GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

March 26, 2013

Rockport warrant includes 5.1 percent budget hike

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a corrected version of this story. The article regarding the low- to moderate-income housing complex at 4 Broadway calls for extending the town’s lease on the property to preserve the housing’s status. Due to an editing error, the initial story incorrectly indicated that the town owned the property. That is not the case.

ROCKPORT — Residents who take in Rockport’s Annual at the end of next week will be facing a budget of more than $25 million and a total of 31 articles on a crowded town warrant.

Voters will have to take up a budget of $25,019,048, a jump of more than $1 million, or 5.1 percent from the working $23,811,250 budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

According to Finance Committee Vice Chairman Walter Hess, the spike is mostly due to rising pension costs, and a school budget of more than $12 million. About 35 percent — or $4,293,040 — of the school district’s budget is for special education costs, which include transportation to out of district schools, tuition for special education students and properly certified teachers. The special education costs for fiscal 2013 totaled $3,728,513.

These costs, said Superintendent of Schools Robert Liebow, are unavoidable as the district is required to provide a proper education for special education students. Liebow said a cooperative effort was made by school officials, the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee to bring the total cost of the school budget down and avoid a potential override.

The Finance Committee agreed to a one-time payment of about $253,000, which will be repaid with state “circuit breaker” funds to be awarded in fiscal 2015.

The Finance Committee also negotiated a higher budgeted amount for the school, with an additional $300,000 allotted to the district.

However, about $233,000 in cuts were made to the initial School Committee budget, Liebow said. Some cuts included the new assistant principal position at the Rockport Elementary School and the anticipation of some standard staff changes. Liebow said no teachers or school programs are targeted to be lost in the process.

Voters will also once again face an article that would increase the fines to Bearskin Neck storefront owners who display too many goods outside of their store.

Another article, proposed by Police Chief John “Tom” McCarthy, would require fingerprint and thorough background checks for anyone wishing to obtain a permit for street vending, door to door salesmen and taxicab drivers. If passed, the checks would be carried out by Massachusetts State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigations. The Police Department would then make a recommendation to the Board of Selectmen whether or not to issue a license.

The Board of Selectmen are also looking to extend the town’s lease on the 31-bedroom apartment building at 4 Broadway for the purpose of preserving its as low to moderate income housing.

A preliminary Special Town Meeting is scheduled for April 6 at 9 a.m., with the Annual Town Meeting to quickly at 9:30 a.m., both in the Rockport High School.

For the full Annual Town Meeting warrant visit townofrockport.com. Both warrants are also available at Rockport Town Hall.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.