May 29

From the Town Administrator's Desk - May 29, 2020

Posted on May 29, 2020 at 11:51 AM by Tiffany Marletta

Town Meeting and COVID Updates
By Gregory T. Federspiel

These two topics - the Annual Town Meeting and COVID 19 - continue to dominate much of our work.   As explained by Town Moderator Alan Wilson, Select Board Chairman Eli Boling and Town Clerk Christina St. Pierre in a separate article, our Annual Town Meeting will be June 22 (rain date 6/24) outdoors on the high school football field.  This will enable us to spread out in order to minimize the risk of contracting COVID 19.  Who knows, we might like the new venue so much that a new tradition is born!

The focus of the Annual Town Meeting will be the town and school budgets for FY21, which begins July 1.  Over the past six weeks, the Selectmen, the Finance Committee and the School Committee have been working on revised budgets as a result of the economic impacts of the pandemic.  The original budgets were finalized just before the virus impacts became so devasting. 

Recognizing the economic downturn we have entered, both the Finance Committee and the Selectmen embarked on a process to scale back expenditures for FY21 to allow a 0% property tax increase as well as a reduction in our local receipts (various fees collected including vehicle excise tax, beach fees, permits, etc.)  A new “Plan B” budget will be presented that reduces total expenditures for Town operations and capital needs by nearly $800,000 – approximately $200,000 from operating expenses and some $600,000 in capital expenses. 

While the Town’s appropriation to the School District remains at the originally proposed amount, the District is having to reduce total expenditures. State and federal aid is anticipated to be lower.  An optimistic 10% reduction in aid lowers the District’s revenue for next year by $360,000.  The District’s revised proposed budget shows expenditures lowered by some $245,000 with an increased use in the District’s reserve fund and a change in Special Education expenses.  Greater reductions in state and federal aid will require additional reductions in expenditures.  However, if federal and state aid comes in higher than anticipated, the District will be able to return funds to the towns. 

Materials for the Annual Town Meeting will be assembled, and a distribution plan finalized in the next couple of weeks.  The original budget will be contained in the Finance Committee Report with revisions presented in a Plan B supplement. (The original budget had already gone to the printers just prior to the shut-down of the economy.)  The Selectmen and Finance Committee recommend adoption of the Plan B budget by voters at the town meeting.  The Plan B Budget will be presented as an amendments to Articles 4 and 5. 

Re-opening of the economy and outdoor spaces are gradually taking place.  The state’s 4-phase process began last week with Phase I in place for at least another 2 weeks (each phase is expected to last for a minimum of 3 weeks.)  This week business offices can open at 25% capacity and retailers who up until now have not been permitted to open can offer curb-side services.  Restaurants will be allowed to open but with much reduced seating capacity in the state’s Phase 2.  Both retailers and restaurant owners would benefit from being able to have outdoor space during this restricted period.  At a future Selectmen’s meeting temporary outside dining and retail displays on town sidewalks in conjunction with temporarily removing some parking spaces will be discussed.

The Town’s phased opening of parks and beaches, which differs from the state’s phases, will undergo continued review as well.  The next phase anticipates opening our outdoor spaces 7 days a week and allowing sunbathing, swimming, and small groups at the beaches.  The timing of the start of this Town Phase 3 depends on how infection rates are doing and how well people do under Town Phase 2.  Details on the first two Town Phases are on the Town’s web site. 

May 23

From the Town Administrator's Desk - May 23, 2020

Posted on May 23, 2020 at 2:52 PM by Tiffany Marletta

Partial Opening of Beaches Starting Monday

By Gregory T. Federspiel

The Selectmen, in consultation with the Board of Health, have approved the partial opening of town beaches starting Monday, May 25.  The opening is restricted to residents and only for transient use -walking and running.  Residents will be required to show a beach tag to enter Singing Beach. Beaches will remain closed on weekends and no facilities or parking will be provided during this initial stage.

This action is based on the decline in COVID 19 hospitalization cases and continued strong adherence to physical distancing, wearing face coverings, frequent hand washing, and self-monitoring of health.  The better job we all can do with these strategies the smoother our reopening plans will be.

Park and Recreation staff will be joined by members of the Police Department to help with the orderly use of our beaches.  We ask all residents to have their beach tags out and their faces covered when entering the beach.  The number of beach goers will be monitored to ensure adequate distancing. Especially during high tides, we may have to deny access to avoid crowding. Beach goers will be reminded to not gather in groups and not to engage in any beach games during this initial phase.  Again, the use for now is limited to walking or running along the beach.  No facilities will be open as shorter stays are being encouraged.    

The decision to move forward with this next phase of re-opening was accompanied by robust debate.  Indeed, there were some 90 participants dialed or logged into the Selectmen’s meeting this past Monday – a record!  It is challenging to find the right balance between providing access to our beaches while ensuring the health and safety of residents and staff as well as how to handle visitors to town. Given our unique situation with the commuter train within a short walking distance to Singing Beach, and the on-going health emergency caused by the COVID 19 pandemic, the Selectmen feel it is best to not allow non-residents during the initial phases of re-opening.

Our opening of our parks, beaches and harbor will be a work in progress, evolving as the COVID infections evolve and how people are able to manage their use.  As businesses slowly reopen and more people are out and about, we will adjust our staffing and protocols.  Each of us plays a part in making our re-opening efforts a success as it is the cumulative impacts of individual actions that will govern future responses.  This is true locally as well as at the state level as state actions move through phases of reopening as well.

