The Town of Rochester’s reliance on revenue generated by the SEMASS recycling facility has long been considered risky, and while Article 13 of the Warrant for the October 18 Special Town Meeting recommending the transfer of $300,000 to the town’s Stabilization Fund may seem like a drop in the bucket, it is a statement drop.
“This will bring us to our goal,” said Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar, identifying best practices in explaining that Rochester set out to save $2.2 million and, with voters’ approval on October 18, will have met the 10-percent goal. “We’re where we need to be.”
The Rochester Finance Committee met on Monday night with Szyndlar and voted unanimously to recommend to voters all seven of the town-exclusive financial articles on the Warrant for the Special Town Meeting at Rochester Memorial School.
The Board of Selectmen set the policy and some target goals, according to Szyndlar, based on a percentage of the town’s annual operating budget. “As that grows, your Stabilization Fund should follow suit,” Szyndlar explained. “With a town like this with so much reliance on SEMASS … the goal should really be 15 percent … to be fiscally strong for when the rainy day comes.”
Despite carrying insurance on SEMASS, the amount neither covers the entire amount nor does it kick in right away, according to Szyndlar.
Calling it “business interruption insurance,” Finance Committee Chairman Kris Stoltenberg explained to committee members that the waiting period is a minimum three months. “Then they start to make payments. That’s where the Stabilization Fund comes in,” he said.
The Stabilization Fund is not recommended to cover operating deficits, but special purposes such as school, public safety, and capital improvement projects.
“Because our Stabilization Fund was so weak – we only had a million dollars in it – we were having problems with cash flow,” said Szyndlar, who discussed the costs of borrowing that can be avoided by dipping into the Stabilization Fund provided the funds are put back in. “It really helps the town, it saves thousands of dollars of borrowing, [and] it keeps us fiscally strong. If we do have to go out and borrow, we’re going to get a really good rate.”
“We’ve been in a valle;, we’re on the mountain top right now,” said Stoltenberg.
While Stoltenberg acknowledged the importance of the Old Rochester Regional School District agreement and the related article authorizing ORR to establish its own stabilization fund, he confined FinCom’s actions to address the articles applying only to the Town of Rochester.
Article 12 proposes the transfer of $200,000 to the Road Improvement Stabilization Fund. There is approximately $100,000 in the fund at present. “It’s hard to do anything with that,” said Szyndlar, noting that Chapter 90 state funding is stagnant at $300,000 per year, an amount she said most towns supplement.
It requires a Town Meeting vote to add to or spend from stabilization funds, according to Stoltenberg.
Representing the Board of Assessors, Chairperson Jana Cavanaugh attended the meeting to explain to the committee members Articles 2 and 3.
Article 2 proposes a $10,000 commitment to replace the office’s Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA) system.
Dissatisfied with its contract with current vendor Vision and citing difficulty with service in an arrangement that dates back to 2008, Rochester is looking to hire a new vendor. Cavanaugh said the town has three quotes but, as of Monday night, was not 100-percent decided. The $10,000 commitment would cover licensing and installation of the new system.
Cavanaugh said the Assessors’ Office budgeted $9,725 for Vision’s support services, including web hosting, but plans to terminate the contract. The switch would occur in January or February per the request for ongoing service as written in Article 3.
The annual maintenance and web-hosting fees of approximately $8,000 will not increase under a new arrangement, including a CAMA system, and may actually decrease, according to Cavanaugh. The Assessors’ office will need a new computer and monitor. According to Cavanaugh, the current computer used by the principal assessor does not have a port to accommodate SD storage cards.
Citing a potential complication in overlapping service contracts, Cavanaugh explained that the yearly support fee with a new vendor would cost $6,400 per year. The Vision deal expires on June 30, 2022, and it is unknown if a rebate is possible. Five months at $135 per month would help total $3,000 in service charges for the overlapping period. However, down the road, the new rate would save Rochester $3,000 per year.
FinCom also voted unanimously to recommend the Assessors’ office’s supplemental budget.
Article 4, another $10,000 appropriation, would hire a search firm to identify a short list of viable candidates to replace Szyndlar as town administrator.
“You have nine months to replace me,” said Szyndlar, whose resignation from that piece of her employment with the town expires on June 30, 2022. Szyndlar plans to stay on as town accountant, her dual role that she said was lumped into the chief financial officer. Szyndlar has been the town accountant for Rochester since 2008 and town administrator for the past six years.
“We really need to bring in another person. There’s a lot to the job,” she said, citing the grant-writing aspect and her role as human resource officer. “Another body is going to be welcome in Town Hall.”
The Board of Selectmen will interview the finalists for the town administrator job. The town will post advertisement for the job sometime around the new year.
Article 5 proposes a $10,000 appropriation for the Facilities Department to meet the raised cost of the planned purchase of a utility truck, supplementing a previous appropriation of $50,000. “COVID has changed everything in the vehicle industry,” said Szyndlar.
Considered clerical in nature because the action has already been taken, Article 8 proposes to officially rescind the authorized borrowing of $160,000 to purchase land between Town Hall and the congregational church (the selectmen vote against making the purchase).
The FinCom will participate in the Special Town Meeting on Monday, October 18, at 7:00 pm at Rochester Memorial School and hold its next regular meeting in late December.
Rochester Finance Committee
By Mick Colageo