ROCKPORT — Fall Town Meeting ON Monday night was considering a funding plan for the new $12.5 million Department of Public Works facility at press time.

Before the DPW building's funding plan, residents voted to confirm a series of money allocations that were previously allowed at April's town meeting. With the allocations passing, the town will be able to transfer $900,000 from the Sale of Land fund to the proposed new DPW facility budget.

If the facility's funding plan passes, the town will enact a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion for the project and borrow $11.35 million over 20 years. All taxpayers will see an initial 4.7 percent increase on property taxes regardless of assessed value before steadily decreasing around 0.1 to 0.2 percent each following year. 

In fiscal 2019, the property tax rate in Rockport was $9.86 per $1,000 of assessed value, the lowest in Essex County and 34th lowest in the state.

For the past 20 years, plans to build a new DPW facility have been kicked around town. The aging facility, known colloquially as "the barn" around town, was initially built in 1956 and is not properly up to current building regulations. 

"The building is bad in so many ways," Monica Lawton of the Rockport Building Study Committee reported to the selectmen after the committee finished studied the building this summer. "Every system in that building is bad. It's in compliance with nothing, as far as codes are concerned, whether you're talking about the HVAC system, the electrical system, the ventilation system, the fire preservation system, the drainage system, the pollutant control system — every system." 

The Building Study Committee determined that a new facility is the most cost-effective way to solve the DPW barn problem. Rehabilitating the building and bringing it up to code is expected to cost millions more. 

Officials say employees have been working in less-than-ideal conditions for years now. The building is not properly vented, there is no room to properly store toxic chemicals and there are no showers for employees to wash in case of contamination, save for an eye wash station. Even worse, the whole building could go up in flames as it does not have proper fire control system, nor could it support the heavy equipment.

So many people turned out for the Fall Town Meeting that officials ran out of electronic voting devices for attendees. A few others voted using cards.

The first motion on Article E was the first time the voting devices were used. At total of 372 votes were cast.

Voters turned down Rockport Community Preservation's plan to grant Millbrook Meadows Committee $15,000 for a granite bench by a 137 to 235 vote margin.

The Finance Committee had not recommended passage of the motion. 

Articles A, C, D, and the second through sixth motions for Article E all passed. 

Harborlight Community Partners has secured $200,000 from the Community Development Corp for the upcoming affordable housing unit at 5 Granite St. – its third round of CDC funding in as many years.  The articles were introduced via a lottery process and not in the order listed on the warrant. 

It was announced at the beginning of the meeting that Article I and L are being passed over without a motion. Article I article asked to allow the town to sell four town-owned parcels of land, something that garnered a lot of push-back from residents before the meeting was held. The article aimed to replenish the $900,000 that as allocated out of the Sale of Land fund for the DPW facility. Article L asked to ban inflated balloons from being sold and distributed in town.

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

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