In other discussions at last Monday’s Selectmen’s meeting, further planning was advanced to hold our Annual Town Meeting on the high school football field June 22.  We are working to hold a “crisp” meeting by combining the more perfunctory articles like approving the annual reports, stipulating no pay for the moderator and selectmen, and approving the annual revolving fund for the Parks and Recreation Department into one “consent agenda” article.   Any consent agenda item can be pulled out for further debate if voters desire.  We also plan to postpone a couple of articles as well.  In this way we should be able to approve the needed budgetary articles and proposed conservation land purchase before the evening gets too late as we sit outside.  We plan to start a half hour earlier – 6:30PM.  We have a rain date of June 24.

Further discussion was held on a Plan B budget that avoids a tax increase for the upcoming budget year.  The School District is facing the prospects of large decreases in state aid thus, while they will need to reduce their expenditures because of this, they will likely need the original appropriations from both Manchester and Essex in order to keep reductions from cutting too deeply into instructional programming. This remains a work in progress.  If the Town’s appropriation to the District is not reduced, we will need to make additional reductions in the Town’s operating and capital budgets.  Staff pay, further reductions in the fire engine fund and the Sweeney Park design effort have been flagged as potential further reductions if needed.

Finally, the Annual Town Election warrant was approved.  In addition to the elected positions to be voted on, residents will be asked to approve a capital exclusion appropriation to pay for the next phase of water pipe replacement work. The annual election is scheduled for June 30th with mail-in balloting available throughout June.   

May 07

From the Town Administrator's Desk - May 7, 2020

Posted on May 7, 2020 at 5:09 PM by Tiffany Marletta

Phased Opening of Parks and Beaches Planned
By Gregory T. Federspiel

Plans are being formulated that will allow residents to start accessing parks and beaches in town while still being mindful of the protocols necessary to avoid spreading the COVID 19 virus.  After a lengthy discussion at their meeting last Monday evening, during which a broad spectrum of public opinions were expressed, the Selectmen voted to move forward with a four phased approach:    Phase 1:  Masco/Tuck’s/Reed minor re-opening;  Phase 2:  Beaches open to resident walkers only Monday-Friday as well as Tennis Courts open;  Phase 3:   Expand resident use to 7 days/week; gatherings limited to < 10; bathhouses open but closely monitored and numbers restricted, Chowder House use limited <10; and finally Phase 4: Return to normal.

Phase I begins this weekend with Masconomo and Reed Parks open to residents who would like to walk the grounds and enjoy the views of the harbor. The Masconomo parking lot will be open to residents only (parking sticker required.)  Unfortunately, as a high touch structure, the playground remains closed.  Also, Tuck’s Point will be partially open to allow access to the floats and harbor as soon as the repairs to the storm damaged ramp is completed, which should be within the week.  A small portion of the Tuck’s parking lot will be open to residents and mooring holders.  Consistent with Governor Baker’s orders, face coverings are required when the physical distance between people is less than 6 feet and no groups larger than 10 are permitted.  Sports activities still are prohibited, and the Reed Park Floats remain closed except for public safety/harbor staff.

Phase 2 will see a partial opening of Town beaches.  The Selectmen will announce a date for the start of Phase 2 at their meeting on May 18th.  Singing Beach along with White and Black Beaches will be open to residents only and only for walking or running – no sunbathing, picnics, etc.  The parking areas will remain closed in this phase and none of the facilities will be open.  Under this phase, relatively brief, transient use only is the focus.  Again, face coverings are to be warn whenever physical distancing is not possible and when entering/exiting the narrow way to/from the beach.  Resident beach tags will be required to enter Singing Beach.

In Phase 3, we plan to extend beach use to 7 days a week, open the parking areas to residents only and open the facilities.  Face coverings will likely still be required, group sizes limited to no more than 10 and physical distancing protocols followed.  Limits to the numbers allowed on Singing Beach at any one time may have to be imposed if crowds become too large for the space available (which, of course, is tide dependent.)   Use of message board signs near Masconomo Park will alert residents in real time whether the beach is full. 

Finally, in Phase 4, we will return to normal operations for all parks and beaches in town. 

The timing and announcements for each phase are dependent on what is happening locally and in the region with COVID 19 infections, hospitalization rates and how the prior phase has gone.  Phase 1 starts this weekend.  A decision about Phase 2 is anticipated at the May 18th Selectmen’s meeting.  Some fine-tuning of each phase may be required. It is certainly our hope that we can progress steadily at least to Phase 3 without any setbacks but, again, the data regarding COVID 19 will be the determining factor along with how well people can continue to follow the necessary protocols.  Certainly, to date, Manchester residents have demonstrated strong adherence to the needed steps to beat back the virus – a laudable effort that has kept people healthy and will serve us well going forward.

As a follow-up to comments made last week about recent intersection work: on the ground conditions required some alterations to the new layouts.  The goals of the project – safer pedestrian crossings, improved ADA access, improved aesthetics and no net loss of parking were still all achieved. The specific deviations from the plans are as follows:

Central and School: 1) curb line from School to Central moved 3 feet less into intersection due to an inability to move a catch basin because of a large electrical concrete chase; and 2) landscaped area instead of pavement along Union just before the turn onto School due to elevation differences

Beach and Union: 1) cross walk ramp moved uphill 4’ on the north side of Union due to shallow electrical conduit; 2) crosswalk on east side of Beach move downhill 3’ in order to comply with ADA slope requirements and landing extended straight to existing sidewalk; 3) 2nd sidewalk eliminated on outer edge of Beach and Union curve given change #2, creating larger landscaped area; and 4) curb line along east side of Beach using straight curbing instead of curved curbing. (Even with curved curbing insufficient room for a parking space in this location.)