By: Ray Lamont

ROCKPORT — When town residents gathered for their fall Town Meeting Monday night, some of their first votes came to allocate their community preservation tax dollars to carry out the dredging of Mill Pond, the rehabbing of their historic Pigeon Cove Fire Station, and four other projects.

Calling out emphatic "ayes" on voice votes, the 227 voters in Rockport High School’s John Lane Performing Arts Center gave their approvals both to steer $250,000 into the latest phase of the Mill Pond and Millbrook Meadow project, and $300,000 to shore up and restore the exterior of the 1877 vintage Pigeon Cove station.

The proposals were the most extensive of the six community preservation projects to be funded through a projected pool of $540,000 in this fiscal year's revenues through the Community Preservation Act and through a CPA reserve fund.

Rockport's CPA revenues come in large part from a 3 percent surcharge on property taxes approved by voters in 2003 and then maintained through another vote in 2008, explained Ruth George, who chairs the Community Preservation Committee. The rest of the money is allocated by the state to CPA communities through partially matching funds raised through deeds fees.

Town Meeting voters also gave approval Monday to a series of financial "house cleaning" measures, as Moderator Robert Visnick called them, paying lingering bills from past fiscal years, covering costs of budget items approved in last April's Annual Town Meeting and other funding transfers, and accepting guidelines for establishing a town commission on disability.

In addition, voters voiced their approval of granting an easement for a long-existing extension of a porch, outdoor staircase and landscaping that carries over town land on Bearskin Neck's Old Harbor Road.

They were also discussing the pros and cons of establishing a town-based bylaw regulating the placement of aircraft landing areas — notably, but not limited to helicopters — at a late hour Monday night.

The two high-cost proposals within Article E — covering the six proposals for CPA funding — generated a number of questions, yet also gained approval though convincing voice votes.

In outlining the proposed Mill Pond allocation, George — whose committee had received 12 proposals and narrowed the field to six to bring to town meeting — noted the allocation before voters Monday night followed the approval of another $350,000 at April's town meeting, and would complete the funding needed to dredge and clean up the pond.

Sarah Wilkinson, who serves on the Board of Selectmen, was among those making the case for approving the pond project funding.

"I always try to look at community preservation projects as those that generally can't be done with (budgeted) town money," she said, "things that make the town a special place. This is one of those projects."

Granite Street resident Toby Arsenian was among those who disagreed.

"We should think not just of spending this money on something we'd like to have, but on the best possible use of the money," he argued. "And if we are going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, we should be buying land to preserve for open space — particularly in our watershed," he added to a smattering of applause. Moments later, however, voters gave the funding their approval.

The approval for the money to replace the roof and carry out other improvements to the Pigeon Cove station came after questions not over whether the work is needed, but whether the town should seek to replace the station altogether.

George noted the town has pursued that option in the past and explored potential sites, "but nothing has worked out," she said.

June Michaels noted the idea of seeking land on which to build a new Pigeon Cove station is not easy to come by.

"It has to be central, it has to be on Granite Street," she said, referring to the street that cuts through the town's northern village. "We can't just put a new Pigeon Cove fire station at the end of Thatcher Road."

Fire Department Capt. Phil Tanson and firefighter Steve DeMarco were among those making the case for rehabbing the tiny station, which houses a rescue truck and a $400,000 pumper that had to be specially built to fit inside it in 2009.

"I've been a member of this company for 30 years," Tanson said, "and that station is like my second home."

The voters also backed CPA projects by approving:

$15,000 for providing plantings, topsoil and other improvements for Sandpiper Park at the end of South Street.

$42,000 for replacing or repairing the basketball court at Pingree Park.

$100,000 for upgrading a boat ramp for taking passengers to Straitsmouth Island.

$38,000 for the rehabilitation and repairs to a town tennis court at Long Beach.

For more meeting coverage, check back here to gloucestertimes.com and look to Wednesday's edition of the Gloucester Daily Times.

Staff writer Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or via email at rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.

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