the ZBA and FinCom are posted to his Facebook election campaign page where many have posed questions to him about housing, solar, water resource protection, emergency services, and how to balance residential growth with a sluggish commercial growth.
“And it’s really important for me that we really go out there and we explore things … [and] what’s going to make this town more stable in certain areas,” Arancio said.
Paul Ciaburri, director of Emergency Management since 1988, didn’t have a whole lot to say in his introduction, saying he moved to Rochester in 1979 and joined the fire department in 1980. This is his first time running for public office, due to his prior role as a Merchant Marine, which took up much of his time, often for weeks at a time. Now that he is retired, Ciaburri said, “I thought maybe I could do a little extra.”
He grew up in New Bedford, he said, “But I love this town and I’d like to see it stay the way it is, kind of…”
Emcee Greenwood Hartley, selectman and member of the Council on Aging Board of Directors, opened up the forum to the voters for questions.
One resident asked about ways to make moving into Rochester affordable for people other than just seniors, but as Arancio pointed out first, there is no simple answer. There is a bylaw review committee that reports to the Planning Board, Arancio said, “And if there’s something the [Planning Board] wants to take up, they ask them to review those bylaws.”
“Anything we can do as a group, and we get the input of everybody first, is the right process,” said Arancio. What that would look like in the end, he said, “That’s an unknown.” It is up to the Planning Board on whether to support bylaw changes that would accommodate more affordable housing for families and younger people.
Ciaburri agreed with Arancio, saying, “Unfortunately, we can’t just wave a wand and say, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna do this,’ …but the more input and the more information we can get on it, the better the decision can be made.”
One resident asked about the candidates’ opinions on regionalization of services, to which Ciaburri commented, “I’ve never been a fan of regionalization.”
“It’s worked in some things, but in other things … it’s been a gray area. It’s hard when you get different towns together to make a cohesive decision that’s good for all of them,” said Ciaburri. “I think the town loses some of its autonomy when you regionalize because somebody else is making the decisions and you’re stuck with it.…”
For Arancio, with nothing specific before the town under consideration for regionalization, although he mentioned casual talk about regionalization of Tri-Town elementary schools, “Which I am not in favor of,” he said he believes in the need to listen to everything when it comes to … everything.
“But if it’s a decision that’s going to affect this town’s character, affect the townspeople,” he said, then a selectman should listen.
There are four candidates for two seats on the Planning Board, with three candidates able to attend the event. Incumbent John DeMaggio was unable to attend.
Newcomer David Shaw, first to the podium, has lived in Rochester for ten years, he said. A municipal worker of 14 years in Marion and a firefighter for 10, Shaw said it felt like the right time to sit on a board.
Not having much else to add, Shaw said, “I figured I’d try … do a little work … and try to help out, so I figured I’d run for Planning Board.”
Incumbent Bendrix “Ben” Bailey, a Rochester resident since 1985, has served seven years now on the Planning Board.
He highlighted his contributions to the board, such as his help in devising a bylaw to include a decommissioning bond for solar farms and his idea for the bylaw that banned large-scale solar farms from the Limited Industrial District, like the one the developer withdrew from New Bedford Road in the center of town.
Also, he said, he led an investigation into unfinished construction at Connet Woods that he was able to bring to the attention of the board just as Connet Woods requested the release of its final lots.
Bill Milka introduced himself next. A contractor for 34 years specializing in cranberry bog construction and construction site utility work, Milka moved to Rochester in 1996.
“If I was to be elected on the Planning Board, I could be an asset of thirty-four years’ experience of building plans and managing projects,” said Milka. “I’d like to help the people of Rochester by making decisions to help the town stay a farming community, and welcome more farmers into the town. I’m into open space and would like to keep development to a minimum, and I would like to join in the decision making to keep the cost of living down for the people living here.”
He said he wanted to help the board streamline its decision process and then said, “Now I’m gonna go home and have a couple beers,” eliciting laughter.
When it comes to solar, Shaw said he really didn’t have much to say about it, although he did say, “It’s really hard when you got a lot of residential zone and you try to put a solar farm in the middle of it.” He said an area that would affect the least number of residents is best.
For Milka, “I don’t think you’re going to be able to designate certain areas for solar.” The board must “make sure the applicants design these things so that it’s shielded and it doesn’t affect anyone around it.”
“I think they’re the ugliest things coming down the road, but as long as they’re shielded and you don’t know they’re there…” Milka said. “I think it’s better than filling the town with subdivisions.”
Bailey testified to the fact that towns are not allowed to ban solar farms and enjoy a protected status in Massachusetts.
“The state attorney general would disallow that,” said Bailey. “We don’t have a place to put these that’s designated. It bothers me very much because solar is an industrial activity – it’s completely unfair.”
“We don’t have a place that we can designate strictly for solar farms,” added Bailey.
The four candidates are vying for two seats up for grabs on the Planning Board.
The Rochester Annual Election is April 11. Polls open at 8:00 am and close at 8:00 pm at the Rochester Senior Center on Dexter Lane.
By Jean Perry