ROCKPORT — Rockport citizens approved their 2019-2020 municipal budget during annual Town Meeting June 12, at the Rockport Opera House. There was little discussion about the warrant articles; instead, much attention was paid to the problem of brown tail moths and ticks on town owned properties during an emergency meeting, held following the Select Board organizational meeting.
Deputy Moderator Peter Hall led the town meeting, replacing Moderator Brenda Richardson, who was previously scheduled, but then could not attend. Approximately 45 voters attended the meeting, an increase of approximately a dozen residents from the previous year. The annual meeting lasted almost 40 minutes.
Select Board members Mark Kelley, Doug Cole, Debra Hall, Jeff Hamilton, Town Manager Rick Bates, Finance Director Megan Brackett and Town Clerk Linda Greenlaw were on the stage at the annual Town Meeting.
The open Town Meeting began with Article 11 since the first ten articles were voted on by the community, by ballot, June 11 at the Rockport town office. (Read Rockport approves sewer expansion, all ordinance amendments, school budgets)
The largest warrant articles in the budget approved by voters included $1,956,250 for public works, $1,730,970 for public safety, $721,120 for culture and recreation, along with appropriating $2,177,434 from municipal departments to be used in reducing the property tax assessments for 2018-2019.
The first public comment came from resident Bill Chapman regarding Article 11 dealing with General Government. Chapman asked which Select Board member voted against the article and the proposed budget and what was the reasoning behind their decision.
There is a 4.1% increase in the General Government budget, with the administration budget up by $36,780, a majority of that attributed to a contract with current Town Manager Town Bates to stay on after his retirement on June 30 as a consultant for the library building project.
Mark Kelley, who voted against the article, responded that he “didn’t think we needed someone to monitor the construction at the library, funds were allocated for that.”
Resident Tom Murphy, chairman of the Budget Committee, expressed concern that not enough money was being allocated for paving and asphalt repairs with the Public Works budget in Article 14. The article did pass with the voters.
“Even if a bond is created to further fund paving projects, the town will still be a decade behind,” Murphy said.
Both Chapman and Murphy spoke in favor of the “tax club” authorized in Article 31, stating that it was much easier for residents to make payments (monthly) throughout the year on a payment plan for their property taxes (commercial and/or residential) and that this option gave the town revenue to use during the entire year.
Owen Casas, a member of the Budget Committee, questioned why the committee was not asked to make a recommendation about the rate of interest for delinquent taxes (after the October and April due dates) in Article 25.
He spoke about other inconsistencies with what articles the budget committee was asked to review and make recommendations about.
Finance Director Megan Brackett said that the rate of interest for delinquent taxes increased from 7 percent last year to 9 percent this year and it is set by the state.
Casas said there is inconsistent criteria on which articles the budget committee reviews. Select Board member Debra Hall said that the board will be looking more into this issue.
The final question of the evening came from resident Helen Shaw, who asked the Select Board about how it planned to manage one month without a Town Manager since Bates is retiring on June 30 and the new Town Manager, Bill Post, will not begin his position until August 1.
She said that according to the Town Charter, the Town Clerk would be designated as the acting manager.
Doug Cole responded that the select board will act according to the Town Charter, but has not made a final decision yet about how they would proceed.
At the conclusion of the public portion of the meeting, there was a round of applause for Bates, who will be retiring from his position June 30. He thanked the citizens for “the opportunity this past six years to serve such a great community.”
Following the public portion of the meeting, recently elected Select Board member Denise Munger was sworn in by Rockport Town Clerk Linda Greenlaw.
The Select Board met for its organizational meeting and unanimously elected Hall as Chair and Munger as Vice-Chair.
Kelley will continue to serve as the authorized representative to sign warrants and distribute funds. Cole was elected to serve as the alternate.
Other business included reviewing committee liaison assignments and approving Select Board bylaws.
Brown Tail Moth emergency meeting
After the brief Select Board meeting, the members went into back to their seats at the front of the stage for an emergency meeting about the tick and brown tail moth situation in Rockport.
Hall opened the meeting and stated that the board and town department heads have received “quite a lot of complaints” about brown tail moths on town properties, including schools and also the Marge Jones Recreational Facility.
Lora Laffan, representing the Conservation Commission, updated the board and citizens about their meeting the morning of June 12.
Laffan said the commission is working with the state entomologist for recommendations about how to treat the pests. The information received from the state is not to treat the pests chemically since it is too late in their cycle and most of the toxic hairs have already shed in the environment. The state recommends using a wet treatment by soaking the dirt and fields.
With the impending weekend tournament at Marge Jones, Public Works Director Mike Young addressed the measures the department is taking at the field since the bleachers are underneath some of the oak trees with the caterpillars and also near the dugout area.
Young said that signage warning the public about the issue will be placed at Marge Jones and Walker Park. For the tournament action this weekend at Marge Jones, Young said the immediate action will be to move the bleachers, trim the limbs near the dugout until the trees can be totally removed and burn the caterpillars that fall from the leaves.
Hall said during the next few months, a comprehensive pesticide policy will need to be developed since the spring and fall are the treatment times to combat the moths.
The Rockport Select Board will meet Monday, June 24, at 7 p.m. at the Geoffrey C. Parker Meeting Room at the Rockport Opera House.
Sarah Shepherd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org