First remotely held City Council meeting passes tax relief package for downtown project, establishes fast-track loans for biz

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Tax relief for the Snow Block sailed through unanimously. (Courtesy photo)

Editor's note: While the Rochester City Council is meeting remotely, The Rochester Voice will be publishing public comments. The comments appear below this story.

ROCHESTER - The City Council in its first ever remote meeting moved swiftly through passage of several COVID-related resolutions on Tuesday night as well as approving property tax relief for the former Snow Block at 28 North Main Street.

The meeting, which lasted about an hour, moved cumbersomely as every vote had to be tallied by voice vote individually.

The 79-E property tax relief resolution passed unanimously with no discussion.

The former Snow Block is being developed by local Realtor Paul Delisle of Rochester, who is looking to renovate the vacant building to include two commercial spaces and three new apartments located in the rear of the building.

According to papers filed with the city, Delisle is asking for seven years of property tax relief, during which the improved property would remain assessed at or near its current assessment.

Included in the $125,000 renovation project would be structural improvements, interior modifications and upgrades to electrical, heating and plumbing systems. The biggest ticket upgrade is a $55,000 sprinkler system.

Built in 1917, the Snow block currently has 7,391 of square footage.

The City Council also approved being part of the Tri-City's formal request for state and federal financial assistance related to the COVID-19 pandemic and to set up a micro loan program designed to get some money into the hands of Rochester businesses suffering financially from the crisis. The low-interest loan money would come from city economic development funds, according to city Economic Development Director Michael Scala.

The $50,000 program would disburse up to $5,000 to local businesses that applied for the loans, which would be fast-tracked to get the money out quickly to help with things like payroll and inventory, Scala said.

Scala said applicants would likely need only a couple of years of tax returns to show their ability to repay the low-interest loans.

City Councilor Jim Gray opposed the move saying it put the city in competition with FEMA and other state and federal programs doing the same thing.

The resolution passed with only Gray opposed.

The council also adopted a policy by which they will continue to meet remotely while all other city board meetings are postponed indefinitely.

Public comments

Meanwhile, during the public hearing, only two residents made comments regarding Tuesday's agenda. Both comments were read as promised by City Manager Blaine Cox and appear below as well.

Comments from Ray Barnett:

Thanks for giving the public a chance to submit our concerns on the issues that will be discussed this evening during the PUBLIC HEARING.

I believe all submissions should be read into the record instead of just making them an addendum to the Council packet. Not all taxpayers/residents have access to the internet. Some just get information from watching the council meetings. Some from the newspaper.

By not reading the submissions into the record, you are not being transparent.

The opinions of residents will not be heard.

You could speak to, or discuss opinions favorable to your position and fail to speak to or discussion opinions that oppose your position. So, I ask that you reconsider your position and read the submissions into the public record.

I have some questions that I will be asking, and I hope that answers will be forthcoming. I have asked at several council meetings how is a resident supposed to get answers to questions asked at a public hearing. By your own rules of order, you don't have to answer any questions. Great way to treat residents of the city.

To date, the Mayor, City Manager and even my own Ward 1 Councilors have not reached out with answers. Transparency at its finest? Since you have received theses submissions in advance, maybe you will provide answers or at the very least have a real discussion on the issues put forth by the public.

I am opposed to the supplemental appropriation for $100,000 dollars for the Assessing Departments request to purchase Assessing software. If the current software is junk and doesn't work as advertised, I'm OK with getting software that works, but not through a supplemental appropriation. The budget is in process and that money should be part of the 2021 budget and tax cap calculation. The city uses supplemental appropriations way too often and justify way too easy.

The assessing department completed the citywide reeevaluation which was a huge project. They got through it. It may have been harder than it should have been, but they got it done. Kudos to the assessing department. The Assessing office can wait another few months to get the new software.

What recourse does the city have against Patriot Properties? How much money did the city pay Patriot Comments from Ray Barnett Properties? Is the city seeking a refund? Will the city spend money to take Patriot Properties to court? Don't spend too much money, the city doesn't have a good track record in court. Do supplemental appropriations by-pass the budget? Does that money become part of the following year's tax cap calculations?

I am opposed to the $1,664,787.00 dollar transfer from the general fund unassigned fund balance to the school building capital reserve fund. I really want to figure out this scam you're trying to pull off. In your summary statement, there was a "surplus" of $4,742,193.00 as confirmed by the independent auditor. Half of that surplus is $2,371,096.

