March 24, 2023
Proposed Budgets for the New Fiscal Year
By Gregory T. Federspiel
At the Annual Town Meeting, set for April 3, starting at 6:30PM at the Memorial School, voters will be asked to approve various budgets for the new fiscal year that begins July 1, 2023. The details of the proposed FY24 budget (so named because it ends June 30, 2024) can be found in the Finance Committee Report. All households will be receiving a copy of this report along with the Town’s Annual Report this weekend (both are also on the Town’s web site.)
Within the FInCom report voters will find the details of the proposed Town operating budget as well as the proposed Town capital budget. (A separate report from the School District is being mailed to all households.) There are also numerous graphs that track various expenditures over time along with our “free cash” to help voter understand where we have been financially and what likely lies ahead. Residents will want to prepare for the Annual Town Meeting by reading through the Finance Committee report and becoming familiar with the issues being addressed through the various articles.
The bulk of the Town’s operating budget is contained within Article 4. Salary and operating expenses are listed by department. There are important changes being proposed in the FY24 operating budget with most of these changes effecting our Public Safety and Public Health operations.
For the Fire Department, the funding request includes new salaries for two additional full-time Fire Fighters/Paramedics. Coupled with the two additional positions created, one in FY22 and one in FY23, this will bring the total number to 16 career staff plus the Fire Chief. This is a 33% increase in staffing over the three budget cycles. With 16 Fire Fighters, the department will have four crews of four, allowing for four on duty most of the time (except when someone is out for vacation or other leave time.) Having four on duty at the same time allows for an immediate response that meets the standard for “2 in/2 out” – that is, at an incident, if two fire fighters need to enter a burning building or other hazardous environment there are two fire fighters on the outside ready to assist should a problem arise. Four is the minimum needed to start tackling a fire. Four on duty also means that two paramedic crews are available to respond to simultaneous medical calls which happens, on average, about once a week.
The proposed budget also allocates funds to re-establish a call force. Manchester used to have a robust call force with over 20 individuals. These numbers dwindled down to less than a handful. While retaining call fire fighters is a national problem, many of our neighboring communities still have strong call forces. While we will not likely see a return to a large call force here in Town, even having half a dozen available for larger incidents can be a plus in addition to the mutual aid agreements we have with our neighboring communities.
In the Police Department, we have had to adjust for the loss of our reserve officers. Recently enacted Police Reform laws at the state level require all officers, whether part-time or full-time, to undergo the same level of training. With this requirement and the large number of police officer vacancies state-wide, most of our reserves have left for full-time jobs. We relied on reserves to fill in for regular officers out on leave. With the loss of our reserves, we either need to require regular officers to work a significant amount of overtime (which can lead to burnout and is very expensive) or we can hire additional officers to provide the coverage we need for less money. The proposed budget adds sufficient funds to the Police Department salary line to pay for three more full-time officers. (However, the reduction in the reserve officer line and the elimination of the dispatchers positions now that we have joined the regional center actually results in a net savings.)
The added police personnel have the added advantage of being able to staff the police station with an officer most of the time during the day and evening shifts as well as being able to provide additional on-water patrol for the Harbor Department in the summer.
For the Health Department, we used federal ARPA funds to pay for a newly created Health Agent this year. For FY24 the budget assumes paying this cost from the Town’s general fund. Partially offsetting this cost is the elimination of contract services as the Health Agent is able to provide these services in-house.
Article 5 presents the proposed capital budget for next year. By drawing on our reserve fund, the proposed one-time expenditures here are higher by nearly $900,000 as we work to reinvest in critical elements of our infrastructure. Funds for water main repairs is the biggest expense.
Community Preservation funded projects are presented in Article 8. 11 projects are proposed for voter consideration. Funds come from the CPC surcharge plus the state match the Town receives.
The School District’s proposed budget is the subject of Article 6. The School Committee is refining its proposal downward and it will be presented in a mailing that voters will receive. The District is also proposing a new bond vote to pay for the refurbishment of the two turf fields – Article 7.
Assuming the budgets are approved as presented, property owners can anticipate a 3% increase in their annual tax bill. With just over a week away, you are encouraged to make you preparations for the Annual Town Meeting!