June 16, 2023
Special Town Meeting June 28
By Gregory T. Federspiel
The Select Board has approved the warrant for a Special Town Meeting to take place on Wednesday, June 28. The meeting will be held at the gymnasium of the Memorial Elementary School starting promptly at 6:30pm. The main impetus for the Special Meeting is the need to approve a revised budget for the regional school district. Six other articles will be taken up as well.
Article 1: The District’s originally proposed budget for FY24 failed to obtain the necessary approval at the ballot in Essex for an override of just under $300,000. (Less funding from Essex means roughly twice as much less from Manchester per the apportionment formula.) Thus, the School Committee, after debating various options, has proposed a revised budget that avoids the need for Essex to approve an override. The new proposal closes a $781,000 budget gap through a combination of position cuts (through attrition instead of layoffs), lower wage increases for non-union staff and the use of District reserve funds.
The School Committee’s original budget sought to end the recent unsustainable practice of using reserve funds for operating expenses. While the revised budget uses a lower amount of reserves for next year ($287,102) doing so means there will be a greater funding cliff to deal with in FY25. The Committee feels that the revised proposal offers a short-term solution that provides time for the two towns and the District to work out a solution for the long term. Voters are being asked to approve a new District budget of $29,256,388 instead of the originally proposed budget of $29,750,180 that Manchester voters previously approved.
Article 2: The revised budget results in Manchester paying nearly $500,000 less toward the school’s operating budget. The Select Board and Finance Committee are proposing that voters approve appropriating $400,000 to go toward Manchester’s share of replacing the two turf fields owned by the District. This would lower the amount Manchester would have to borrow to pay for this work thus saving interest payments. (Voters approved borrowing for the field projects at the Annual Town Meeting and ballot.)
Three zoning articles are also on the Warrant. In Article 3, voters are being asked to approve a new Administration and Procedures Section, Section 12, of the Zoning By-Laws. A similar amendment was on the warrant for last fall’s Special Town Meeting, but the article, along with a few others, was passed over due to the various difficulties encountered at that meeting. Importantly, this section includes the procedures for Site Plan Review which was removed at the fall Special Town Meeting in anticipation of adopting the new Section 12. There are other administrative and procedural changes which the Planning Board will highlight ahead of the June 28 meeting.
Article 4 provides for the reinstatement of the old site plan review section but will only be needed if voters decide not to approve Article 3. In other words, if voters do not approve the revamped Section 12, which includes a new site plan review subsection, they will be asked to reinsert the old Site Plan Review section to ensure we retain site plan review authority.
Article 5 seeks voter approval for a series of cross-reference corrections along with a few other corrections that were not made with the amendments that have been approved over the last couple of years. As you might imagine, changing one section of the zoning by-laws can impact another section and some of these cross references were missed. Thus Article 5 cleans up these mistakes within the zoning bylaws. There are no substantive changes proposed, merely cleaning up errors.
Two other money articles are being presented. The first, Article 6, seeks voter authorization to replace the Fire Department’s ladder truck. Our 22 year old ladder truck no longer passes the required state inspection for emissions and multiple efforts to get the old diesel engine to meet today’s standards have failed. To fund the purchase of a new ladder (up to $1.5 million) voters are asked to approve using the existing funds in the Fire Apparatus replacement fund ($1.32 million) and proceeds ($180,000) from selling the existing mini-pumper, Squad 3. Voters are also being asked to rescind a previous vote to use $400,000 from the apparatus replacement fund to purchase a new ambulance.
Lastly, Article 7 seeks additional funds - $50,000 – for a Salary Reserve fund. The approved FY24 budget assumed wages for union staff would increase 2.5%. As you know, inflation has been running much higher of late. Union contracts are being settled in the 3-3.5% range for FY24 thus additional funds are needed. Some of the Salary reserve money may be needed to pay for additional overtime in the Fire Department as we wait for new hires to be fully trained. Even with the funding for the school fields and these funds for wages, next year’s tax increase is expected to be under 2%.
Please click here Town Meetings and Elections for additional details on the articles.