Rochester Annual Town Meeting
Historic District Remains Intact
Rochester Annual Town Meeting
By Laura Fedak Pedulli
Rochester's special town meeting was called to order by Town Moderator Greenwood Hartley III at 6:45 pm on May 23, 2011 in the cafetorium of Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical School. With little discussion, the town went about the task of voting on two warrant articles.
Article S-1 asked the town to vote to transfer from available funds a sum of money to pay for prior years' bills. The motion passed unanimously.
Article S-2 asked the town to allow the transfer of available funds increases to the line items voted on at the May 17, 2010 Annual Town Meeting. The article passed unanimously.
The town then voted to close the Special Town Meeting, and at 7:00 pm residents voted to open the floor for the Annual Town Meeting.
Town Administrator Richard LaCamera began the meeting with a talk on the budgetary challenges Rochester is facing due to minimal state aid and a weak economy. He said the fiscal year 2012 budget represents only minimal increases, as it maintains existing staff with no personnel additions and sets a two-percent limit on cost of living increases.
"We've demonstrated prudence and restraint ... We are submitting a balanced budget with current revenue projections without a need for an override," Mr. LaCamera said, adding that with a $1.3 million stabilization fund in the town coffers, the town is "financially sound and stable."
The town does face many challenges, he said, reflective of the fact that state aid dropped by 37 percent during the past four years with the evaporation of federal stimulus dollars. Likewise, health insurance costs have increased by $38,937, or 5.39 percent, during the past year. However, he said work with unions and employees to increase co-pays allowed the town to reduce the overall insurance cost by 8 percent.
Looking at the town budget, Mr. LaCamera notes a 12 percent increase in waste collection costs, significant increases for Old Colony ($23,777) and Rochester Memorial School ($173,780) due to student population growth. Overall, he said the fiscal year 2012 budget on the floor represents a $519,793, or 3 percent, increase.
Kristian Stoltenberg of the Finance Committee thanked Mr. LaCamera for his efforts. "The town administrator was incredibly helpful to us ... When we don't have the revenue to meet the demands of the budget, it isn't easy with 90 departments asking for money... I'd like to extend thanks to [Mr. LaCamera]," he said.
With that said, residents began their review of the warrant articles.
Article 1, which asked the town if it would accept the annual report of all town officers and committees, passed unanimously.
Article 2, which asked the town to vote to fix the salaries of the elected official of the town for the fiscal year 2012, passed unanimously.
Article 3, which requested that town residents allow a personnel by-law amendment for a classification and compensation plan for nonunionized municipal employees effective July 1, 2011, passed unanimously.
Article 4 asked the town to vote to raise and appropriate and/or transfer from available funds a sum of money to defray town charges and expenses for the Fiscal Year ending June 30, 2012.
The town moderator went through each budget line item for the total proposed FY 2012 budget of $17,532,022 Education (RMS, Old Rochester Regional Assessment and Old Colony) represented $10,826,705 of that amount.
Aside from a minor tweaking of the Town Clerk's salary due to an administrative error, the budget did not undergo any changes. The article passed unanimously.
Article 5 asked the town to authorize revolving funds for certain town departments under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 44 Section 53E for fiscal year 2012 .
In response to a question from a resident about why the Rochester County Fair has a revolving account considering its cancellation, Town Counsel Blair Bailey pointed out that the money originated from the fair organizers, not the town, and they still need it to pay off any expenses incurred before the fair was canceled. Article 5 passed unanimously.
Article 6, which asks the town to raise, appropriate and/or transfer $300 for the planting of shellfish in Marion, passed unanimously.
Article 7 asked town residents to appropriate the sum of $308,799 for the purposes of repair, construction, maintenance and preservation of town roads and bridges. Mr. LaCamera said that this amount is $12,000 more than last year. The article passed unanimously.
Article 8 asked the town to raise and appropriate by taxation or transfer of available funds the sum of $225,000 more or less to purchase and equip a new ambulance. The new vehicle would replace an 18-year old backup ambulance. It passed unanimously.
Article 9 asked the town to vote that the Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical High School District Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical High School District, through assessment of its members in Acushnet, Carver, Lakeville, Mattapoiset and Rochester, appropriate a sum not to exceed $2,500,000 to replace the current roof and renovate the existing science laboratory.
Mr. LaCamera explained that Rochester would be responsible for 13 percent of this amount, which would be paid out $11,000 per year for over 20 years and not require an override. Old Colony Business Manager Bruce Kaiser said that the membrane roof comes with a 20 to 25 year warranty. The article passed unanimously.
Article 10 asked the town to increase the fee to be charged by the collector for municipal lien certifications from $25 to $50. The article passed unanimously.