Back at the January 7, 2020 council meeting, the council voted on various resolutions to use general fund unassigned balance surplus to the tune of $4,609,373. Of those funds, $1,237,541 was for school items, $270,000 was for CTE renovations and $1,038,000 to the school department for God knows what. A total cash, use of unassigned fund balance, of $2,545,541 was for the school department.

So, of the $4,609,373, only $2,063,832 was for city items. Again, the school gets the biggest chunk of funds. So with the votes taken at the January 7th meeting, the "surplus" of the general fund unassigned balanced was "used".

Now, there is a resolution asking to transfer $1,664,787 from the general fund unassigned fund balance to the school building capital reserve fund. In the summary statement it states that there was $4,742,193 of "surplus". Well you blew through that ($4,609,373) at the January 7th meeting. You don't get to use that number again. You used it. That surplus is gone! After the resolutions passed and adjustment were made for host fees and municipal aid, the new revised estimated unassigned fund balance was about $15.4 million or 15.50% of the unassigned fund balance. What is the current unassigned fund balance as of 3/31/2020? So the total supplemental appropriations (if this resolution passes) to the school department for this year, will be $4,210,328.

By passing the budget process by 4.2 million dollars. Good job. That should help cover next year's increase in wages and benefits for the school department and you'll be able to sing the praises that the budget came in under the tax cap.

You should be proud of yourselves for trying to pull this scam off on the taxpayers of Rochester. You need to stop feeding your family and friends in the school department tons of cash at the taxpayers' expense. Why bother having a budget cycle. You do what you darn well please anyway. I'm sure you will enjoy this year's budget hearing meetings with no one present to voice opposition to your wants and wants. I am opposed to the supplemental appropriation and authorizing borrowing authority in the amount of $300,000 dollars for the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System Permit Technical and Legal Assistance. Again, the budget is in process and these funds should be part of the 2021 budget process and tax cap calculations.

What is the goal for spending this money? How much money will be spent by other cities and town to prove the science? Are all the cities and towns paying their fair share?

Again, I oppose this resolution for a supplemental appropriation and authority to borrow $300,000.

Ray Barnett Crimson Lane

Lou Archambault

224 Chesley Hill Rd

Rochester NH

Thank You for this opportunity to address the City Council

Up to what point must the "Tax Paying" Citizens put up with this Cities on-going "THIRST" to accommodate their feel good projects? The HUBRIS of this City Counsel and It's willingness to FUNNEL money out of the Taxpayers pockets is Out of CONTROL...

Lou Archambault photo of bicycle signage.

Whether it's "purchasing" Junkyard Art, made up of JUNK that "HAD" a maximum street value of no more than $50... paying a paltry $4,000 to line city streets. Or - continuing to paint the outrageously ineffective bicycle Stencils and lanes. Example - Union Street ...bicycles have the WHOLE road. I need not say more. 2 photos are included showing this project. They were taken on OCTOBER 16, 2019. Yet - a Developer offered to paint a white line down Chesley Hill Rd., to address Residents SAFETY concerns... was DISMISSED as Labor Intensive.

Lou Archambault photo of 'Do not Block' pavement marking

A World Wide Disease... is changing the life we knew.. Businesses are closed - employees furloughed Yet, you're planning to "Repurpose" city employees.... to do what? You are designating "every Employee" Essential in order to continue paying them Businesses can't do that. We can't afford that.... Does the City have a "Priority Chart" to identify what is absolutely essential to Operate the city... During a CRISIS - I seriously doubt this. NOW - you're looking for a paltry $100,000 for the Assessing Departments Computer Software. This is ABSURD Repurposing city employees ? For WHAT purpose? City Management has failed. Since the BEGINNING of this Worldwide Virus. You've shown you're incapable of ADDRESSING Priorities It's - All Systems Go - regardless Streets across the country are empty

Hospitals / Rest Homes = families barred from seeing their love ones The REALITY is many may NEVER see their family again. *** Tonight's PROPOSED Agenda needs to be shelved....

Thank You These were taken - October 16, 2019 Was this work considered essential .. and had to be done before it snows ? Lot entrance by old Fosters Building ..... was " Do Not Block " necessary.

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