Concerns Loom if Citizens Dip into Free Cash

            Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar reported to the Rochester Board of Selectmen at its April 23, remote access meeting that the town’s stability fund is at $1.3 million and that the goal is to get it between $2 million and $3 million.

            “We’ve got to keep working on putting money in the rainy-day fund. Marion and Mattapoisett have a lot more money in theirs than we do,” said Szyndlar, raising concern over a citizens’ petition to lower the tax rate by taking $50,000 from the free cash account. Doing so would put $20 into the hands of 2,500 citizens.

            “We’re in unprecedented times. This is their right to put this to a town meeting. Hopefully, something like this doesn’t pass,” said Szyndlar before asking the Board of Selectmen for comments.

            Selectman Woody Hartley said that over the last few years Rochester has created stabilization funds that are meant to act as a bank if needed.

            Szyndlar clarified that the stabilization fund is not a slush fund. It requires a two-thirds vote to put in, a majority vote to take out, and requires town meeting, but the town can borrow against it in the short term, provided the account is paid back during the same fiscal year. Short-term borrowing can cost Rochester $5,000 per loan.

            “(The account) helps the town greatly,” she said. “This is what’s going to keep us strong through events like what we’re having right now.”

            The town’s Capital Improvement Fund had planned to recommend that $200,000 go into that fund but, since the COVID-19 crisis, has since recommended the matter be revisited in the fall.

            Szyndlar said the same holds true for road improvement funds, leaving Rochester with $250,000 in free cash to either not use and carry over to FY21 or “see where we are in the fall. There’s too many unknowns at this time,” she said.

            The Board of Selectmen agreed.

            It was suggested that the question regarding the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maps may be more important than anything else on Rochester’s Town Meeting warrant.

            Conservation Agent Laurell Farinon said that, despite the coronavirus pandemic’s strain on municipal governments, FEMA is not backing off of its deadlines on the updating of FEMA maps. Farinon said it has been a couple of years since Rochester updated information on the Mattapoisett River and its tributaries.

            New maps become effective on July 22. Rochester’s Planning Board will review the updates on May 26, and Farinon hopes the updates will be on the warrant for the June 22 town meeting.

            Town Counsel Blair Bailey said that FEMA claims it has no regulatory authority to extend the deadlines and agrees with Farinon that Rochester needs to “keep pushing forward” with the prescribed timeline.

            In her report to the board, Szyndlar said that Mark Walter had told the town he may postpone the Patriot Half Triathlon, originally scheduled for Saturday, June 20.

            The website for Sun Multisport Events, the race company owned by Walter, confirmed the postponement in a posting dated April 20. Furthermore, Saturday, September 5, is listed as the new date of the event on the site.

            The select board approved the new date for the race, which starts in Freetown and runs through Lakeville, Middleboro, and Rochester before looping back. Permits will be reviewed in the board’s next meeting.

            Rochester is looking at raising building permit fees. According to Szyndlar, the town has some of the lowest fees among area towns. The board agreed it was time to revise. The Building Department has provided spreadsheets justifying the proposals that Szyndlar will forward to the select board.

            As of April 21, Rochester had eight COVID-19 cases and no deaths.

            Council on Aging Director Cheryl Randall-Mach said the COA is using its website (, Facebook and press releases to reach out to the community, but would like to post its updates on the town’s website (, use the town’s whiteboard and do a reverse-911 call. “People don’t want to self-identify, we can assure them there is no stigma in getting help,” she said.

            The COA has stationed hand sanitizer right outside its door. The facility remains closed, but Randall-Mach said she would like to see it reopen in September.

            Hartley was encouraged after he and Town Planner Steve Starrett attended an April 22, remote-access meeting of the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD). “I honestly think the video meeting is a lot more effective than everybody driving up to Taunton,” said Hartley.

            The next Board of Selectmen meeting is scheduled for Thursday, April 30, at 11:00 am via remote access. According to the town’s website, the board will meet from 11:00 to noon with its regular agenda, setting aside a second hour beginning at noon to meet with Old Colony Regional Vocational-Technical High School representatives.

Rochester Board of Selectmen

By Mick Colageo

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