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Posted on December 6, 2019 at 2:42 PM by Tiffany Marletta
Preliminary Budget Presentations
By Gregory T. Federspiel
With the early snowfall on the ground, next July seems a very distant future! However, work is well underway on the budgets for the new fiscal year beginning July 1. Preliminary budget proposals for the new fiscal year will be presented next week. On Monday, the Town's FY2021 draft budget will be presented at Town Hall at 7:00 PM and, on Wednesday, the School District's preliminary budget will be presented at the Essex Elementary School starting at 6:30 PM.
The draft Town Budget assumes that residents want us to continue the current level of services. With just a couple of exceptions, most department operations remain as they are now with the same level of staff and flat operating expenses. It also assumes that residents are willing to pay a bit more for these services. Higher costs are due to modest pay increases for staff, increased pension costs as the county retirement system catches up to become fully funded, higher liability and workers compensation insurance costs, increased technology costs (cyber security is a pressing issue), a 22% increase in garbage disposal costs due to market dynamics and more funds for public tree maintenance.
Regarding staffing, the preliminary budget proposes to restore a half time clerk position in the Selectmen's office as well as restoring one of the laborer positions in the Highway division. One position each in the water and sewer divisions is also proposed. These new DPW slots are being sought as the department is facing a number of retirements in the next few years. We want to ensure a smooth transition as we transfer the knowledge of our long serving staff to the next generation of DPW workers. The increased staffing will allow the department to complete more tasks internally without the use of outside contractors as often, including the option of running the water plant ourselves to save money. Even with these three additional staff, the new number of staff is still lower than the number prior to reductions made during the last recession.
To help off-set these new hires we are not filling a vacant part-time and one full time position in other departments.
The details of the new School District budget will be presented next Wednesday. The Town budget assumes that our share of the District budget will grow 3.25 percent, a bit higher than this year but closer to the average increase in recent years. The School Committee is responsible for crafting the annual District budget.
To pay for the new budget, a 2.5% hike in property taxes is proposed along with the additional taxes derived from new construction. This year we saw lower than expected new growth thus we are lowering our expectations for next year. Indeed, there are signs of a slow-down in the economy which we will want to be mindful of as we project ahead for the next few years. We have some capacity in our local receipts (various fees, the largest being the vehicle excise) which we traditionally have been very conservative in estimating. We plan on raising these estimates to make up for the lower amount of new construction and to avoid new taxation up to for the full amount voters approved for servicing the debt on the new elementary school bonds. (This will be the second year we will be able to reduce the full tax impact of the new school for residents. We hope to be able to do this for a few more years when lower debt service on the middle high school begins allowing us to continue this reduced impact.)
As always, budgets are about choices and as we begin the review of the preliminary budgets in earnest between now and the April Annual Town Meeting, the numerous choices represented in the proposed numbers will be debated. Your input is most appreciated. Can’t make the meetings? You can find the preliminary budgets on the Town and School web sites and can send in comments.
Posted on November 27, 2019 at 1:53 PM by Christina St. Pierre
Giving Thanks – to Town Staff
By Gregory T. Federspiel
The week of Thanksgiving is a time where families and friends come together to reflect on what is truly important. The same can be said for our “work family”. I work with a great group of town employees who work hard and are dedicated to our mission of providing exceptional public service to all residents of Manchester. And I know that I speak for most in expressing sincere gratitude to these employees who work tirelessly each day for the wellbeing of our community.
A good example of this was during the October 16 storm when Mother Nature caught most people (including weather experts!) off-guard sending extreme wind and rain through our town. Countless trees and debris fell across Manchester bringing down power lines and leaving most residents in the dark for several days and creating unexpected damage to homes, vehicles and boats. The cumulative efforts of the Police Department, Fire Department and DPW during this time are greatly appreciated as they worked relentlessly to ensure the safety of all residents and provide assistance to those in need.
The harbor was simultaneously impacted during this time. The Harbormaster along with the Police Department, Manchester Yacht Club and many concerned residents came together to diligently and swiftly rescue over 2 dozen boats that were affected.
The Town of Manchester-by-the-Sea shows great strength when rallying through such challenges as well as during happier times. Recently, the local community and public servants came together to unanimously appoint our new Police Chief, Todd Fitzgerald who has demonstrated commitment and pride in our community for his entire career. The positive support of everyone involved through letters, phone calls and meeting attendance facilitated a clear-cut choice.
Town Meetings reflect another poignant moment where we celebrate coming together as a community to discuss, constructively debate and vote on essential decisions that keep the town running smoothly. We consistently rely on the indispensable input from residents at these meetings to ensure positive outcomes.
Highlights like these should not cause us to overlook the regular day to day work of our town employees. A smile as you check out a book at the library, a hearty laugh from an after school program instructor, or a “Let me find out and get right back to you” from an office staff person all reflect the good work employees are doing.
Yes, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving with family and friends. And join me in appreciation of our town employees who help all of our lives run smoothly in a town for which we all care.
Posted on November 15, 2019 at 11:03 AM by Christina St. Pierre
At the upcoming November 19 Fall Town Meeting, voters will be asked to approve funding for the design and bidding of the next major waterline project The funds are anticipated to come from our local receipts (permit fees, excise taxes, etc.) and thus will not cause an increase in taxes or water rates.
Without these two local option laws, towns are required to use the statutory speed limits established by state law (20 mph school zones; 30 mph for thickly settled areas; 45 mph for rural roads) or, after completing an engineering study that identifies the 85th percentile speed, petition the state for a special speed regulation that differs from the statutory speeds. Recently the state has clarified how these existing laws interface with the new local option laws.
The Town has undertaken engineering studies on a handful of roads over the past few decades and has some regulatory speed limits on the books. Where these are higher than the across the board 25 mph designation, a request to rescind the special regulation must be made to the state.
After Town Meeting approval of the two local option speed limit laws, the Selectmen moved forward with establishing the lower speed limits. The recommendations from the Bike and Pedestrian Committee and the Downtown Improvement Committee were followed, creating a town-wide speed limit of 25 mph for all roads unless otherwise posted and creating a safety zone that extends out from the train station in a one mile radius.
In light of clarification from the state and from driver feedback, it has become evident that additional fine-tuning of these new speed limits is needed. For example, the outer ends of School Street and Pine Street do not qualify as “thickly settled” (defined by the statutes as a house every 200 feet). 25 mph is likely too low of a speed for these sections of roadway. And speed zones are designed for certain adjacent land uses. Specifically, the state guidelines note that safety zones are “intended to be used in areas where vulnerable road users are likely to be present, such as parks and playgrounds, senior citizen housing and centers, hospitals or other medical facilities, high schools and higher education centers, and daycare facilities.” 20 mph school zones should be used around elementary schools.
Thus, the Board of Selectmen are asking that the two committees, police and fire personnel, staff from the Department of Public Works and interested citizens convene in a public working session to review our current speed postings in light of these additional details and present a new set of recommendations to the Selectmen. The Board will hold a public hearing to receive the recommendations, take public comment, and make final decisions on refining the posting of speed limits in town. These efforts will be undertaken over the next couple of months.