ROCKPORT — This year's long-awaited Town Meeting has approved a reduced budget for fiscal year 2021 and all articles presented.
On Saturday morning, 163 masked voters confirmed the operating budget at just under $31 million. Earlier this year, before the coronavirus pandemic hit, town officials expected to present Town Meeting with a budget of $36.5 million.
"We took about 4.5% basically across the board, across all departments," said town Treasurer /Collector Carrie Arnaud. "The state funds aren't committed yet, so we had to plan around the last release they gave us."
Selectmen previously approved one-sixth of the $30.96 million budget to cover costs for July and August, the first two months of fiscal 2021.
All safety precautions to minimize the spread of coronavirus were put in place at Saturday's meeting, and then some. Chairs were lined out 6 feet apart on Rockport High School's outdoor basketball courts and soccer field. Some attendees brought their own lawn chairs and sat down field, further away from the group. Before signing in, voters were required to wash their hands with soap underneath a water spigot. Attendees who wanted to take an extra precaution were welcome to vote from their cars in the parking lot just outside the soccer field. Volunteers were on hand to tally votes from the people sitting out on the grass and those in the lot.
This year's meeting also approved Article H, which sought to fund Rockport's share of FEMA mitigation projects at T, Bradley and White wharves as well as Pigeon Cove Harbor; and Articles K and L, which instated a 3% tax on short-term housing rentals, such as AirBnB bookings.
In an effort to minimize the attendees' time out in public, a motion was made at the beginning of Town Meeting to table the seven community petitions listed on the warrant. Although some in attendance pushed back, voters ultimately passed the motion. These petitions are set to be presented at Fall Town Meeting later this year or during an online Special Town Meeting. A bill allowing town meetings to be held online is working its way through state Legislature, according to Town Moderator Robert Visnick.
DPW employee Angel Hernandez was one of a handful of DPW workers who helped voters stay safe and distant during this year's Town Meeting.
"I think it went pretty well," he said after the meeting was adjourned. "We (at the DPW) have been waiting for the budget to get passed so we could talk about raises and stuff."
Visnick said that he was thrilled with how the meeting went.
"I've never been more proud to be a resident of Rockport," he continued. "The way the people, the police and the volunteers all came together. ... It took a lot of sleepless nights to plan, but it was worth it."
Here's how Town Meeting voted on the complete warrant:
1: Select an agent for the various Rockport trust funds and any other necessary officers. APPROVED.
2: Pay off unpaid bills and, or payroll from previous years. APPROVED.
3: Rescind any authorizations previously given to borrow funds for municipal purposes. APPROVED.
4: Amend or revise compensation schedules. APPROVED.
5: Fund the town's expenses and sewer (Article 5a) and water enterprises (Article 5b), as well as the Community Preservation Fund (Article 5c), for fiscal 2021. ALL APPROVED.
6: Fund capital outlay items for the town, water (Article 6a) and sewer enterprises (Article 6b). APPROVED.
LOTTERY SYSTEM ARTICLES
A: Accept the 2019 Annual Town Report. APPROVED.
B: Expend Chapter 9 funds allocated to the town. APPROVED.
C: Donate to Action Inc., $4,000; HAWC, $3,000; Senior Care, $3,100; Open Door, $5,000. APPROVED.
D: Add the following to pay for future expenditures: General Stabilization Fund, $50,000; Capital Reserve Stabilization Fund, $200,000; Special Education Stabilization Fund, $200,000; Conservation Trust Fund, $450. APPROVED.
E: Pay for assessor revaluation expenses. APPROVED.
F: Reserve funds for the unanticipated costs of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, including personnel costs. APPROVED.
G: Transfer available funds to town departments to balance the fiscal 2021 budget. APPROVED.
H: Pay town's share of FEMA mitigation projects at T Wharf, Bradley Wharf, White Wharf, and Pigeon Cove Harbor. APPROVED.
I: Transfer money from the SPED Stabilization Fund to the School Department to pay for fiscal 2021 special education obligations. PASSED
J: Fund the collective bargaining agreement between the town and AFSCME Local 1679 — General Unit union. APPROVED.
K: Impose a 3% community impact fee on the transfer of occupancy of a short-term rental in a "professionally-managed unit." APPROVED.
L: Impose a 3% community impact fee on the transfer of occupancy of a short-erm rental located in a two-family or three-family dwelling that includes the operator's primary residence. APPROVED.
M: Ban adding any fluoridation products to municipal water supplies. By citizen petition. POSTPONED
N: Designate the town-owned Parcel 26-81 on Straitsmouth Way for environmental preservation. By citizen petition. POSTPONED
O: Refuse any and all deposition of radioactive gasses, fallout particles or any form of ionizing radiation discharge in town. By citizen petition. POSTPONED
P: Recognize the intrinsic value of natural lands in their natural historic state. By citizen petition. POSTPONED
Q: Instate a three-year term limit for selectmen. By citizen petition. POSTPONED
R: Prohibit compensation for elected town officials, excluding the town clerk and moderator. By citizen petition. POSTPONED
S: Remove the cottages at Long Beach and replace them with an ecologically sustainable parking lot and walking paths. By citizen petition. POSTPONED
T: Receive and act upon the report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Town Water Supply and extend the term of the committee. APPROVED.
Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or email@example.com.