September 22, 2023
A Busy Monday Night
By Gregory T. Federspiel
This past Monday, September 18, 2023 saw a particularly packed agenda for the Select Board. While there is usually a full slate of topics to cover at the Board’s regular meetings, this meeting seemed particularly charged with high impact topics. We had a full house in attendance plus some 50 participants logging in through the Zoom option.
First up was a continued discussion on water rates. The Water Resources Protection Taks Force completed a comprehensive study on our water system and crafted a report with over a dozen specific recommendations for how we can better manage and protect our drinking water. One of the recommendations is to work toward lowering our per capita daily water consumption. Due to a high use of drinking water for irrigation purposes, our daily per capita consumption is above the state target – we are at 78 gallons per day per person vs the target of 65 gallons or lower per day per person. While our supplies are adequate to meet demands under normal to wet rainfall years, drought conditions stress our system. A proposal to charge a much higher rate for the highest consumers of water as a way to encourage lower consumption was debated. While there was general support for conservation efforts of what ultimately is a limited resource, the Board held off for now approving a new rate structure, wanting to focus first on greater outreach about the proposed rates, education about ways to conserve water, and providing time for property owners to adjust their consumption habits. The Board remains extremely grateful for all the good work the Task Force performed and plans to keep moving forward on their many recommendations.
The Board reviewed the options for repairing the Rotunda at Tuck’s Point. Three public forums had provided important community input into the preferred option. The Board voted to advance the plan that calls for raising the pier and Rotunda keeping the same footprint but elevating it to a height of 19 feet above Mean Low Water in a single construction project. The engineers will get to work finalizing this design and securing the necessary permits. Grant funding for the project will be pursued next winter and spring with the aim of securing 100% grant funding for a construction project late fall, early winter of 2024-25.
In preparation for a joint meeting with the Select Boards and Finance Committees from both Essex and Manchester along with the regional School Committee, the Select Board conferred on their desires for the District. The Board expressed strong support for maintaining a high quality educational system. To help maximize efficiencies in school operations, particularly regarding non-programmatic costs, the Board recommends that the District bring in a third party to help scour potential areas for savings. With District costs typically increasing in the 3 to 3.5% range and local tax increases limited by Proposition 2 ½, occasional overrides may be needed in order to ensure a high quality District. This overall increase can translate to an even higher increase for one town or the other depending on enrollment patterns from each of the towns. A particular challenge arises when one town rejects a needed override. The Manchester Finance Committee also affirmed their support for a high quality school system and support for the needed funding to ensure the District’s success. Three or four meetings of the five boards/committees are planned for the upcoming budget cycle to see what strategies can be agreed upon to ensure the District can continue to thrive.
The Select Board next turned their attention to a possible Fall Special Town Meeting. While not confirmed that such a meeting will be held, the Board targeted November 13th for the date. The articles for a fall Town Meeting will be developed over the next few weeks and the plans finalized in October.
The last “hot topic” of the evening was a discussion about the Community Center, run by the local private non-profit. The building, owned by the non-profit, sits on land leased (for a nominal fee) from the Harbor Point Condominium Association. They have been operating with a month to month lease arrangement and the Association has decided to end the lease. The Select Board endorsed moving forward with negotiations with the Association whereby the Town and the Community Center would team up to provide expanded use of the building, allowing the Community Center to continue their operations and adding additional services that the Town could provide. Hopefully this approach proves to be a win-win for all concerned.