May 07

From the Town Administrator's Desk - May 7, 2021

Posted on May 7, 2021 at 11:38 AM by Tiffany Marletta

A Round-up of Various Efforts
By Gregory T. Federspiel

Time for a series of updates on a range of topics!

Elections and ATM:  We are rapidly approaching election day in town.  Please mark May 18th on your calendars as voting day.  Local elections are on the ballot – moderator, select board member, school committee member, 2 planning board members, 2 library trustees and 2 housing authority members.  A sample ballot can be found on the Town’s web site.  Balloting will take place at the Middle-High School cafeteria from 7AM to 8PM.  Residents may vote by mail. The application form also is available on the Town’s web site and should be completed and sent to the Town Clerk’s Office in time to have a ballot sent to you and returned to Town Hall by election day, May 18.

A delayed Annual Town Meeting is scheduled for June 21 on the football field of at the high school.  The Annual Report along with the Report from the Finance Committee that contains the town meeting articles and proposed budgets will be sent out to all households a week prior to the meeting.  The materials will also be placed on-line once we receive the booklets back from the printer. 

I look forward to these two very important days in the annual cycle of town governance.  These events present critical opportunities for your direct engagement in Town affairs.  As we have seen lately, such engagement makes a real difference. Make sure your voice is heard!

COVID Progress:  Residents are getting vaccinated and each week we get closer to “herd immunity” and the prospect of defeating the virus.  Conley’s Drug Store is offering shots at the Sacred Heart Church Parish Hall here in town – see the registration link on the Town’s web site.  There are many other options for getting the vaccine and these can be found on the State’s vaccination web site.  No longer are there long wait times to register.  If you have yet to get your shots, now is a great time to do so. 

Town Hall will be open to the public without the necessity of appointments starting Monday, May 10th.  We ask people to enter through the front door and sign in with the greeter who will direct you to the office you need.  Exiting will be through the lower side door.  Per State protocols, masks are required as is social distancing.  We encourage residents to take advantage of the various on-line services available to you.  With beach season around the corner, please obtain your car stickers and beach tags on-line.

We anticipate a relatively normal season for Town beaches.  The Parks and Recreation Department is getting ready for a busy season at Singing Beach.  Certain COVID protocols will still be in place for the bathhouse and social distancing while on the beach between groups will be encouraged. 

Dispatch Debate/Options:  Over the next few months a series of information sessions and public forums will take place to engage in a community discussion about the choices we need to make regarding dispatch services.  We either need to invest in upgrades to our in-house system or switch to the regional center now being operated by the State out of Middleton.  Details on each approach will be presented and public input solicited at upcoming Selectmen meetings in early June and July. 

A citizen petition article asking voters to approve a non-binding resolution requesting that our dispatch services remain in-house will be taken up at the June Annual Town Meeting.  Both the Finance Committee and the Selectmen believe this vote is premature as the information about our options has not been fully presented and debated by residents.  To be sure, for some the decision is easy – they want the service to be provided by town staff.  Others want to base their decision on which option is most cost effective, providing the best available service for the lowest cost.  The Selectmen and Finance Committee would like additional time to better sort out the pros and cons of each option before having residents take a formal vote.

LCD and other Zoning Work:  The Planning Board continues to examine possible revisions to the regulations governing development in the Limited Commercial District.  They have decided that using the State’s 40R approach is not the best fit for Manchester but are continuing to see what revisions can be made to our regulations to allow greater flexibility in what can be developed while still protecting the natural resources of the area. 

Planning Board work also continues reformatting and updating our zoning regulations.  The goal is to have this work completed and recommendations to the voters ready for final debate and voting at a fall Town Meeting.  While many of the changes are one of clarification and re-formatting for easier use, there are potential areas of more substantial changes that will be vetted between now and the fall.

Apr 30

From the Town Administrator's Desk - April 30, 2021

Posted on April 30, 2021 at 10:15 AM by Tiffany Marletta

ATM Warrant/Budget to be Set Monday
By Gregory T. Federspiel

At their meeting set for Monday, 5/3, the Selectmen will review the Annual Town Meeting articles and finalize the budget as we enter the final stages of preparation for the ATM, scheduled for June 21st. We will gather once again on the football field to vote on numerous budget articles and a handful of citizen petition articles.

The proposed FY22 budget has been in the development stage since last fall.  The Finance Committee has been meeting weekly throughout the winter pouring over departmental requests and fine-tuning their recommendations.  The Selectmen conduct one final review at their upcoming meeting before the proposal goes off to the printer along with the Town Annual Report.  Both will be delivered to all households a week ahead of the June 21st ATM.

Total expenditures for FY22 are slated to increase 3.48%.  However, higher capital expenditures and higher Community Preservation project expenses account for nearly half of this increase.  Factoring out these two categories total expenses are up 1.88%.  Town departmental operating expenses are slated to grow by 2.36% and the Town’s contribution to School District operating expenses are slated to grow by 3.24%.  Offsetting these increases are lower debt service payments.

For the current budget year, expenses were trimmed back (largely capital items) so that we did not have to raise the tax rate for this year.  The proposed budget for FY22 is projected to require a 1.5% tax increase.  We can do this in part by being less conservative in our projections of local receipts – vehicle excise tax, permitting fees, beach receipts, etc. Thus, we anticipate this year’s 0% tax increase to be followed by a 1.5% tax increase in FY22.

