Rochester Selectmen declare coronavirus state of emergency

Mar 19, 2020

ROCHESTER — Selectmen declared the town to be in a state of emergency to access additional funding and took a number of other coronavirus-related measures at their March 16 meeting.

With Town Hall, other town buildings and schools already closed, the state of emergency changes very little about the town in a practical sense, but allows the town to access additional funding. It will continue until Selectmen judge it is no longer needed.

Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar said that town election may be “postponed for a while,” but Selectmen nevertheless signed a warrant for the election, currently scheduled for April 8.

Town Counsel Blair Bailey said that there are bills before the legislature to allow the town to move the election and Town Meeting date around to accommodate coronavirus shutdowns. The town’s other legislative option would be to get a court order to move those dates. Bailey said those bills should come before the legislature no later by March 18.

Interim Town Clerk Paul Dawson said Rochester could not move forward with signing the election warrant, but it would have to choose another polling place and notify all residents, which would be costly and require too much manpower for one part-time clerk.

Another bill before the state legislature would propose changes to Town Meeting that could reduce quorum requirements, or allow for remote access. If the town cannot have a Town Meeting by the next fiscal year, Bailey said it could continue month to month with last year’s budget numbers until it can call the meeting to approve the budget.

Selectmen also formally put a pause on meetings for two weeks, starting March 17. The town will revisit the decision at that time, or may explore technological alternatives, like using Facebook Live for hearings, since the only real requirement for hearings under new state recommendations is that they be held in real time.

The board also requested that residents halt any new building applications “unless there is an immediate need because once they are accepted the clock starts ticking on that,” Bailey said. 

Rochester’s building department can’t inspect occupied residences as of now.

Selectmen also signed an emergency policy relative to coronavirus that spelled out how town employees would be compensated if they  have to self-quarantine.

The board agreed that a reverse 911 system call on March 17 would be a good test to see if the system gets overloaded, a situation that chair Paul Ciaburri said that he “never thought about.”

With Candidates Night canceled, it is up to candidates to make individual arrangements with ORCTV to broadcast their platforms.

Senior Center Director Cheryl Randall-Mach said that she would check in on frailer residents.

There was one piece of good news out of the meeting, as Selectmen acknowledged that “we have a great team,” in the face of a pandemic.