MONDAY’S ANNUAL TOWN MEETING
By Gregory T. Federspiel
Finally, it is here! Our Annual Town Meeting, delayed from the usual early April date, will be held on Monday, 6/22, at 6:30PM (check in begins at 5:30) on the turf field at the high school (rain date is 6/24.) Moderator Alan Wilson and Town Clerk Christina St. Pierre, with thoughtful guidance from our Board of Health and state guidelines, have spent considerable time mapping out a safe, detailed set of procedures and layout for the meeting (see related article.)
Meeting outdoors is not the only unique aspect of this year’s Annual Town Meeting. Moderator Wilson will be utilizing a “Consent Calendar” to efficiently deal with non-controversial articles, namely Article 1, acceptance of the annual reports, Article 2, setting the salary of the Selectmen and Moderator at $0, Article 9, approving the funds for the annual contribution to the retiree health insurance fund (OPEB), Article 10, approving the annual revolving fund for Park and Recreation programs, and Article 11, removing the requirement that the names of the trustees of the Manchester Affordable Housing Trust be recorded in the Registry of Deeds in Salem. Unless someone places a hold on any of these articles, the 5 articles can be approved under one simple vote.
Nearly all the other articles are budget related. The one exception is Article 14, which seeks voter approval to purchase a 12-acre parcel in the “Western Woods” for conservation purposes. The assessed value and purchase price are $60,000. An additional $5000 is requested to cover acquisition costs. Funds for this purchase have already been set aside in a previous Town Meeting vote allocating $100,000 in Community Preservation funds for the purpose of land conservation. The parcel is part of a large, 500-acre undeveloped area in the northwest corner of Town. Over 300 of the 500 acres are already permanently preserved as open space. This acquisition is contiguous to other preserved lands and is another step in preserving this corner of Town, protecting important watershed lands, wildlife habitat, recreational trails and a needed carbon sink.
The budget related articles start with Article 3 where voters are asked to approve the Town’s contribution to the Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School District. The number of students attending from Manchester has about doubled in the past few years to 9. The requested appropriation is $169,045, a 10% increase due to the higher enrollment.
Article 4 is the Town’s operating budget for all Town Departments. A revised “Plan B” budget will be presented. This is $190,000 less than the original budget that was developed by the Selectmen and Finance Committee and represents a 1.5% increase over the current year’s expenses. The Plan B budget is presented in the supplemental handout (Page 2a) that has been distributed to all households. The originally proposed budget is contained in the Finance Committee’s Report.
Article 5 is the Town’s proposed capital budget for FY21. This, too, underwent revisions after the COVID 19 pandemic’s impact on the economy. The Plan B capital budget is also presented in the supplemental handout (page 2b). Some $650,000 was removed from the capital budget that was developed prior to COVID 19 hitting. Various projects were either removed, deferred to another year, or reduced in scope. The supplemental handout summarizes the changes made.
Article 6 request voter approval for a capital exclusion to help fund improvements to the water system. The request is for $750,000 which will be used to replace the water main along Boardman Avenue. This is the fourth year we are using a capital exclusion to help with capital projects. We are increasing our capital exclusion requests at or just below the amount that our annual debt service is decreasing. In this way we are not adding to the tax burden.
Article 7 is the School District’s funding request. Their request from the Town is up 2.9%. However, the District is anticipating at least a 10% reduction in state aid thus their total expenditures for the new year will be reduced by some $360,000 from their previously proposed new budget.
Article 8 is the vote on the proposed Community Preservation Committee projects. See the related article for a summary of these projects.
If all budget requests are approved as presented and our conservative estimates for new growth are met, then the tax rate for the new year will not increase – in other words, the proposed budget assumes a 0% increase in the tax rate.
Finally, as part of the effort to keep this outdoor meeting as brief as possible, Articles 12 and 13, related to utility bills and a room tax on short term rentals will be proposed to be passed over and taken up at another time.
Please bring the materials that were delivered to your door to the meeting. And you might want a bottle of water along with some bug repellant just in case. If the weather does not cooperate a Reverse 911 call will be made to all households along with social media postings. See you on the football field!