Oct 23

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

Posted on October 23, 2020 at 3:44 PM by Tiffany Marletta

Updates on a Busy Fall
By Gregory T. Federspiel

As a resident commented the other day, there is a lot going on in Manchester despite being a small town!  From where I sit, it seems this is always the case but indeed, there are significant projects underway which have the attention of residents.

40B Project Presentation:  The first of many public presentations on the “40B” apartment complex proposed off Upper School Street will be held Thursday, October 29 beginning at 7PM.  This will be a virtual meeting held via Zoom.  Log-in details will be posted on the Meeting Calendar found on the Town’s web site.  This initial meeting affords the developer the opportunity to present details of the project.  While there will be time for the public to ask questions aimed at clarifying what is being proposed, future forums will be scheduled to allow a more in-depth review of the merits of the project.  The submittals the developer has provided the Town can be viewed on the Town’s web site.

This initial phase of the 40B process is focused on determining if the project will proceed as a “friendly” 40B whereby the Select Board agrees to support the project and the developer agrees to a set of project parameters and mitigation measures that are beneficial to the Town.  At the conclusion of this process formal public hearings before the Zoning Board of Appeals will be held (likely during late winter and spring.)

40R Study progressing: This same area of Town is being studied by the Planning Board for possible zoning revisions.  Creating a new “40R” smart growth overlay district may be a way for the Town to advance two important goals identified in the Master Plan:  diversifying our housing stock and growing our commercial tax base.  A steering committee is providing guidance to the Planning Board as this effort advances.  The first of a series of public forums was very well attended a few weeks ago.  Materials from this workshop and other information on the 40R state statute can be found through a link on the Town’s web site.  The Metropolitan Area Planning Commission is providing technical support as we study what might make sense going forward. 

The 40R study is designed to answer a series of important questions.  For example, what are the critical natural resources of the area and how best do we protect them?  What is the development potential and what uses would complement the rest of the community?  How do we ensure whatever new development takes place is revenue positive, generating more tax dollars than the cost of new service demands?  How can we incorporate the proposed private 40B development into the 40R overlay district in a way that maximizes the benefits to the community? These and many more questions will be pursued as the study unfolds in the coming months.  Ultimately voters at Town Meeting will have the final say whether we adopt revisions to the Limit Commercial District.

Re-codification of our Zoning Bylaws:  The Planning Board also is busy with a review of our existing zoning bylaws with a goal of updating the bylaws and making the document clearer with reformatting and a more logical structure.  Outdated sections are either being deleted or re-written to come into compliance with today’s laws and court rulings.  Again, a study subcommittee has been laying the groundwork for this and soon the Planning Board will be hosting public forums on the proposed re-codification of the zoning rules.  Voters approved funding to hire legal counsel for this effort.  Attorney Mark Bobrowski, one of the leading land use attorneys in the state and one who has done more recodification projects than any other attorney (over a hundred) is ensuring that the re-write is meeting today’s best practices.

Traffic Management:  In more immediate work, the Selectmen, in order to comply with state guidelines, approved a series of smaller speed safety zones, most of which are in the core Village area, instead of one large zone.  These safety zones have a 20MPH speed limit while the rest of town roads have a 25MPH speed limit per voter mandate of a few years ago.  Discussion will continue on ways to keep speeds low and make our roads more welcoming to pedestrians and bikes. At the next Selectmen’s meeting the focus will be on Mill and Forest Streets. 

Outdoor Dining:  After a successful summer and fall of dining outdoors, restaurants are being asked to remove their temporary outdoor dining by November 9th.  The Selectmen want to avoid any problems with snow or ice that the temporary arrangements might pose.  Of course, as colder weather arrives, outdoor dining loses its appeal.  Take-out remains a popular and viable alternative!

Voting:  Early voting and vote by mail are both underway! Hundreds or residents have taken advantage of these early options already and you are encouraged to do so as well.  Of course, the polls, with appropriate COVID precautions, will be open 7AM-8PM on November 3 at the high school. 

Oct 16

From the Town Administrator's Desk - October 16, 2020

Posted on October 16, 2020 at 3:05 PM by Tiffany Marletta

Budget Development for FY22 Underway
By Gregory T. Federspiel

While still over 8 months away from the start of the FY22 Fiscal year, work is getting underway on crafting the budget for next year.  We are likely to be still feeling the impacts of the pandemic but to what degree is hard to predict with much certainty.  As the fall and winter progress these impacts will become clearer and may require us to make adjustments to the budget similar to what happened this past spring. 

The budget process starts with the Selectmen and Finance Committee establishing various goals and priorities for the new Fiscal Year (July through June.)  Re-occurring parameters include staying within the confines of proposition 2 ½ , maintaining reserves equal to 10% of total expenditures, keeping debt payments to a maximum of 10% of total expenditures, capping exclusion totals at their current level, and staying the course on funding our retiree liabilities.  These five points remain the foundation of our fiscal policies.

More specifically for FY22, both the Selectmen and Finance Committee members are anxious to restore funding to our capital improvement plan.  Due to COVID 19 and the uncertainties it presented, the decision was made to reduce capital and operating expenses for this current year in order to have a 0% increase in the tax rate.  To do this, numerous capital items were deferred.  This is contrary to the concerted efforts that have been made in recent years to begin catching up on much needed infrastructure improvements. We are hoping we can get back on track before slipping too much on our multi-year capital improvement plan.

Other priorities are to pursue possible regional services, advance efforts for a senior center and continue to implement recommendations of the recently completed Master Plan.  

