Rockport Fall Town Meeting OKs funding for new Public Works building  

MIKE SPRINGER/Staff file photo/Rockport’s Fall Town Meeting approved a Proposition 21/2 debt exclusion to fund building a new facility to replace the aging Department of Public Works garage and facility at 2 DPW Way.

ROCKPORT — A new facility for the town Public Works department is now one step closer to becoming a reality and a ban on single-use plastic food wares and disposable water bottles is on the horizon.

Town Meeting voted to confirm the town's payment plan for the $12.25 million facility. Eighty-seven percent of attendees voted in favor of Article H, clearing its required two-thirds majority.

In October, during the town election voters will be asked to confirm the project.

This means the town will go forward with a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion. Over the course of 20 years, the town will borrow $11.35 million for the project. All taxpayers will see an initial 4.7 percent increase on property taxes regardless of assessed value. The rate is expected to go down 0.1 percent to 0.2 percent each following year. The increase won't begin until around fiscal year 2022, according to Treasurer/Collector Carrie Arnaud.

In fiscal 2019, Rockport's 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.

Townsfolk also voted in favor of Article B, which confirms a series of money allocations that were previously allowed at April's Town Meeting. With the approval, the town will be able to transfer $900,000 from the Sale of Land fund to the budget for the proposed new DPW facility.

Now, voters will need to confirm the project at a special election in October.

For the past 20 years, plans to build a new facility to replace the aging Department of Public Works garage and facility at 2 DPW Way have been kicked around. The aging facility, known colloquially as “the barn” around town, was built in 1956 and is not properly up to current building regulations. 

“The building is bad in so many ways,” Rockport Building Study Committee member Monica Lawton told selectmen after the committee finished studying 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.

Other articles

The 16 articles before Town Meeting were introduced via a lottery process and not in the order listed on the warrant.

Distribution of single-use plastic food wares and disposable water bottles will come to an end in Rockport beginning Jan. 1, 2021, as voters approved both Article K and M. Article L, which would have banned balloons, was passed over without a motion.

Harborlight Community Partners has secured $200,000 from the Community Development Corp. for upcoming affordable housing units at 5 Granite St. – its third round of CDC funding in as many years.  

All but one of the Community Preservation Committee grants were affirmed by at this year's meeting. Voters turned down Rockport Community Preservation’s plan to grant the Millbrook Meadows Committee $15,000 for a granite bench. The vote was 137 for, 235 against.

Voters also passed Article P, which exempts the Rockport Police Department from the Civil Service Law. 

After garnering a lot of push-back from residents, a decision by town leaders was made before the meeting to not make a motion on Article I, effectively tabling it. Article I would have allowed the town to sell four town-owned parcels of land and in order to replenish the $900,000 allocated out of the Sale of Land fund for the DPW facility.

The votes

Here's how the town voted on this year's Fall Town Meeting warrant:

A: Pay unpaid bills from previous fiscal years. (Requires nine-tenths majority.) APPROVED with 96 percent. 

B: Fund appropriations granted at April's Town Meeting. APPROVED.

C: Present the annual report and recommendations of the Community Preservation Committee. APPROVED unanimously.

D: Replenish the reserve accounts for the Community Preservation Committee's Community Housing, APPROVED unanimously; Open Space Recreation, APPROVED unanimously; and Historic Preservation, APPROVED. 

E: Use Community Preservation Committee funds for a granite bench at Millbrook Meadow ($15,000), FAILED, 137-235; preservation efforts for the Rockport Public Library building ($27,400), APPROVED; preservation efforts for Sandy Bay Historical Society Museum ($49,900), APPROVED unanimously; a professional assessment on affordable housing in Rockport ($23,000), APPROVED; purposes consistent with the Community Preservation Act ($100,000), APPROVED; and a grant for Harborlight Community Partners to build an affordable housing unit at 5 Granite St. ($200,000), APPROVED.

F: Fund the collective bargaining agreement between the town and the Rockport Police union. APPROVED.

G: Fund the collective bargaining agreement between the town and the Rockport supervisors and foremen union. APPROVED.

H: Allow a Proposition 2 1/2 override to pay for the proposed DPW project. (Requires two-thirds majority.)  APPROVED with 87 percent.

I: Sell four town-owned plots on Straitsmouth Way, Phillips Avenue and Woodbury Lane. NO MOTION.

J: Raise the Council on Aging fiscal year spending limit from $30,000 to $60,000. APPROVED unanimously.

K: Ban single-use plastic food ware products from being distributed in Rockport in an effort to cut back on pollution. APPROVED.

L: Ban balloons from being distributed in Rockport in an effort to cut back on pollution. NO MOTION.

M: Ban single-use plastic water bottles from being sold in Rockport in an effort to cut back on pollution. APPROVED.

N: Change the number of required members to the Historical Commission from seven full members to five full and two alternate members. (Requires two-thirds majority) APPROVED with 89 percent.

O: Allow any available free monies to be allocated to another initiative that requires town funds. (Requires two-thirds majority.) NO MOTION.  

P: Exempt all uniformed positions in the Rockport Police Department from the Civil Service Law. APPROVED.

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

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