Rochester Contests Legality of Mattapoisett’s Home Rule Petition

            October 21 was the night of the fall special town meetings for Marion and Mattapoisett, but that evening during the regular meeting of the Rochester Board of Selectmen, Rochester Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar called out an article on Mattapoisett’s warrant – a Home Rule Petition aimed at splitting the cost of a school resource officer at Old Rochester Regional – as irrelevant.

            Mattapoisett’s Home Rule Petition – a request from a city or town for a new type of power from the state legislature – sought to require Marion and Rochester to split the cost of an SRO three ways.

            “Mattapoisett wants Marion and Rochester to send payments for an SRO directly to Mattapoisett as part of an additional annual assessment,” explained Szyndlar. “They feel that having this spelled out in a new special law would make it clear for all towns to share in the cost.”

            According to Szyndlar, both Marion and Rochester believed that cost should be funded as part of each town’s annual assessment to be paid for as part of the ORR school budget.

            Szyndlar said she spoke with Rochester’s town counsel and with representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) for clarification on the legality of Mattapoisett’s article.

            “They stated that there is no provision in the regional school agreement allowing for any operating costs to be approved or apportioned outside the budget process,” Szyndlar told the board. “The cost of an SRO may not be added or apportioned through a Home Rule Petition of a single member town or, for that matter, by all member towns, because that would be outside the statutory budget process.”

            “We told them we’d support it in the past,” said Selectman Brad Morse.

But forcing Rochester to pay through a Home Rule petition, said Selectman Greenwood “Woody” Hartley, “Mattapoisett doesn’t have the right to do that to us.”

            “If it’s against the rules, why would you want to do it?” asked Selectmen Chairman Paul Ciaburri.

            Szyndlar said she had only just received the correspondence from DESE that day and had spoken with Doug White, superintendent of schools, to inform him.

            That evening, Mattapoisett voters did approve the Home Rule petition article.

            In a follow-up email the next morning, Town Administrator Michael Gagne stated, “Regardless of the mechanism, the original agreement between the three town administrators and three police chiefs that the cost of the safety officer be shared should be honored.

            “Children from all three towns are being protected,” continued Gagne. “It is not unreasonable for the other towns to pony-up their share of the original agreement. Whatever documentation is necessary, home rule or otherwise, should be drafted.”

            Szyndlar stated during the meeting that Rochester would have no problem funding the SRO, but it must be done properly within the budget process.

            In other business, the board signed a letter in support of an updated version of the town’s Green Community Energy Reduction Plan to submit to the state after a couple changes needed to be made to the plan.

            Once Rochester is designated as a Green Community it will be eligible for up to $900,000 in grants over the next five years to help the town reduce its carbon footprint while spending less on energy.

            “That’s a great start for us,” said Hartley. “That’s wonderful. That’s what we were hoping for.”

            In related news, Szyndlar announced the Rochester had received $5,400 from the Sustainable Materials Recovery Program that will go toward a mattress collection container at the highway barn as part of the town’s recycling program.

            Also during the meeting, the board renewed its annual contract with the Lakeville Animal Shelter, and signed the warrant for the November 18 Fall Special Town Meeting scheduled for 7:00 pm at Rochester Memorial School.

            The Board of Assessors asked the selectmen to continue its tax classification hearing until November 4.

            The next meeting of the Rochester Board of Selectmen is scheduled for November 4 at 6:00 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.

By Jean Perry

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