GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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April 5, 2013

Budget hike, leases headline Rockport meeting

ROCKPORT — A budget with a $1.3 million – or 5.1 percent — spending increase will be on the table for Rockport’s Annual Town Meeting voters Saturday morning, along with controversial proposals involving Long Beach leases and a plan to hand down steeper fines for Bearskin Neck businesses who fail to follow mandates regarding outdoor displays.

The Saturday session begins with a special town meeting, largely geared toward balancing the current year’s budget, at 9 a.m. in the Rockport High School gymnasium; that will be followed by the Annual Town Meeting that’s set to begin at 9:30.

The Town Meeting has returned to a Saturday format this year after last year’s was moved to Monday night to avoid conflicts with both Easter weekend and the celebration of Passover. One of the articles on Saturday’s warrant calls for permanently shifting the meeting to the third Monday of April, rather than the first Saturday, to avoid those conflicts in the future.

The town’s budget proposal for fiscal 2014, which begins July 1, calls spending $25,019,048, up from the current year’s budget of $23,811,250 — and due in large part to a jump in special education funding needed by the town’s school district.

Beyond the town’s budget and spending issues, however, Article R, proposed by the Board of Selectmen, calls for the leases on approximately 150 cottages along Long Beach to be extended from 10 to 30 years.

Erin Battistelli, who chairs the Board of Selectmen, said voters can choose to renegotiate the lengths of the leases. She said that, while recent state legislation allows longer leases on buildings, there was never a restriction on how long town land can be leased.

She also said that, with the leases expiring at the end of this year, the town’s counsel, the Boston-based law firm Kopelman and Paige, is in the process of reviewing and forming new lease agreements.

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