Count Down to the Annual Town Meeting Begins
By Gregory T. Federspiel
Over the course of the coming weeks leading up to the Annual Town Meeting scheduled for April 6 I will focus on specific warrant articles that voters will be asked to consider. In this column I will summarize four unique articles that are on tap for this year’s Annual Meeting.
First, however, let me take a moment to address the growing concerns over the coronavirus or COVID-19. Our Public Safety personnel and Board of Health members and staff are closely following this illness. The state’s Department of Public Health is hosting conference calls in which we are participating. While the threat remains low we are taking concrete steps to be prepared in case the disease spreads to our community. Guidance on what you can do to be prepared is available through the Town’s website. We will provide regular updates to you and alert you if more aggressive actions are needed. In the meantime keep washing hands and stay home if you are not feeling well!
Articles 1-10 of the warrant for this year’s Annual Town Meeting cover the usual items from acceptance of reports to the various budgets, including operating and capital budgets for the Town and School District. Articles 11-14 address unique topics. Article 11 asks voters to amend the bylaw that created the Manchester Affordable Housing Trust. The current bylaw that voters approved a few years ago has an unnecessarily cumbersome requirement that the names of the Trustees must be recorded in the Registry of Deeds. Article 11 proposes that we remove this requirement as a way to simplify the process of naming Trustees.
In Article 12, voters are being asked to approve a local option bylaw that will allow the Town to place a lien on a property for any unpaid utility bills. Without this authority, we occasionally run into a problem where a tenant has not paid a bill, leaves town, and we have no ability to collect what is owed the Town. By approving Article 12, voters will be giving us the option of requiring the landlord to ultimately pay a past due bill.
Whether or not to impose a 6% room occupancy tax is the question Article 13 places before voters. All of our neighboring communities have adopted this local option. And while the Old Corner Inn is our only formal lodging establishment, the room tax would also apply to short term rentals that have sprung up throughout town through such services as Airbnb or VRBO. The renters are already paying a state room tax under a revised state law. The local room tax would be collected by the state and given to the town on a quarterly basis. This new revenue stream can provide some relieve to our need for higher property taxes.
Finally, Article 14 asks voters to approve the purchase of a 12 acre parcel in the “Western Woods”. The land is currently surrounded on three sides by lands already owned by the Town and has no road frontage. Thus its development potential is very limited. The assessed value and purchase price is only $60,000 and we are proposing using previously set aside Community Preservation Funds to complete the purchase. The land would be subject to a permanent conservation easement held by a third party. Improvements to the land would be limited to upgrading the existing logging road for management access or access to other conservation or recreational lands. Acquiring this piece is part of a larger strategy of creating an important conservation area of some 500 acres in the western corner of Town, over 300 of which are already protected and advances of one of the key goals of the recently adopted master plan.