The morning after presiding over a successful Special Town Meeting that saw all nine articles carry, the Rochester Board of Selectmen met for the third time in five days, the last of these on November 17. In their regular meeting, the board heard from Assessor Chuck Shea and voted for a single tax rate and a residential factor of 1 in fiscal year 2021 with no exemptions.
Shea, who will be retiring from his post in 2021, participated in a classification (i.e., split tax rate) hearing, reading from the FY21 revaluation certified on November 2.
The full and fair FY20 valuation of $1,035,420,960 was dominated by residential property, covering 85.46 percent ($884,876,345) of the total. Those numbers are increasing in FY21 to 86.77 percent ($935,886,133). The total FY21 valuation is $1,078,606,294.
The expected levy for FY21 is $14,420,966.15, a 3.32-percent increase over $13,957,500 for FY20. Last year’s tax rate was 13.48, slightly higher than the current 13.37.
Residential taxes will increase in FY21 by 5.76 percent, while commercial taxes will decrease by 15 percent. Shea explained that the shift would make the rate more accurately assess split-use properties such as farms that the state recognizes as commercial. But if there is a home on the farm, all value was being classified as commercial. Now that property is being separated out for tax purposes. The total valuation increase is 4.7 percent.
Shea reported more sales over the course of 2019 to almost 60. “There was a time when we struggled to get 35 sales,” he said, noting an annual expectation of 60-65 in qualified sales that do not count sales below market value.
The average single-family home assessment for Rochester in FY20 was $413,400; that number is up to $431,870 in FY21. The average property tax for a single-family home is $5,774, up by $201. The average condominium assessment for Rochester in FY20 was $386,095; that number is up to $416,126 for FY21 with a $360 increase in property tax.
After a unanimous vote in favor, Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar made the selectmen aware that excess capacity is all used up for 2020.
The selectmen approved an Ambulance Hardship Request, and Selectman Brad Morse suggested that Szyndlar be authorized to approve any such request under $500 without the selectmen’s vote. Town Counsel Blair Bailey confirmed that the practice is acceptable at whatever number the board set. Selectman Woody Hartley heartily agreed, and a motion passed authorizing Szyndlar to approve any hardship request of $500 or less.
The Selectmen approved a SEMASS payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) of $340,445 for September 2020.
Morse was to meet on Wednesday with the Carver-Marion-Wareham Regional Refuse Disposal District and also with the Town of Marion with a plan to provide an update at the board’s next meeting.
Under new business, Hartley reported on a new state grant up to $300,000 meant to assist towns looking to take indoor activities outside during the coronavirus pandemic. The money could be applied to streets, curbsides, or parking lots. Bailey said the grant had been used in the city for tents, pavilions, and outdoor patio areas. The board voted to approve Hartley’s pursuit of a plan for a program and application. Hartley said there would be more than one opportunity to apply and hopes to return to the board with an update in January.
Among other things, the board used its November 12 meeting to set the quorum for the town’s November 16 Special Town Meeting at 30 per the Acts of 2020, Chapter 92 “An Act Relative to Municipal Governance during the COVID-19 Emergency,” Section 7.
They barely got that many on Monday night at Rochester Memorial School.
The state would have sanctioned as few as five, seeing that Rochester’s regular quorum is 50. No less than 10 percent was authorized in a special act by the state legislature per the governor in June.
“We need 30 voters; there’s some important business to be done that night,” said Hartley on November 12.
“It is important when we have this issue occasionally when we don’t have the controversial things on the warrant is getting people to come in…. There are some very important items,” said Bailey, echoing Hartley’s sentiments.
Szyndlar noted that the town moderator had emailed his endorsement of the quorum reduction. “He’s 100-percent on board with it. He definitely thinks that it’s a great idea,” she said.
The motion carried, 3-0.
Szyndlar opened her November 12 Town Administrator’s report by publicly thanking Town Clerk Paul Dawson and his team of volunteers for their work on the November 3 election, saying they did “a fantastic job.”
In other news from the November 12 meeting, there will be a household hazardous waste collection day on Saturday, November 14, from 9:00 am to noon at the Highway Department at 200 Ryder Road. More information can be found at www.townofrochester.com and on the town’s Facebook page. Only Rochester residents will be allowed to participate; residents can visit the website for a list of acceptable and unacceptable items.
Szyndlar met with department heads on November 6 to address changes recommended by Public Health Nurse Karen Walega regarding the opening of municipal buildings. Amidst the current spike in positive COVID-19 cases, Szyndlar told the selectmen that, to whatever extent town employees can work remotely, they will not be in the Town Hall.
With the holidays coming and an anticipated heightened transmission of the coronavirus, the following precautions are being taken: After Thanksgiving, staff will work from home the next five consecutive business days. Where it concerns the public, nothing should change; the town is still making appointments and receiving calls and emails.
Hartley added that the Council on Aging is closing down the Friday after Thanksgiving and the week following. The COA will also close on Christmas for a few days, on New Year’s Day, and a few days after that. Services will remain up and running, including food distribution and rides. “It’s a good idea to be on the safe side throughout the town,” said Hartley.
The next meeting of the Rochester Board of Selectmen is scheduled for December 4.
Rochester Board of Selectmen
By Mick Colageo