July 28, 2023
A Round of Updates
By Gregory T. Federspiel
It is time again for updates on various Town matters.
FY25 Budget Discussions: While we are not quit through the first month of the new fiscal year, discussions are already getting underway regarding the FY25 budget slated for voter approval at the Annual Town Meeting in April, 2024. At this stage discussions are on areas that need research before budget development gets underway in earnest later in the fall. One topic being researched is the possibility of elevating a few “assistant to” positions to full “assistant (fill in a department leader position”). Most departments do not have a deep bench. Department leaders are very much hands-on service providers, not just managers. While this makes for a leaner organization it poses challenges for succession planning purposes. The very tight job market combined with the large wave of “boomer” generation retirements has brought this issue to the forefront. The Select Board and Finance Committee will be exploring possible new approaches.
Funding for our capital needs is another major topic. Yes, we may be able to draw down our reserves to help with some capital items but that is just a one-time solution. Longer-term the Town needs to consider increased capital funding and new borrowing to pay for infrastructure improvements including upgrades to our water and sewer systems, a new DPW garage, senior center, Public safety facility improvements, and our share of a new elementary school for Essex. Over the next 20 years these and other projects total over $100,000,000. Important choices will have to be made.
A third major area for early discussion involves the funding of the regional school district. As this past budget cycle showed, developing a budget that works for the District and both Essex and Manchester can be elusive. The apportionment formula that determines what share of the budget comes from the two towns remains as originally approved over 20 years ago. It may be time to see what new conditions exist that might warrant a re-examination of the formula.
New Hires: As many of you know, the Town has a new Fire Chief, Jake McNeilly. Jake joined us on the first of July and is quickly getting up to speed working with a strong staff to provide both fire and emergency medical services to all residents and visitors. Also in the works is the hiring of a new Library Director as we prepare for the retirement of Sara Collins who has spent her entire career at the Manchester Library – a most commendable record! A third important search that is underway is for a new Town Planner. While we currently are benefiting from the very capable services of Betsy Ware, a native of Manchester, Betsy can only work a part-time schedule given her retirement status. We hope to have a new Library Director and Town Planner on-board come October.
Traffic Enforcement Discussion: The Select Board will be discussing traffic enforcement practices at their upcoming meeting on Monday, August 7. This topic elicits many different viewpoints. On the one hand, people often comment that speeders and parking violators too often get away without being fined. Others feel that residents in particular should be treated more leniently. This puts staff in a difficult position and opens the town to charges of preferential treatment. Should all violators be given a warning on a first offense? Should violators be allowed to appeal a ticket? These and other questions about traffic enforcement will be up for discussion on August 7.
Regional Dispatch: The transition to the regional dispatch center went very smoothly. Staff from the regional center and Town staff worked very well together and have completed the transition with hardly a hiccup. All that remains to do is to transfer records over to the new software system. Special thanks go to Chief Fitzgerald and former Chief Cleary and all the police officers, dispatchers, and fire fighters for a job well-done. Regional center staff extended extra efforts as well. While we have an officer most of the time staffing the police lobby, when the station is empty, we have the new “safe lobby” at the front entrance to Town Hall that provides for full audio/video communications with the regional center in a secured entrance way should the need ever arise. A police officer will arrive momentarily to provide assistance.
Pickleball Court Noise: The new pickleball courts at Sweeney Park have been quite popular, but, like many other communities, complaints about the pop, pop, pop, noise the balls and paddles generate have been expressed by some nearby neighbors. The Park and Recreation Committee is working on mitigation measures including extending the fence upward a couple of feet higher and putting up sound barriers to muffle the sound. At least some of the barriers would be transparent to avoid walling off the courts visually and blocking views from neighborhood homes. The Town hired an acoustical engineering firm, is working with a sound mitigation company and is consulting with the national pickleball association, aiming for installation of sound-absorbing barriers by the fall if the strategies prove beneficial. Players are also encouraged to use new equipment that is quieter.