On January 27, the Rochester Select Board convened primarily for a Tax Classification Hearing to determine if a single tax rate would stay in place for FY23. After completing that work, the board heard from Blair Bailey, the town’s legal counselor for more than 20 years.
Bailey said he was saddened to announce he would be withdrawing from the work of town counsel, citing increasing personal and professional demands on his time.
The Select Board noted Bailey’s unlimited access, his willingness to take calls and work on issues over and above billable hours.
“His are big shoes to fill,” said Select Board Chairman Woody Hartley, later emphasizing that Bailey’s institutional knowledge cannot be overstated as it has enhanced his work on behalf of the community and the strong relationships he established over time with departmental heads, union negotiators and townspeople. Those sentiments were echoed during the meeting by board members Brad Morse and Paul Ciaburri.
Bailey has also assisted the town in finding Mead, Talerman & Costa, LLC as a suitable replacement for services. The eastern-Massachusetts firm has offices in Millis, New Bedford and Newburyport. Town Administrator Glenn Cannon said that the group is experienced in municipal matters and that a meeting would be set up with the firm and Select Board to discuss a possible partnership.
Cannon said with this change, the time is right for establishing guidelines for those boards and committees seeking legal guidance. Cannon will work with Morse to draft a document that sets up management of legal time used and will present to the full board on Monday, February 6. Hartley said in a follow-up that a new contract for legal services would set number of hours within a given timeframe, “This way we can track the hours.”
Bailey’s personal relationship to the community will also be missed, but Cannon said two members of the New Bedford law firm are also Rochester residents.
The board thanked Bailey for his service and commitment over the last two decades.
Earlier in the meeting, the board met with Principal Assessor Karen Trudeau to review property values and tax rates. As found in other Tri-Town communities, the amount of taxable commercial and/or personal property is a fraction of the taxable private property in the town. As such, Rochester, like Marion and Mattapoisett, has held to a single tax rate. The Select Board determined it remains in the best interest of the town to maintain a single rate.
In her report, Trudeau stated that residential property in Rochester is valued at $1,145,956,316, commercial at $42,508,682, industrial $74,033,682 and personal property $65,445,200. Real estate and personal property total value is $1,327,962,080, she reported.
The average single-family home stands at an assessed value of $521,872 with an average tax bill of $6,194. The board voted to keep a single tax rate. A printout of the entire Assessors valuation is available from the Assessor’s office.
The board also reviewed a letter drafted by Cannon to the Massachusetts Department of Environment Protection regarding the agency’s plan to decrease nitrogen discharge into wetlands and other environmental sensitive areas such as the Mattapoisett River Valley by requiring new septic systems that use new technology for neutralizing nitrogen and the impact on Rochester.
Hartley said he recently attended a conference on the matter and that the lieutenant governor was also involved in helping cities and towns impacted by the proposed new regulations.
Before adjournment, Hartley urged the public to familiarize themselves with the proposed Rochester Community Electricity Program. Details of the program can be found on the town’s website, townofrochestermass.com, and include the following statement, “Rochester Community Electricity (RCE) is a program offered by the Town of Rochester to provide new electricity supply options and more renewable energy to Rochester residents and businesses. … Rochester Community Electricity does not replace Eversource as our electric utility. The utility continues to deliver electricity, repair outages and manage all billing. The program offers alternatives for the Supply portion of your bill.”
On the Rochester Community Electricity website, electricity.townofrochestermass.com, residents can learn more details about the program and follow the program development timeline. There is also a form to get in touch with the program organizers and offer feedback.
Before program launch, the Town of Rochester will conduct an extensive public outreach and education campaign to ensure that the community is aware of the program.
The next meeting of the Rochester Select Board is scheduled for Monday, February 6, at 6:00 pm at Town Hall, also accessible live via Zoom.
Rochester Select Board
By Marilou Newell