Article 11 asked Rochester residents to amend Section XVI.1 of the zoning bylaws to permit the Planning Board to extend by one year their ability to act on their application. Currently they have two years to commence construction on an approved project, and this would allow them additional time at the discretion of the Planning Board. The article passed unanimously.
Article 12 asked town residents to authorize the Board of Selectmen with the Board of Water Commissioners to petition the state legislature for a Special Act, entitled, "An Act Further Compensation the Town of Rochester for Water Facilities." This would require New Bedford to remit payment to Rochester in the amount of 10 cents per 1,000 gallons of water it sells to surrounding communities.
Selectman Richard Nunes explained that New Bedford's water works is in Rochester - which enjoys a tax exempt status - draws down 18 million gallons per day of water, which it sells to surrounding communities. "New Bedford is in the business of selling water to other communities for profit," he said. Town resident Fred Underhill added that in 2009, the city sold two to three million gallons per days to four abutting communities. The article passed unanimously.
Article 13 asked Rochester residents to authorize the Board of Selectmen and Board of Water Commissioners to petition the legislature for a Special Act, entitled, "An Art to Preserve Public Water Supply on Assawompset Ponds Complex Communities."
Selectman Nunes explained that the state grants a safe water yield for the pond system, and that the cities of New Bedford and Taunton receive all of this water. The act would preserve Rochester's rights to a future water supply, even though it currently does not have a municipal water system. "We have no rights to the water in the complex system," said Town Counsel Blair Bailey. The article passed unanimously.
Article 14 asked the town to vote to appropriate $45,000, to be reimbursed, for the purpose of purchasing for conservation and passive recreation purposes a 29-acre property off Marion Road. Conservation Agent Laurel Farinon that it would be reimbursement for a grant that the town already has received.
Ms. Farinon said that land is connected to two other pieces of permanently protected land, and has 450 linear feet of frontage on a brook, has a vernal pool, and is home to the Eastern Box Turtle. The article approved unanimously..
Article 15 asked town residents to appropriate the sum of $20,506, to be reimbursed by an awarded Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program grant, a 10.7 acre parcel on Wolf Island Road. This land includes 600 feet of frontage on the Mattapoisett River and has "high wildlife habitat value and a lot of recreational value," Ms. Farinon said.
Select Board Chair Bradford Morse said that he did not endorse obtaining this land due to pollution issues reported on a piece of property across the street.
"I don't think we should be down gradient from the property, it could raise problems in the future," he said, adding that the Board of Health did not recommend the purchase. Ms. Farinon responded that she reviewed the Board of Health file and that there is no evidence of contamination from the abutting property.
"There is no benefit to the town of Rochester to own it," Mr. Morse said. Ms. Farinon said that Fairhaven is purchasing an adjacent property, and that if Rochester didn't purchase the land, another conversation organization would step up to buy it and Rochester would not receive taxes on it.
"The Mattapoisett River is an incredible gem... This land is well worth protecting. I've heard concerns, but no evidence. I think protection is good for Rochester," said town resident Bendrix Bailey. The article passed 45-3.
Article 16, the final article, asked the town to abolish the Rochester Historic District Commission, which was established by the town on June 7, 1999.
Petitioner Tom Skrutski said that his experience buying and renovating a home - the George Bonney House - in the district was "right from the start, nothing but trouble" because of the Historic District Commission's rules pertaining to construction.
"How would you like a group of people to tell you what you can and can't do with your money," he said. "That's not even America. Consider us the victims of the historic district." Mr. Skrutski added that he feels it is disingenuous to require such rules for homes built in the 1950s.
So we can enjoy our houses, keep trying to build our communities, do something constructive... every one of bylaws how to control you how to punish you... nothing how to help the property owner...
Debi Ladd, Chairperson of Historic District Commission, pointed out that "never in the history of the commonwealth has a town eliminated a historic district." She said it "promotes the desirability of town and protects and enhances value of district" and added "some towns let part of their histories go, but we have a responsibility to protect the district."
Ms. Ladd also said that Massachusetts General Law has not been followed as no public hearing took place regarding the possible elimination.
Clay Adams, a district resident, spoke in support of the district. He said the historic district is easy to work with. "If you are against the district, then why did you buy a house in it?" he asked Mr. Skrutski.
Susan Peterson, a planning board member, also voiced her support for the district and its importance in keeping the town center as beautiful as it is.
Likewise, Planning Board Chairman Arnie Johnson said that the historic district is part of the town's master plan, and that surveys of residents indicated that high value is placed on the town center.
"That center of town is owned by very few people... It only takes one person to change their mind, to change the viewscape, especially if we throw this process out," he said.
The town voted against the article, with six for it and the remainder of attendees against it. It thus did not receive the required two-thirds vote to pass.