Rochester voters approved extending the Town’s temporary moratorium on recreational cannabis retail establishments during the Annual Town Meeting on Monday night, May 21.
Article 25 was brought forth by the Board of Selectmen and recommended by the Planning Board, and seeks to buy the Town more time to write its own zoning regulations for cannabis retail.
A temporary moratorium was passed at last year’s Annual Town Meeting, an action that over half of the Commonwealth’s municipalities also adopted in order to allow the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission to release its own regulations surrounding the recreational cannabis establishments, which includes dispensaries, cultivation facilities, and laboratories.
The Attorney General’s Office allowed for a moratorium good up until December 31, 2018, and has expressed that it would not approve moratoriums beyond the December 31 date.
Rochester’s Article 25 proposed extending the moratorium until June 30, 2019, a date that Planning Board Arnie Johnson admitted during the article’s public hearing on May 8 might not fly with the AG’s Office.
Resident Chris Gerrior recalled approving the moratorium last year, and pointed out that the plan was to address the regulations once the CCC released them in March. Gerrior’s argument was that other towns now have their regulations in place and are ready to accept cannabis establishments and reap the financial benefits of doing so.
“I would like to know what Rochester would gain (by extending the moratorium) and how we would benefit,” said Gerrior.
Town Counsel Blair Bailey said, “Those towns already had facilities in the pipeline as far as applications…. There are no companies that have even applied as far as Rochester goes in that pipeline…”
Bailey said the delay is to ensure regulations can be crafted in time for next year’s annual town meeting, should a special town meeting not be held this fall.
An article to purchase a fire tanker/pumper for the Fire Department for up to $498,000 passed after some brief discussion.
Resident Dan Ferreira asked to amend the article on the Town Meeting floor to specify that it should be a “new” tanker/pumper and not a used apparatus.
“We don’t need outdated equipment that’s somebody’s giveaway,” Ferreira said.
The language of the article did not stipulate that the tanker/pumper had to be a used one, but Ferreira’s motion to amend was accepted by voters and the article passed as amended.
The town will borrow the $498,000 within its borrowing budget, and will not be a tax override.
Voters approved the Town’s fiscal year 2019 operating budget of $21,529,051, but only after two motions to amend the Board of Assessors’ salary line – one that failed, and one that passed.
The amendment stems from the Board of Assessors’ decision to accept a one-year contract with Principal Assessor Charles Shea with a 5% salary increase (including the 2% cost of living raise), a year after the Board of Selectmen signed a three-year contract with Shea.
Resident Bill Milka motioned to amend the budget by reducing the entire Board of Assessors’ salary line item by $20,000, expressing his contention over the Assessors’ alleged over-taxation of open land farm properties, saying, “They’re gonna be taxed to the point where they can’t afford their land…” Milka said the result would be more subdivisions, houses, streetlights, and “tremendous growth.”
The motion garnered quite a bit of support from other voters during a hand count, but failed 33-53.
Selectman Greenwood Hartley then made his own motion to amend only the principal assessor’s salary line by $2,350, which equals the additional 3% requested by the Board of Assessors.
Java Cavanaugh, a member of the Board of Assessors, pointed out that only two weeks prior the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee had voted to accept the FY19 operating budget as presented for the warrant.
“So I would like to know why it’s being challenged now,” said Cavanaugh.
The BOS’s recommendation of that particular line item passed 2-1, Hartley said, and confirmed that he did vote to recommend the entire budget as presented.
“I wasn’t going to say ‘nay’ for the entire budget for this one line item,” said Hartley.
Hartley’s motion to amend the assessor salary line item passed, making the total approved $204,755.
The FY19 budget was up $275,854 or just over 3% from FY18. Breaking down the budget, the Rochester Memorial School budget of $5,645,353 is an increase of 1%, with special education up by $121,480 or 36.6% totaling $453,155. The Town’s ORR assessment decreased this year by a modest 0.13% or $6,274 totaling $4,774,677. The Police Department budget rose 4.47% to $1,305,303, and the Fire Department increased by 10.7% to $271,645. The Highway Department budget saw an increase of 15.7% to total $523,582.
Voters passed an article to strengthen the existing Solar Bylaw to redefine “large-scale” solar farms as 200 kilowatts instead of 250 kW. It also establishes a setback of 300 feet from any public roadway within an Agricultural Residential District and establishes a side and rear setback of 100 feet from the property line.
Johnson said the Planning Board recommended the article that would give the board more control over project aspects such as screening, bonding, and allows for further abutter input.
Johnson said the board had received several complaints from residents after solar developers began constructing a solar farm with a kilowatt output of 249 kW, just under the threshold for requiring a Special Permit from the board. And as for the new 100-foot setback, Johnson said large-scale farm structures already had to adhere to a 100-foot setback to the property line, so solar arrays should as well.
“We’re trying to be consistent and fair,” Johnson said, adding that a developer could try to seek a waiver from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Article 11 appropriating $31,000 to waterproof the basement of the Town Hall passed, but created some discussion as resident Dan Gayoski questioned the ability to waterproof a stone foundation basement.
“Is there a guarantee that this will stop leaking…?” asked Gayoski. “With a stone cement foundation … you’re not gonna stop the water.”
Facilities Manager Andrew Daniel described the three separate systems that would be installed, saying, “You can’t stop the water from coming in, but what we can do is control it once it does,” specifying that there are three separate basement areas, not all of which are of a stone foundation.
Other articles that passed: Article 1 to accept the annual reports of Town officers and committees; Article 2 to set the salaries of elected officials; Article 3 to amend the Personnel Bylaw pertaining to the classification and compensation plan; Article 5 put a spending limit on the Town’s authorized revolving funds capping them as follows: Library materials $10,000, Recycling Program $20,000, Hazardous Waste $10,000, Rochester Country Fair $70,000 (amended on Town Meeting floor to increase maximum spending from $65,000), Local Cultural Council $6,000, COA Programs and Activities $10,000, Flu and Medical Clinics $25,000, Tax Title $2,500, Fire/EMS Equipment $50,000; Article 6 for $300 to plant shellfish in Marion; Article 7 to accept Chapter 90 funds; Article 8 to appropriate $15,000 to fund the Town’s OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits) liability; Article 9 to spend $8,000 to fund the ‘GASB 75’ audit for OPEB; Article 10 to spend $12,000 on a generator for the Town Hall; Article 12 for $30,845 for the Police Department to purchase Tasers; Article 13 for $20,600 for a fire gear washer/extractor; Article 14 for $24,000 to upgrade the technology infrastructure at RMS; Article 15 for $68,000 for a Highway Department truck and plow; Article 16 for the senior center to install a new bathroom floor and privacy partitions totaling $14,500; Article 18 to establish a Road Improvements Stabilization Fund; Article 19 to establish a Public Safety Capital Equipment Stabilization Fund; Article 20 to fund the approved Road Improvements Stabilization Fund with $50,000; Article 21 to fund the Public Safety Capital Equipment Stabilization Fund with $30,000 (amended on Town Meeting floor from $50,000); Article 22 to appropriate $80,000 to the School Assessment Stabilization Fund; Article 23 to appropriate $50,000 to the Stabilization Fund; Article 24 to enter into a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement with the developer of the solar farm at 248 Mattapoisett Road with some discussion; Article 27 to amend the Town’s Zoning Bylaw Section 2 to insert language pertaining to “Uses Available by Special Permit” by the Planning Board.
Rochester Annual Town Meeting
By Jean Perry