By Tanner Harding | Oct 17, 2016
ROCHESTER — As voters walked into Rochester Memorial School for Monday night’s Fall Town Meeting, they were handed a green sheet of paper urging them to “vote no on article 4.” And that’s what they did.
The fourth article on the agenda asked voters to transfer $20,000 to study options for the Town Hall and Town Hall Annex space issue.
The town’s departments have long outgrown the aged Town Hall and when it became too crowded, some departments moved into the Town Hall Annex. The annex, which is actually the Rochester Woman’s Club, costs the town $30,000 a year to lease.
To try and fix the space issue for town employees, the Town Hall Annex Committee has explored options such as renovating the current Town Hall, building an annex building, or building a bigger building that could function as both.
At a meeting in May, the committee decided the best course of action was to construct a new building on Dexter Lane that would fit all the departments. However, after a lot of pushback from residents about the cost, Chair of the Town Annex Committee Richard Cutler said at Monday’s Town Meeting that the committee isn’t endorsing any particular option anymore, and that members are willing to keep an open mind.
“Based on forums we’ve held, we are not making any recommendation tonight,” Cutler said. “That’s why we want to hire a professional. We’re not one hundred percent sure what the best option is.”
Resident Ben Bailey spoke up first and in favor of the project, saying he knows taxes are already high but that the working conditions for employees in both buildings are unsatisfactory.
He also said that spending the $20,000 for the study didn’t commit the town to continue moving forward, but could help the town get outside grants and funding.
“If we don’t have this study done when a grant comes up, we won’t get the grant,” he said. “This study is good for ten years. It’s nothing but something that opens doors for us.”
Other residents were not so optimistic.
“I think it’s a pipe dream to think we would get funding on any level,” resident David Eckert said. “This seems like an enormous waste of money, and the people advocating it need to go back to the drawing board. There are cheaper ways to deal with the problems.”
A couple of residents suggested building an annex to save money; however, Facilities Manager Andrew Daniel said that Town Hall still needs improvements.
“Just an annex is fine, but we need to make modifications to the present building for handicap accessibilities,” he said. “There’s no handicap bathroom. There’s a handicap ramp to nowhere. You get inside and can’t go anywhere, the doors aren’t wide enough.”
Cutler added that even if the town decided just to build an annex, it would still need to spend the $20,000 for the study due to state requirements.
Kristian Stoltenberg, chair of the Finance Committee, said that he thinks the Finance Committee should work with the Annex Committee to make a more detailed presentation for Annual Town Meeting.
“At the spring meeting we’ll have a better idea of where our budget will be,” he said. “I’d like to flesh out some issues from the financial side of it and get more input from the Finance Committee in the planning.”
Ultimately, residents voted 106-26 against the article.
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