Town Must Cut Funding for Rochester Country Fair

            These have certainly been trying times for the Rochester Country Fair, a 20-years-long tradition to which its success rests solely on the right atmospheric conditions to draw the big crowds to the all-outdoor event. After this year’s country fair was cut short due to the Eastern Equine Encephalitis threat and a curfew restricting events on town land to daylight hours, the country fair took a major financial hit this year.

            On December 2 during the meeting of the Rochester Board of Selectmen, Kelly Morgado of the RCF Board of Directors learned that the country fair is facing another financial hit now that the RCF has recently changed its status from a town entity to a non-profit 501(c)(3), making it ineligible to receive funding from the annual $10,000 donation SEMASS gives to the town to help pay for town/community projects.

            The RCF had historically received $5,000 of the $10,000 in SEMASS funds each year, but in 2019 was already reduced to $4,000.

            The RCF is no longer eligible for town funding due to the “anti-aid amendment” to the Massachusetts Constitution, which prohibits public funds or property from being given to private organizations or charities.

            The Town of Rochester recently used the anti-aid amendment as its reason for not funding a Town Meeting article submitted by another non-profit non-government organization (NGO).

            Morgado said that when the conversation first arose in September about the RCF separating from the town to form its own NGO, she was concerned about whether the fair could still receive the donation money it had relied upon for years.

            “The town can’t give money to a non-profit,” said Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar.

            “Now, I think the fair falls into the [same] category as the Friends of the Library, the Boy Scouts… Those are all 501(c)(3)s,” said Selectman Greenwood “Woody” Hartley, “and we don’t give money to them. So, we either give it to everybody… We need to think about it.”

            According to Morgado, she was told that it would not be a problem receiving the funds during a September RCF “wrap-up” meeting with the Board of Selectmen, she claimed.

            None of the selectmen recalled ever having a conversation about SEMASS donation money with Morgado during a prior meeting.

            Without the funding, Morgado said as she got up to leave, “That’ll be interesting…”

            Earlier, Morgado requested to use the fairgrounds for 10 days to hold 10 fundraisers throughout the months leading up to the country fair, which will be held this year for two days only: August 8-9 during daylight hours only.

            The state expects another summer of elevated EEE risk.

            “The past three years have been pretty disastrous for the fair,” said Morgado in her request for approval of the 10 fundraiser days.

            The selectmen approved the use of the fairgrounds for the two country fair days only, and held off on approving the 10 fundraiser days.

            Hartley asked Morgado if she had asked the Pine Street neighbors if they would mind the 10 fundraiser events, which would include one or two hot modified tractor pulls in addition to the usual antique tractor pulls. She said that she did send a letter to the surrounding neighbors to inform them.

            “Positive feedback (from neighbors) will make it easier for us to say yes,” said Hartley.

            Also during the meeting, Mark Wellington, a member of the local 501(c)(3) Rochester Affordable Housing, Inc. appeared with a summary of six town-owned properties that would be appropriate as a site for an affordable housing development for seniors, and asked the board to transfer a piece of town property over to the non-profit for that specific use.

            Ironically, one such piece of land is the town-owned Pine Street fairgrounds, the site of the annual Rochester Country Fair.

            “We’re turning the material over to you gentlemen and we’re hoping that you can help us,” said Wellington. “In order for us to really get going, we need a piece of land.

            “Right now we don’t have anything to start with,” continued Wellington. “We’re really hoping that you folks can help us out.”

            The board took the matter under advisement to bring up again during its January 20 meeting.

            During a follow-up after the meeting, Szyndlar explained to The Wanderer how the anti-aid amendment that applies to the RCF does not apply to Rochester Affordable Housing, Inc.’s request for town property.

            According to Szyndlar, the town is working with town counsel to carve out a legal avenue to accommodate the land request, such as a land auction with a restriction that the land must be used for affordable senior housing.

            Also during the meeting, the board recognized Firefighter/Paramedic Jessica Vinjerud and Firefighter/EMT Andrew Weigel for each receiving a Norman Knight Award for Excellence in Community Service at the 30th Annual Firefighter of the Year Awards in Worcester on November 26 presented by Governor Charlie Baker.

            Chief Weigel said he nominated the two because of their work in coordinating the New England Brotherhood Ride.

            “That was quite an honor,” said Firefighter Weigel, “and it’s great to be part of this little town.”

            In other business, the board voted to set the January 1, 2020 beach sticker price at $20 – free for citizens over age 70, and the transfer station sticker was set at $40; $30 for over age 70.

            The board renewed the annual alcohol, Class II, Class III, Range, and Automatic Amusement licenses in Rochester. 

            Christina White was appointed to the Agricultural Commission, bringing the total number of members to four – a quorum, which now allows the commission to officially begin meeting.

            The next meeting of the Rochester Board of Selectmen is scheduled for December 16 at 6:00 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.

Rochester Board of Selectmen

By Jean Perry

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