This means that a more normal 2% to 2.5% tax increase probably will be needed.  For the owner of a median priced house this means a tax bill increase of just over $200.  The good news is that, besides the loss of revenue from Singing Beach not being open to non-residents, most every other town revenue stream has remained unharmed.  Normally communities like to have a more diverse revenue stream but, an advantage of being so dependent on property taxes is we do not see much change year to year in property tax payments.  This has been the case in Manchester even in today’s troubled economy.  

With these policies and goals in mind, department leaders will craft their initial requests for funding in FY22.  In consultation with department leaders and liaisons from the Finance Committee, I assemble a preliminary budget that will be presented to the Selectmen and Finance Committee at the Selectmen’s regular meeting in early December (open to the public.)  Detailed reviews of the preliminary budget are undertaken by both bodies throughout January and February.  A final budget proposal is agreed upon in early March and prepared for voter review and approval at the April Annual Town Meeting. 

A similar process is undertaken by the School Committee.  They, too, will have a preliminary budget drafted by the end of December and a final proposed budget in February.  There is more uncertainty in the school budget given COVID and whether we will be able to return to a more normal academic arrangement.  This year the District faces higher expenses as they grapple with both remote and hybrid (combination in person and remote) learning models.  Reserves will be able to cover this year’s unexpected costs but could be significantly depleted leaving a much more challenging fiscal situation next year if we are not back 100% to in-person learning.

July 2021 seems a long way off but our budgeting process for FY22 begin now.  Thoughts and ideas you may have for the budget are best made at this early stage thus you are encouraged to share them now!

A note about the 40B Apartment complex proposal and the 40R zoning study:  These are two distinct projects, one being proposed by a private developer (the 40B project) and the other a town initiative that arises from recommendations contained in the Master Plan.  While separate, we may be able to link the two by using the housing from the proposed 40B project as part of the total housing that ultimately gets built in a new 40R overlay district applied to the current Limited Commercial District. This could allow the rest of the 40R district to focus more heavily on non-residential development as we seek to grow our tax base and allow additional state funds to flow to Manchester.   More on this in future articles.   


Oct 09

From the Town Administrator's Desk - October 9, 2020

Posted on October 9, 2020 at 10:44 AM by Tiffany Marletta

Of Speed Limits and Safety Zones
By Gregory T. Federspiel

Voters at Town Meeting a couple of years ago approved establishing 25MPH as the basic speed limit town wide.  In addition, they approved the local option of establishing safety zones with a speed limit of 20MPH.  With these votes, the Selectmen adopted one large safety zone that encompassed most of the streets within the Village core area based on the recommendations of a citizen’s group.

This large area is too broad a sweep for one safety zone in the eyes of the state.  They have advised us to create more specific safety zones related to specific circumstances along a stretch of roadway.  We also have heard from the public that many of the marked 20MPH areas are difficult to maintain such a low speed and that we should be more strategic in designating the 20MPH areas.   Thus, the Selectmen plan to review a revised list of safety zones and speed limits at their meeting on October 19.

Most of the streets between School and Summer streets will remain at 20MPH.  These narrow streets serve as walking routes to the schools, houses are densely packed/close to the curbs with many driveways, and the streets are short in length. School Street from Pleasant Street will remain 20MPH but will be 25MPH between Pleasant and Route 128 and then 35MPH out to the Essex line.  Similarly, Pine Street is proposed to have a 20MPH from Central to Woodholm, and 25MPH from Woodholm out toward Route 128 where it then goes to 35MPH. 

New safety zones are proposed for Tuck’s Point Road given how narrow it is and the playground/beach that exists.  In a similar vein, Ocean Street also is proposed to be a new safety zone.

All other town roads would be posted at 25MPH.  Route 127, except where it runs through the Village between Ashland Avenue and the 1661 Cemetery, is state controlled.  Years ago, the Town designated a short stretch of 127 that is under Town control – Union and along Beach to Summer – as a 15MPH zone which will be re-established.  The remainder of Beach is slated to be posted at 20MPH. 

These changes are designed to make the speed limits in town match more closely the conditions alongside the roadways.  Certainly, within the core Village area, there is a desire to keep speeds low to provide a bike and pedestrian friendly setting.  We are very much a walking village and automobiles should not dominate. 

In addition to speed limits (which need enforcing to be effective so don’t be surprised if you see an officer pulling aside an offending driver) improved sidewalks, safer intersections and bike lanes are important elements to a bike and pedestrian oriented village.  To date, only 2 of the 16 recommendations that came out of the “complete streets” study have been implemented.  While some of these recommendations are extensive and complicated, others are straight forward and are not likely to be controversial.  For example, creating shorter cross walks at the Norwood/Brook intersection with more clearly defined on street parking is a relatively inexpensive and easy fix.  Projects like this will be taken up another time. 

Another frequently debated technique for slowing down traffic is the use of speed bumps or tables (a speed table is basically a longer running bump that has proven to be safer than speed bumps.)  Speed tables are often used at crosswalks and occasionally in special circumstances to encourage slower speeds.  The one officially designated scenic road in town – Mill Street – might be a good candidate for a couple of speed tables. 

At their meeting on the 19th, The Selectmen will be reviewing and likely approving a series of new safety zones as summarized above and affirming a 25MPH for non-safety zones for most other streets.  A discussion on the efficacy of speed tables on Mill Street along with additional stop signs on Forest, will also be up for discussion.