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From the Town Administrator's Desk

Jun 01

From the Town Administrator's Desk - June 1, 2023

Posted on June 1, 2023 at 8:36 PM by Tiffany Marletta

June 1, 2023
The Tuck’s Point Rotunda
By Gregory T. Federspiel

The iconic Rotunda at Tuck’s Point needs major rehabilitation.  The existing supporting pilings are at the end of their useful life and need to be replaced. As part of replacing these supports that hold the Rotunda up over the water, the Rotunda and the pier leading to it need to be raised up some 4.5 feet per FEMA/Army Corp regulations.  The higher elevation is needed to better protect the structures from bigger storm surges and sea level rise for the next fifty years.  

Our consulting engineers have developed four different alternatives for the project.  With each alternative, timber pilings and steel pilings were considered.  Longer life span for steel make them the preferred choice. The first alternative is to use the existing footprint and raise the structures up to an elevation 19’ NAVD88 (from the current 14.6’ NAVD88) in the same place they are today. This will require moving the Rotunda at least a couple of times.  The estimated cost of Alternative 1B is $2.24 million.

Alternative 2 proposes to extend the pier and have the Rotunda further out over the water.  Now that the adjacent floats have been moved further out already, there is room to have the Rotunda further out as well.   One advantage of this approach is the rotunda itself could remain where it is and moved once onto the newly installed supports. Again, the pier and Rotunda would be raised up about 4.5 feet.   Extending out a bit further also improves the view out of the harbor from the Rotunda.  The cost of this option is estimated to be $2.50 million.

Alternative 3 calls for relocating the rotunda onto land.  Just to the left of the walkway as you face the Rounda is an existing picnic knoll.  The Rotunda could be placed here, also at the same elevation as proposed by the on-water alternatives – 19’ NAVD88.  The pier would remain and raised to 19”NAVD88.  Bringing the Rotunda landward provides additional protection to the structure during a major storm.  But the inland location gives up the views and other aesthetic qualities of the Rotunda out over the water.  The estimated cost of this third alternative is about $1.75 million.

The fourth alternative is to do the first alternative in two stages – replace the pier and Rotunda within the existing footprint but elevate it in two phases.  Phase 1 would increase the elevation some 2.5 feet to 17’ NAVD88 and then, about 25 years later, raise everything again to 19’NAVD88.  The cost of Phase 1 is roughly $2.16 million.  The cost of Phase 11 some 25 years out is estimated to be another $3.64 million.  

Tuck’s Point is one of the Town’s most scenic spots.  The Rotunda says “Manchester” perhaps just as much as Singing Beach – more so for some. Preserving the Rotunda is not a vote I would expect to be close.  But we do need to make decisions about what alternative is best going forward.  The over-water locations will be much preferred, but they are more vulnerable to storm damage.  Giving up the on-water location feels like a betrayal to the Town’s heritage and underscores how hard adapting to sea level rise will be.

In addition to deciding on the location for a rebuilt Rotunda, how to fund the project also needs to be answered.  We received state support to help pay for the engineering work done to date.  We are in a good position to apply for construction funds as well (up to $1.0 million).  One option for funding the remainder is to consider increasing the Community Preservation tax surcharge.  Currently it is at 1.5%.  Going to 3% would generate enough funds to bond for the Rotunda project as well as for the reconstruction of Sweeney Park, another large project on the horizon.  By raising the surcharge to 3% we also become eligible for additional state CPC funding.

The Select Board will host the first public forum on the Rotunda project at their meeting coming up on Tuesday, June 20.  The Board invites your input.




May 31

From the Town Administrator's Desk - May 25, 2023

Posted on May 31, 2023 at 4:27 PM by Tiffany Marletta

May 25, 2023
Next Steps for the School Budget
By Gregory T. Federspiel

As many residents know, the proposed School District budget did not receive the needed Proposition 2 1/2 override in Essex. Essex approved a lower amount which, because of the apportionment formula, would also lower the amount Manchester approved, resulting in nearly $800,000 less in District spending for the new fiscal year that begins July 1,2023. The School Committee is currently working through options with the aim of voting on a path forward at their meeting on June 6.

This past Tuesday, May 23, the School Committee hosted a public hearing to offer residents from both communities an opportunity to express their preferred approaches to getting to an approved budget. A large turnout packed the cafeteria and many more joined virtually expressing strong support for the budget that was presented at the annual town meetings. In addition to concerned parents, supportive empty-nesters and worried teachers, a large contingent of current students and recent graduates voiced their support for programs that are on a tentative list to be reduced or eliminated. Passionate, often emotional comments were delivered to the School Committee advocating for sticking with the proposed budget that was approved at the annual town meetings in both towns but failed the ballot override question in Essex.

Prior to the School Committee hearing the Manchester Finance Committee and the Select Board met to discuss the overall situation. Given the defeat of the proposed override at the ballot, the consensus of the two bodies was that the School Committee should advance a compromise budget, one that would require a smaller override vote for Essex.  If a reduced overall budget was approved the two towns would avoid the necessity of holding a joint town meeting.  The two boards also recommend that the School Committee should consider potential cuts across the board and not focus on any one area. Additional recommendations included using all school choice funds annually, revisiting the amount of reserves being carried by the District and pursuing new revenues (fees for specialized programs, etc.).

There is also interest in beginning a new process involving the two towns and the School Committee aimed at examining new approaches that may bring about higher efficiencies while advancing quality education.   Regardless of how the FY24 budget gets resolved, there remains the longer-term issue of stable funding for the District.  To avoid annual struggles over budgets new agreements are needed on the level of funding the residents are willing to support. Determining what type of school system residents want and how the two towns should best pay for the system will require a concerted effort to engage voters.

