FinCom Recommends FY23 Budget

            Departmental budgets were brought before the Rochester Finance Committee on Monday night, and all were voted for approval except the Police budget, which will be addressed with more complete information when the committee next meets in joint session with the Select Board on April 25.

            The committee approved the school budget without debate. So did Marion but not Mattapoisett, a matter still in process.

            The Rochester school budgets review came to the Finance Committee with one change to show the academic student resource package of $33,358 on the Town Meeting warrant as part of Rochester Memorial School budget of $6,637,794. The academic student resource package had been voted under Capital, but being more operational, it was decided to make it a two-year purchase at $33,358 per year.

            FinCom approved the Rochester Memorial School FY23 budget of $6,637,794, Old Rochester Regional School District’s FY23 operating budget of $5,165,848 and town contributions to the respective FY23 budgets of $1,488,292 to Old Colony and $289,698 to Bristol Agricultural High School.

            The RMS and ORR school committees have certified their budgets.

            ORR’s operating budget includes $144,000 in capital for the high school’s $421,000 track rehab project. The three Tri-Towns will contribute based on a five-year student-enrollment formula with Marion paying 29.67 percent, Mattapoisett 36.34 percent and Rochester 34.08 percent.

            Suzanne Szyndlar, attending Monday night’s meeting for the first time in Rochester’s newly created and temporary position of assistant town administrator (to new Town Administrator Glenn Cannon, who was also present) clarified that ORR’s new capital stabilization fund is meant to address small capital needs rather than large ones and that it will take a long time to fund.

            “It is a concern, we don’t want this setting a precedent,” Szyndlar said of the project, calling it an assessment. “If they’re going to do any big renovations, they have to talk about it (with town officials.)”

            The capital stabilization fund will be passed if two out of three towns vote for it at their respective town meetings.

            The Old Colony FY23 budget reflects an increase of 20 Rochester students over FY22.

            In some cases, the committee had to vote to rescind prior approvals due to adjustments that have since been made to departmental budgets.

            The Assessors’ prior FY23 budget of $214,047 was rescinded from a vote taken in February. The committee then voted to approve a new FY23 budget of $214,270.

            Board of Assessors Chairperson Jana Cavanaugh told the Finance Committee the department wants to put $15,000 on the Town Meeting warrant to establish a fund that would be earmarked for future contracted work. Cavanaugh said FY24 will not require the same expense.

            “It’s only because this is a certification year, and we have a huge amount of work to do. I don’t think we could complete it without this money,” she said. “I don’t know if we need the 15, I hope we don’t. … This is necessary.”

            Rochester has a new principal assessor whom Cavanaugh explained would need the assistance mostly for commercial work, some personal property. Current vendor rates are estimated to be over $40 per hour.

            Fincom voted to recommend the $15,000 warrant article for the Assessors to use PK Consulting. Member David Arancio abstained from the vote.

            Highway Surveyor Jeff Eldridge took questions on his FY23 budget of $612,811, a 5 percent increase due mainly to asphalt and equipment repairs.

            Finance Committee Chairman Kris Stoltenberg said that 5 percent “is legitimate,” while Arancio, the chairman of the town’s Capital Planning Committee, said Rochester needs to consider funding the capital improvement stabilization fund in a greater amount so the committee can work on a three to five-year scope.

            “The money’s cheap right now, in a couple of years it’s not going to be cheap, not that money is cheap,” Eldridge.

            Debt service is dropping off, according to Szyndlar, noting that debt is approximately $60,000 this year and next.

            Rochester spent $140,000 for snow removal this year, an increase of the $124,000 spent last year.

            While talking about town vehicles, Eldridge said, “The price of used equipment is through the roof.” Equipment repairs are estimated at $40,000. Eldridge indicated that most parts purchased this year are almost double in price from last year. That goes for oil as well.

            The committee voted to approve an FY23 budget of $140,000 for snow removal and also voted to rescind its prior approval of $75,400 as the FY23 gasoline budget in favor of a new vote that raised that cap to $85,400.

            A new FY23 Town Hall budget figure of $476,733 reflects the inclusion of $20,000 for the hire of two, part-time Old Colony Regional Vocational-Technical High School students to assist Facilities Director Andrew Daniel with projects around town. They will earn minimum wage.

            “Other towns are doing it, Andrew looked into it, and it’s very successful,” said Szyndlar, who said she had run the idea by Town Counsel Blair Bailey.

            Rochester has renovation work ongoing in several municipal locations.

            FinCom voted to approve the 3 percent increase to non-union, employee salaries in Rochester (costs the town $20,000 per percentile.) There will also be an article on the warrant to add a five-year step increase as the town attempts to remain competitive.

            Fincom member Tony Ruocco said the membership should be prepared to explain the increase relative to a percentile higher as well as lower.

            The March 1 vote to support a $369,628 Fire Department budget for FY23 was rescinded by the committee in favor of a new vote to support a $372,128 budget that reflects the addition of a $2,500 stipend for Fire Chief Scott Weigel to assume the duties of Rochester’s Emergency Management director.

            Select Board member Paul Ciaburri, who has been volunteering in that role, is stepping down from the job effective July 1.

            FinCom voted its approval of a $14,135 FY23 budget to continue to support the operationally defunct Marion and Rochester Regional Health District, which only continues to exist to pay Karen Walega’s ongoing health insurance and pension benefits. Walega now works exclusively as a 15-hour-per-week health agent for Rochester.

            Arancio also abstained from the committee’s vote to recommend the Council On Aging’s FY23 budget of $319,236. The COA’s program assistant job, heretofore paid out of a donation fund, is moving to the town budget because the donation was a one-time gift and the job is a perpetual role, thus an $11,337 increase.

            The next meeting of the Rochester Finance Committee is scheduled for Monday, April 25, at 6:00 pm.

Rochester Finance Committee

By Mick Colageo

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