UPDATE: Rockport Town Meeting takes 7-plus hours to tackle warrant

·7 min read

May 16—ROCKPORT — More than 400 of Rockport's registered voters spent most of their Saturday deciding a variety of town issues at Annual Town Meeting this Saturday.

The marathon meeting ran from a little after 9:30 a.m. to just after 4:30 p.m. More than 30 articles were voted on, from approving $32 million budget, land preservation and clarifications in the town's zoning bylaws to failing term limits for selectmen.

One of the blockbuster items early in the day was the Rockport Public Schools' request to put an override of tax-limiting Proposition 2 1/2 on the Town Election ballot in June. Ultimately, the meeting approved of the measure.

The town's school district has been seeking an override to replenish its reserve funds since before the COVID-19 pandemic. The district would need $777,336 to keep the schools fully funded for the next five years. The schools budget is structured to facilitate a Proposition 2 1/2 override every five years or so. However, the last time the school needed an override was in 2011.

The nine-member Rockport Finance Committee voted 4-3 in favor of the override at a meeting before Town Meeting. According to Town Moderator Rob Visnick, via a committee member, the two members absent at the time of the vote would have voted in favor of the override if present, for a 6-3 vote.

June Michaels, one of the three Finance Committee members who voted against the override, said she did not want to continue paying more for the schools when attendance continues to dip.

"This override will be a permanent increase to school budget," she said, "over $4 million in five years, when enrollment is shrinking."

Others during public comment said they believed the override was necessary, arguing that having a robust school system would bring new, young families to Rockport.

"It's about who we want to be as a town," said Laura Evans, who previously served on School Committee. "Having a family-based town with a robust school system is good for all, even those who don't have students in the school system."

Sydney Champagne, a member of Rockport High School's Class of 2020 and a current freshman at Fordham University, gave a small speech about the impact Rockport public schools have had on her life and how the teachers and faculty helped her get to where she is today.

"We are quite literally better people for attending Rockport schools," she said, "and I for one am beyond grateful to have the experience that I did. These kids here need Rockport schools and so does this town."

With the override question settled, Town Meeting then took up the budget fiscal year 2022, which begins July 1. After some minor tweaking, it was approved at $32,062,817, $30,565,583 of which will be paid for through tax dollars. The meeting passed two motions; to remove a $15,000 line item for police details at public events, and add $5,900 to the $17,100 Thacher Island and Straitsmouth Way Committee budget. The committee received around $23,000 in fiscal 2021.

Another point of contention at Town Meeting were issues surrounding Long Beach.

Initially, Article G, which sought $$75,000 to match a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant to design, engineer and permit environmental mitigation practices, passed in full by a vote of 131-72. However, one resident made a motion to recall the vote as he believed the town was not fully informed on how the money would be used. The motion passed, followed by another motion to split the $75,000 into two line items; $37,500 for the environmental study was approved while $37,500 for future permitting efforts was denied.

Article X, another Long Beach article, sought to remove the beach's seaside cottages and replace them with "an ecologically sustainable parking lot and walking paths." Resident Toby Arsenian made a motion to have the town form a committee to look into the matter further. The motion passed.

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.

HOW TOWN MEETING VOTED

Here is how 2021 Annual Town Meeting voted on the warrant :

FISCAL YEAR 2021

I: Balance the fiscal 2021 budget. No motion.

II: Move money from the Special Education Stabilization Fund to the School Department for special education obligations. Approved.

III: Transfer money for unanticipated costs regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Approved.

FISCAL YEAR 2022

1: Assign an agent and/or other officers for various trust funds. Approved.

2: Pay unpaid bills. Approved.

3: Rescind any previous loans previously authorized for municipal purposes. No motion.

4: Amend or revise compensation schedules for salaried employees and elected officials. Approved.

5: Approve the fiscal year 2022 budget and include the Rockport Public Schools' request for a Proposition 2 1/2 override to be included on the Town Election ballot. Amended to $32,062,817 and approved.

6: Appropriate capital outlay funds. Approved.

6a: Appropriate capital outlay funds for the water enterprise funds. Approved.

6b: Appropriate capital outlay funds for the water enterprise funds. Approved.

These articles will be taken up by lottery:

A: Accept the 2020 Annual Town Report. Approved.

B: Expend Chapter 90 (roadwork) funds. Approved.

C: Donate $4,000 to Action Inc., $3,000 to HAWC, $3,100 to Senior Care and $5,000 to The Open Door. Approved.

D: Replenish the following: $125,000 to the General Stabilization Fund, $200,000 to the SPED Stabilization Fund, $200,000 to the Capital Reserve Stabilization Fund, $1000,000 to the OPEB Trust Fund and $450 to the Conservation Trust Fund. Approved.

E: Pay "Assessor Revaluation Expenses." Approved.

F: Pay for the design and construction phase of the FEMA Back Beach Mitigation project. Approved.

G: Pay for the design and construction phase of the FEMA Long Beach Mitigation project. Amended to $37,500 (half of requested funds) and approved.

H: Add language regarding "aggregated gross floor area" to the town's zoning bylaws.Approved.

I: Define "gross floor area" in the town's zoning bylaws. Approved.

J: Establish a revolving fund and spending limit for Board of Health public health clinics, emergencies and related drills, and allow the board to make related expenditures without appropriation. Approved.

K: Transfer ownership of Lot 15-92, Andrew's Woods, from the town to the Conservation Commission. Approved.

L: Transfer ownership of Lot 26-81, land adjacent to John Kieran Sanctuary, from the town to the Conservation Commission. Approved.

M: Pursue purchasing portions of 33 and 37 Phillips Ave. for "access and recreational purposes." Approved.

N: Change the Town Government and By-law Committee's routine review of town by-laws from 10 years to five years. Approved.

O: Add language to the town's bylaws that would forbid changes to town department hierarchy without a majority vote at Town Meeting. No motion.

P: Petition the General Court to forbid anyone from serving as selectmen for longer than three full terms or 10 1/2 years. No motion.

Q: Limit a person's total time serving as selectmen to nine years. Failed.

R: Ban adding any fluoridation products to municipal water supplies. Failed by a 79-112 vote.

S: Preserve Lot 26-81, land adjacent to John Kieran Sanctuary, as conservation land (citizen's petition).No motion.

T: Add language to the town's bylaws acknowledging "the Seabrook nuclear reactor has been discharging radioactive operating gasses daily to the air and ocean outfall since 1990" and a pledge to "refuse any and all deposition of radioactive gasses, fallout particles or any form of ionizing radiation discharge" in Rockport. Failed.

U: Adapt a conservation resolution defining the "intrinsic value of natural land." Approved.

V: Limit time serving as a selectmen to nine consecutive years or 12 non-consecutive years. No motion.

W: Add a measure in the town's bylaws forbidding compensation to elected town officials, excluding the town clerk and moderator. Failed.

X: Replace the Long Beach cottages with "an ecologically sustainable parking lot and walking paths." Motion to refer to committee approved.

Y: Receive the Ad Hoc Committee on Town Water Supply's report. Approved.

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