One of the issues that complicates getting to an approved budget is shifting demographics and enrollment patterns from Manchester and Essex. How much each town contributes to the district is based on three factors – the number of students from each town, the total population in each community, and the total value of all properties in each town. The latter two factors are fairly stable. Enrollment patterns have fluctuated.  It was not that long ago that Manchester was adding more students relative to Essex and thus Manchester was picking up a bigger share of the annual increase in the District’s budget. The enrollment pattern has now changed.  Manchester’s student population has declined relative to Essex’s causing Essex to now pick up a larger share of any proposed annual increase. Thus, a District wide increase in spending of say 3% can turn into a 5% increase for Essex and only a 2% increase in Manchester. This is a reversal of what was happening for many years prior to the past few years. Enrollment patterns are smoothed out over a three-year period per the regional school agreement.  

Once a new budget is approved by the School Committee new special town meetings will be needed in each town. These are likely to take place in late June. If the new budget requires an override in Essex, a special election will be needed to approve the override. If this second round of votes was to fail in either community, a third try would be needed. This third try would be a joint town meeting with a majority vote of the combined attendees. A third try would not be dependent on an override vote. The joint vote is binding on both towns.


The month of June and possibly July will be important ones for determining next year’s budget for the regional school district.  


May 19

From the Town Administrator's Desk - May 19, 2023

Posted on May 19, 2023 at 9:19 AM by Tiffany Marletta

May 19, 2023
Water Use and Rates
By Gregory T. Federspiel

The Water Resources Task Force, comprised of citizen volunteers with a range of helpful expertise, has been hard at work for over a year looking into many aspects of the Town’s drinking water system. A final report by the Task Force is forthcoming in the next couple of months. One area of investigation has been the role more conservative use of water can play in ensuring an ample supply of water despite the changes we are witnessing in weather patterns and other challenges.

The group first did an analysis of the past 10 years of water use. The analysis confirmed what then Select Board member Eli Boling had researched back in 2018 when the town first introduced a tiered rate structure to try to encourage through pricing better water conservation. Manchester residents on average use more water per capita than most other communities in the area and throughout the state. Residents use some 50% more water per capita than the neighboring town average. We are amongst the top 10 heaviest users amongst 287 Massachusetts towns and cities. (These numbers do not include any commercial users, which account for <5% of our metered usage of drinking water.)

The state’s target is a maximum of 65 gallons of water use per capita per day (GPCPD). Manchester residents are more than 20% above this target at an average of 78.5 GPCPD. However, there is a wide range within this average. The 50% of households with the lightest usage consume about 26 GPCPD while the other 50% of higher-usage households consume 126 GPCPD. Indeed, half our drinking water is consumed by only 17% of households.

Seasonal variation in town is also exceptional (and not in a good way). Summertime use is more than double wintertime use. This ratio is also much higher than neighboring communities where summer averages are 1.4 -1.65 times higher than winter use. Again, there is a wide range here. Many Manchester residents are similar to our neighbors. But others increase their summer use of drinking water to 4 times their winter use. Summer irrigation is the main reason for this high seasonal fluctuation.

The news is not all bad. About 2/3rds of all households in Manchester are already conservative users of drinking water having a per capita use below the state’s target. And during last summer’s drought, residents responded across all user levels to lower consumption. This allowed us to weather the drought without any fears of running too low on our water supply.

Manchester has benefited enormously from the foresight of leaders more than 100 years ago, ensuring that we’d have both highly productive wells and our own reservoir. Being more conservative with water use is an important tool to preserving this legacy as well as the reliability of our water supply. At a minimum, it provides a buffer against future unknowns. As we think about ways to implement wiser use of our water supply three key steps have been identified by the Task Force.

New, state of the art water meters can provide each household with real time data on how much water is being consumed. These meters allow you to monitor your daily consumption. This is useful in many ways, from quickly detecting a leaking fixture to challenging yourself to lower your consumption while tracking how you are doing. These new meters are designed to remain very accurate over time and would allow the town to go on a more frequent billing cycle which again is helpful in reminding people to conserve water. In addition, the Water Division will shortly change its bills to report your drinking water usage in gallons instead of the opaque HCF (hundred cubic feet).

With so much of our water use going towards irrigation needs, a focus on more efficient strategies to irrigate (e.g.: drip vs aerial spraying) and refocusing on more native plants that do not require as much water can be another significant way to reduce water consumption. Meadows can be as beautiful as manicured lawns – and with the many side benefits to wildlife, the meadows can provide greater joy. Communities in the southwest are paying residents to replace their lawns with more native landscapes to significantly reduce water consumption. There are lessons to be learned here.

Lastly, the rate structure for water bills can be adjusted to influence behavior. Our current rate structure, while charging more to higher users, does not appear to be much of a deterrent; the per-gallon differential is relatively modest between low- and high-usage households compared to other models aimed at conservation (today our highest rates are about 40% above our lowest rates) The Task Force has asked the Select Board to consider consolidating our six volume-based rate tiers to four and implementing a much more progressive tiers for households using significantly more than the recommended 65 GPCPD. . The proposed structure would reduce water bills for the majority of households and increase water bills for higher usage. The very highest-usage households (about 3% of all users) would see their bills increase fairly dramatically, up to 3 times what they are currently paying, unless of course they find ways to conserve drinking water.

The Select Board will be considering these approaches in the coming months as they review the recommendations of the Task Force. Any changes to rates must be considered at a future public hearing.