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Rowe defeats ‘special event’ bylaw



Recorder Staff
Wednesday, May 16, 2018

ROWE — Annual Town Meeting voters said “yes” to everything except a special Event bylaw that would have required residents to get a town permit to hold a party or any gathering of 30 or more people on private property.

The meeting began with Selectman Chuck Sokol asking to “table” the controversial issue, which he had proposed as a means of preventing conflicts in town regarding acceptable noise levels. Sokol, who initially petitioned for the bylaw, said he was now asking to table it because of residents’ concerns and because it needed more work. If voters tabled the measure, he said, it would go to the town’s Bylaw Committee to be rewritten.

But opponents wanted to see it defeated.

“I have concerns about tabling, if it’s going to be brought back up in a backroom,” said Ramone Sanchez. “It has some Big Brother aspects. It’s like a rabid coyote,” he added. “It ought to be put down.”

“I just wanted to say how appalled I was, when I first read it,” said playwright Jean-Claude van Itallie, director of the Shantigar Foundation for theater arts and healing. Alluding to his family’s flight from Belgium during the Holocaust, when he was a child, van Itallie said, “We came to Rowe for freedom. The idea of having to get a permit to play music is fascistic.”

Ultimately, residents rejected tabling the issue, but voted unanimously to defeat the article. Several left Town Meeting after that vote was taken.

In other business, voters approved taking the Rowe tuition formula out of the Mohawk Trail Regional School District agreement and trusting the Rowe and Mohawk school committees to negotiate tuition without requiring annual town meeting approval of all Mohawk towns. The latest tuition agreement reached between Rowe and Mohawk is for Rowe to pay the average per-pupil assessment that Mohawk towns pay.

Voters approved all town spending, which could result in a 22-cent tax rate hike. The estimated tax rate for residential homes will be $7.08 per $1,000 valuation and $15.19 per $1,000 for commercial/industrial and personal property, which is the tax rate paid for utility equipment and property.

Items approved for the approaching fiscal year budget are: $367,765 for general government; $595,898 for public works; $136,180 for public safety; $137,868 for health and sanitation; $69,500 for the library; and $112,207 for park wages and maintenance.

School spending

Total school spending of $1,588,908 brought forth an annual debate over whether the town needs to operate its own elementary school. Projected tuition costs for Grades 7 through 12 students to go to the Mohawk Trail Regional School came to $410,598, while costs to operate the Rowe Elementary School for pre-K through Grade 6 comes to $1.73 million. For the coming school year, according to Rowe Principal Bill Knittle, the school will have 23 Rowe students and 42 School Choice students, with the sending schools paying only $5,000 per student, as is the state law.

Resident Michael Phillips argued that the school “is a strain on our finances,” and that Rowe is subsidizing the educational costs for all the School Choice students. “If we’re talking about 23 students, and we were to send them all to Bement,” he said, referring to the private boarding school in Deerfield, “we’d probably save thousands of dollars.”

“If we’re down to about 20 (local) students, what’s it going to look like for the next 20 years? And what are we doing to address the demographics,” asked John Baldwin.

“Right now, our town has more elderly than young families,” said Mary Page. “But if we don’t put money toward the school, that’s all we’re going to have. If we want our town to thrive, we have to have a reason to thrive. People (who grew up in Rowe) are coming back,” she added. “If we want our town to live, we have to keep our school.”

School Committee member Janet Cowle said the school costs are mostly “fixed costs” and that they stay the same whether there are 22 students or 75.

“School Choice money is what’s keeping the school a top-notch school,” said Superintendent Jonathan Lev. “We’re able to buy programs like Spanish and psychological services. If we didn’t have school choice students, we would not have some programs. And it would be very difficult for 22 students to get a good education in this building. You would have two classes — and it wouldn’t work.”

Voters also supported spending $7,000 for an “Assessor’s Utility Transmission and Distribution Valuation Project,” to hire an expert utility assessor to evaluate such utility-owned lines and equipment in Rowe. Finance Committee member Ellen Miller said it would help the town determine whether any reduced valuation proposed by National Grid was accurate. Heath’s recent utility valuation reduction of $3.5 million by National Grid was mentioned as an example of what Rowe wanted to avoid.

Residents approved spending $65,200 from the Capital Stabilization Fund for a DPW truck, lawn tractor, library handicap ramp, Town Hall heating and cooling, and a new energy-efficient front door for Town Hall.