FROM THE TOWN ADMINISTRATOR’S DESK
By Gregory T. Federspiel
At the Selectmen’s meeting scheduled for next Tuesday, the Board will wrap up their review of the FY19 budget that will be presented to voters for debate and approval at the Annual Town Meeting. The review is slated to begin at 7:00PM. Public comment on the proposed budget is welcome before the Selectmen finalize what will be presented. The preliminary budget can be found on the Town’s web site.
Overall the Town budget seeks to maintain the current level of municipal services being provided. Employee wages are up per contractual cost of living increases (though employees agreed to pay a larger share of the cost of health insurance). Most other expenses are level funded. Staffing remains the same with a few exceptions. One is a proposal to add a new firefighter to our roster due to the large decline in volunteer fire fighters. (The plan is to pursue new regional models as a long term solution.) A few more hours have been added to the Town Planner’s work week to assist in the implementation of our new master plan as well as to the assistant accountant’s work week as we improve our procurement and contract management efforts. With more local veterans qualifying for benefits, we have had to increase this line item (we eventually receive reimbursement from the state for 75% of this cost.) Finally, a new seasonal deputy harbormaster is proposed to provide additional water patrol of the harbor and coastline as boating activity has grown significantly in recent years. (This new expense is covered by mooring fees and other revenue the harbor generates.) Even with these increases, total staffing levels have decreased over the last ten years.
Total Town expenses are proposed to increase about 1%. Helping to keep this number down is a lower use of our fund balance for capital expenses. Operating expenses are up some 2.5%. The School Budget is projected to increase 3.65% for Manchester (above the actual District increase due to more students coming from Manchester relative to Essex.)
To pay for these increases, a 2.5% increase in the tax rate is expected. Another 1% growth in tax revenue is anticipated to come from new construction. There are no new bonds or overrides proposed for the FY19 budget. Similar to last year, voters will be asked to approve a capital expenditure exclusion which replaces lowered debt payments. The strategy here is to keep Town debt and capital exclusions at a consistent level to help pay for our infrastructure improvements without increasing the tax burden on property owners. (Of course, by replacing excluded debt payments with capital expenditure exclusions we are not allowing tax collections to go down. This is because the funds are needed for capital projects.)
Manchester’s expenditures for town and school services place us at the high end of per capita expenses compared to other communities in the area and throughout the state. The service level choices we have made and the amount of borrowing we have done in the past 20 years are drivers of this ranking. The choices we make going forward will determine if our ranking changes. You are encouraged to come to the meeting on the 20th to provide input on the choices for which you would advocate.