Latest Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, weather

Rochester Annual Town Meeting

Rochester Special & Annual Town Meeting
January 22, 2024

For a complete text of the Annual Town Meeting Articles click here for the PDF of the Meetng Warrant

Voters Keep COA Independent

Rochester Special Town Meeting

By Michael J. DeCicco

The Rochester Special Town Meeting's lone negative vote Monday was also its most debated.

After Council on Aging Friends Chairman Michael Cambra complained the town was trying to take away the council's power to govern itself, a quorum of 163 residents gathered at Rochester Memorial School voted down Article 8, a bylaw amendment that would have made the Select Board rather than the Council on Aging responsible for the hiring of COA employees.

Cambra entered the motion to disapprove the article, as he noted his group of seniors was taken totally by surprise by the article, had not been given advanced notice or consulted The no-vote will allow the COA to follow the same hiring procedures and policies as other noncontract, bylaw employees, Select Board member Adam Murphy argued.

Cambra asked the town officials on the stage if they knew of any COA employees who are not following town employee policies. "Doesn't the (COA) director consult with the town on decisions?"

Murphy explained that right now, the COA bylaw is not in line with town bylaw, such as with the procedures for grievances and sexual-harassment complaints. "The COA is not under that bylaw," Murphy said. "Compensation is not equal."

Murphy added that, yes, he knows of COA employees not following town bylaw, but he would not name them in a town meeting. We're not taking away your ability to hire," he said. "This is to make sure there is a process that is the same."

Cambra countered that the article clearly states that "The Select Board shall appoint such employees as it may require."

"How is that not taking away our rights?" he said. "We're not going to give up our rights."

"For years we've hired our own," former Select Board member Woody Hartley said. "We made our bylaw so that we can be independent." Turning to the voters assembled in the Rochester Memorial School cafetorium, he added, "Please deny this article."

The resulting vote opposing the article drew a round of applause.

The Special Town Meeting, however, began with a more positive note.

Voters approved adopting a law that mandates the town boost the pay of any town employee who is away serving in the military "to receive pay without loss of ordinary remuneration as a public employee" during this service.

Police Chief Robert Small explained in a previous meeting that he has one employee now serving in the National Guard at the United States' southern border. Accepting this provision will allow him to pay that town employee to make up for what money he is losing as a military employee.

They also approved Article 2, amending the town's senior tax work-off program by increasing the amount of tax liability that may be abated through a work-off to $1,500. The previous limit was a $750 abatement. On Town Meeting floor, officials added the amendment that anyone disabled and unable to do such work may have someone take their place to earn an abatement on their behalf.

Approval of Article 3 transferred $400,000 from the town's Stabilization Fund to "improve various roadways in town."

Article 4 transferred $54,380 from Public Safety Facility Feasibility Study funds, as this part of the planning process has been completed, to Public Safety Facility design funding.

Article 5 transferred $30,000 from free cash for the cost of hiring a temporary employee or a consultant to fill unexpectedly sudden, vacant positions. Town Administrator Glenn Cannon explained in a previous meeting that people have been hired in this fashion to cover vacancies in the treasurer's and town clerk's office through other town funds. The purpose needs its own funding source.

Article 6 transferred $21,270 from Capital Improvement Funds for a variety of town expenditures, including $7,000 for Counsel on Aging walkway repairs, $5,000 for a Council on Aging walk-in cooler and roof and $3,500 to hire a consultant to review and revise Planning Board rules and regulations.

Article 7 authorized the Select Board to file a Home Rule Petition to allow Fire Chief Scott Weigel, who turns 65 in April, to remain in the position past his mandatory retirement age. Cannon has said the chief wishes to stay on to see the completion of the Public Safety Facility project. The article reads that he may not stay in the position past age 67.

Article 9 revised the Cranberry Highway Smart Growth Overlay District at 621 County Road to include an additional 1.3 acre parcel at the County Road end of the district. Project developer Ken Steen explained on Town Meeting floor that the measure adds land where a house has been demolished after he acquired the additional property "after the fact."

Article 10 authorized the town to seek legislative approval to grant a liquor store license for that new Smart Growth Overlay District property. Cannon has explained that the town was granted one more liquor license than the town was allowed for the district. Now that license must be deemed allowable on the additional parcel.