Rowe voters back park addition, two-town fire district

Roughly 25 residents gather at Rowe Elementary School for Monday’s Annual Town Meeting.

Roughly 25 residents gather at Rowe Elementary School for Monday’s Annual Town Meeting. STAFF PHOTO/ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

By ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

Staff Writer

Published: 05-14-2024 2:48 PM

ROWE — Residents voted in favor of a non-binding resolution to create a shared fire district with Charlemont, to use a portion of town land on Pond Road for park and recreational purposes, and to change the town clerk position from elected to appointed during Monday’s Annual Town Meeting.

Roughly 25 residents gathered at Rowe Elementary School for a roughly one-hour-long Annual Town Meeting that followed a three-article Special Town Meeting.

Residents approved most of the 27 warrant articles, including the town’s roughly $5.29 million fiscal year 2025 budget (Article 7), unanimously without discussion. Residents also approved a residential property tax increase from $5.01 per $1,000 valuation to $5.29 per $1,000 valuation while the town completes the second year of a $1.85 million road resurfacing project.

Article 21, which asked voters to designate an approximately 2-acre wooded parcel of town-owned on Pond Road for park purposes, inspired discussion, with some residents suggesting the land be left as it is, or approved for park purposes under the condition that the town add language protecting residents’ right to hunt on the land.

Resident Fred Williams said since the parcel was set up to be designated parkland in accordance with the “Percy Brown covenant,” or the use restrictions established for the Pelham Lake Park land donated to the town by Percy Brown, hunting would likely not be permitted there.

“There’s one in the language either in the deed or the language of the vote in the Town Meeting has ‘parcels acquired for park purposes,’” Williams explained. “If the sentiment is strong enough [we can] change the wording to allow hunting on this little 2-acre parcel.”

Residents voted to strike references to the covenant from Article 21 before passing it unanimously.

Voters later passed Article 24 unanimously, allowing the town to pursue a shared fire district with the town of Charlemont and to establish a district-wide Prudential Committee to expend the funds approved by district meetings.

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According to a statement provided by the Rowe Fire Department, the district would help the two towns combine firefighting equipment and staffing resources to provide better mutual aid services. Rowe Fire also noted that the district’s creation would take about four years after the article’s passage.

“These changes are going to require a huge increase in administration time, record keeping, modifications to current stations, medical physicals for responders, certification for firefighters and officers along with what we are currently burdened with,” the Fire Department stated.

After discussion, residents also passed Articles 22 and 23 to amend the town’s general bylaws, making the town clerk position a Selectboard-appointed position, rather than its current status as an elected position. According to Selectboard Chair Chuck Sokol, the change is intended to allow the town to promptly fill the position in the event of a sudden resignation or if the town clerk is not satisfactorily performing required duties.

“We have been very fortunate in that the last several town clerks we’ve had are effective at their role,” Sokol said. “That’s not necessarily always the case and when there is an elected position that is derelict in their duties, which are very important duties, the mechanism to remove or replace that official is through a recall election.”

In response to resident Bill Reardon’s concern that the power of elections should be left to residents, and not local government bodies, Finance Committee Chair Dan Pallotta noted that an elected official could, in theory, be absent for three years and remain on the town’s payroll.

“It’s a modern world now and we need checks and balances, unfortunately,” Pallotta said.

Monday’s meeting concluded with the announcement that after roughly seven years serving on the Selectboard, Sokol will not seek reelection in Saturday’s town election. In an interview, Sokol said he will soon be moving to Braintree. Bill Baker, who formerly owned Baker Office Supply in Greenfield, will run for Sokol’s position through a write-in campaign.

“The town of Rowe is a delightful town and is well supported by its community,” Sokol said. “It’s been a pleasure to serve on the Selectboard. I felt very supported in that role, but life takes different turns and it was time for a change.”

Anthony Cammalleri can be reached at acammalleri@recorder.com or 413-930-4429.