While we have not had such a vote in many years, at this year’s ATM there will be an article seeking approval to pay prior year expenses. Bills from a prior fiscal year that come in after the “books” for the fiscal year are closed require special voter approval to pay. We have two small bills totaling $1780 that require this special vote.  One is for payments to the Registry of Deeds, and the other is for tree work done in Chebacco Woods, a cost we share with Hamilton. 

In addition to the numerous votes on budgets (Town operating and capital, school appropriation, Community Preservation projects, OPEB trust contribution, etc.) we have a handful of citizen petition articles that will come before voters plus a requested article from our neighbors in Hamilton.

Hamilton seeks to relocate their road that currently goes through Manchester owned land at Gravely Pond.  The relocated road is further away from the Town’s drinking water source, a positive for us.  Old rights of way will be discontinued with a new right of way for the newly located road.   

One of the citizen petition articles relates to the 40B project proposed by SLV. This non-binding petition asks whether voters are against the project going forward and instead favor alternative projects that the Manchester Affordable Housing Trust and the Manchester Housing Authority might pursue.   

Two other petition articles seek amendments to our town bylaws.  One proposes that blasting for larger projects must follow guidelines that the Town develops and be approved by the Planning Board by a two thirds majority vote. The other amendment proposes that all large developments must have two means of access/egress. 

A fourth petition article requests that voters pass over any proposed Zoning By-law amendments at the Annual Town Meeting.  Given that no such amendments are being put forth at this ATM, the article can be “passed over” as well.

A final petition article proposes that voters express their preference for keeping dispatch operations “in-house” and that the Town does not seek public safety dispatching services through the North Shore Regional 911 Services in Middleton.  This is a non-binding vote aimed at informing the Selectmen of the wishes of the voters.

Even with a paired down list of articles, there are plenty of important decisions to make at the upcoming Annual Town Meeting.  Once the articles are finalized next week the ATM warrant will be posted on the Town’s web site and hardcopies delivered to all households in June.  More details on the articles will be given in the weeks between now and June 21st.    

Apr 27

From the Town Administrator's Desk - April 23, 2021

Posted on April 27, 2021 at 8:29 AM by Tiffany Marletta

Addressing the Town’s Housing Diversity Needs
By Gregory T. Federspiel

The proposed apartment complex on Shingle Hill as a 40B project brought a spotlight on the affordable housing laws of the state and the current status of affordable housing in town.  The lack of housing diversity in Manchester, while not new, has garnered renewed attention.  And if the recent work of the Citizen’s Initiative for Manchester Affordable Housing (CIMAH) is any indication, the new focus could well result in the creation of new housing in town that provides for greater choices.

Most of the town’s 115 officially designated affordable housing is through the Manchester Housing Authority, an agency of the state.  This is just over 5% of our year-round housing (based on 2010 Census data.)  The state goal for communities is 10%. The Authority’s units, mainly at The Plains, and at Newport Park, are quite outdated and in need of renovations.  Unfortunately, the state does not prioritize the upkeep of these units.  

Back in 2016 voters approved the creation of the Manchester Affordable Housing Trust.  The Trust is tasked with the goal of expanding more community housing.  While the Trust has explored a variety of options for new affordable units, to date, they have only been able to facilitate a handful of new units.  The 12 Summer Street project, completed in the 1980’s, was the last larger successful affordable housing project completed.

One of the early accomplishments of the Trust was the completion of a housing production plan.  This document was just recently updated as it was coming to the end of its five-year lifespan.  The housing production plan identifies a number of strategies for creating more diverse housing stock.  The state allows a town “safe harbor” from 40B projects if it demonstrates adequate yearly progress towards it housing production goals. For us that means some 11 new affordable units a year.

One of the more promising projects that the Trust is pursuing is a joint effort with the Housing Authority to renovate and expand the two Housing Authority complexes in town.  While still being developed, the preliminary plans call for partnering with a private entity to recapitalize and expand the complexes while possibly creating new units at the site of the current DPW garage off Pleasant Street.  Further public discussions on this approach will be taking place in the coming months.

Of course, there is much excitement and energy devoted to CIMAH’s Powder House Hill project.  The Affordable Housing Trust, along with the Board of Selectmen, will be working with CIMAH and the North Shore CDC in advancing this project. And there could be other, similar projects based on this new model that emerge in town.

Meanwhile, SLV is proceeding with an application directly to MassHousing for a slightly scaled back version of their Shingle Hill 40B proposal.  This will be a conventional 40B with 136 units proposed.  Once we receive official word from the state that the application has been received, the Town will have 30 days (with a possible extension of 30 days) to comment on the project before the state issues a letter of applicability.  This will allow the project to proceed to the comprehensive permitting process before the ZBA.  Regardless of the comments the state receives at this stage it is most likely that the project will be allowed to proceed with the ZBA permitting process.  A decision by the ZBA is appealable to the state’s Housing Appeals Committee unless the town secures safe harbor status prior to the application being submitted to the ZBA.   

Affordable housing projects will remain front and center for the town for the foreseeable future.  This will involve efforts on many different fronts and continue to require significant time and energy to produce outcomes that are favorable to the community.