May 19

From the Town Administrator's Desk - May 19, 2023

Posted on May 19, 2023 at 9:19 AM by Tiffany Marletta

May 19, 2023
Water Use and Rates
By Gregory T. Federspiel

The Water Resources Task Force, comprised of citizen volunteers with a range of helpful expertise, has been hard at work for over a year looking into many aspects of the Town’s drinking water system. A final report by the Task Force is forthcoming in the next couple of months. One area of investigation has been the role more conservative use of water can play in ensuring an ample supply of water despite the changes we are witnessing in weather patterns and other challenges.

The group first did an analysis of the past 10 years of water use. The analysis confirmed what then Select Board member Eli Boling had researched back in 2018 when the town first introduced a tiered rate structure to try to encourage through pricing better water conservation. Manchester residents on average use more water per capita than most other communities in the area and throughout the state. Residents use some 50% more water per capita than the neighboring town average. We are amongst the top 10 heaviest users amongst 287 Massachusetts towns and cities. (These numbers do not include any commercial users, which account for <5% of our metered usage of drinking water.)

The state’s target is a maximum of 65 gallons of water use per capita per day (GPCPD). Manchester residents are more than 20% above this target at an average of 78.5 GPCPD. However, there is a wide range within this average. The 50% of households with the lightest usage consume about 26 GPCPD while the other 50% of higher-usage households consume 126 GPCPD. Indeed, half our drinking water is consumed by only 17% of households.

Seasonal variation in town is also exceptional (and not in a good way). Summertime use is more than double wintertime use. This ratio is also much higher than neighboring communities where summer averages are 1.4 -1.65 times higher than winter use. Again, there is a wide range here. Many Manchester residents are similar to our neighbors. But others increase their summer use of drinking water to 4 times their winter use. Summer irrigation is the main reason for this high seasonal fluctuation.

The news is not all bad. About 2/3rds of all households in Manchester are already conservative users of drinking water having a per capita use below the state’s target. And during last summer’s drought, residents responded across all user levels to lower consumption. This allowed us to weather the drought without any fears of running too low on our water supply.

Manchester has benefited enormously from the foresight of leaders more than 100 years ago, ensuring that we’d have both highly productive wells and our own reservoir. Being more conservative with water use is an important tool to preserving this legacy as well as the reliability of our water supply. At a minimum, it provides a buffer against future unknowns. As we think about ways to implement wiser use of our water supply three key steps have been identified by the Task Force.

New, state of the art water meters can provide each household with real time data on how much water is being consumed. These meters allow you to monitor your daily consumption. This is useful in many ways, from quickly detecting a leaking fixture to challenging yourself to lower your consumption while tracking how you are doing. These new meters are designed to remain very accurate over time and would allow the town to go on a more frequent billing cycle which again is helpful in reminding people to conserve water. In addition, the Water Division will shortly change its bills to report your drinking water usage in gallons instead of the opaque HCF (hundred cubic feet).

With so much of our water use going towards irrigation needs, a focus on more efficient strategies to irrigate (e.g.: drip vs aerial spraying) and refocusing on more native plants that do not require as much water can be another significant way to reduce water consumption. Meadows can be as beautiful as manicured lawns – and with the many side benefits to wildlife, the meadows can provide greater joy. Communities in the southwest are paying residents to replace their lawns with more native landscapes to significantly reduce water consumption. There are lessons to be learned here.

Lastly, the rate structure for water bills can be adjusted to influence behavior. Our current rate structure, while charging more to higher users, does not appear to be much of a deterrent; the per-gallon differential is relatively modest between low- and high-usage households compared to other models aimed at conservation (today our highest rates are about 40% above our lowest rates) The Task Force has asked the Select Board to consider consolidating our six volume-based rate tiers to four and implementing a much more progressive tiers for households using significantly more than the recommended 65 GPCPD. . The proposed structure would reduce water bills for the majority of households and increase water bills for higher usage. The very highest-usage households (about 3% of all users) would see their bills increase fairly dramatically, up to 3 times what they are currently paying, unless of course they find ways to conserve drinking water.

The Select Board will be considering these approaches in the coming months as they review the recommendations of the Task Force. Any changes to rates must be considered at a future public hearing.

May 12

From the Town Administrator's Desk - May 12, 2023

Posted on May 12, 2023 at 10:19 AM by Tiffany Marletta

May 12, 2023
Important Updates
By Gregory T. Federspiel

Election Day: First up is a reminder about the Town Elections next Tuesday, May 16. Voting takes place at the Memorial School from 7AM until 8PM.  An absentee ballot can be filled out at Town Hall up until noon on Monday, May 15.  A sample ballot can be found on the Town’s website – see the Town Meetings and Elections page.  In addition to the various elected offices on the ballot – Select Board, Planning Board, Library Trustee, School Committee, Housing Authority and Moderator -- there is one ballot question that asks voters to affirm the vote from the Annual Town Meeting to pay the Town’s share of replacing the artificial turf at Hyland and Coach Fields through a debt exclusion.  Hyland Field is maintained 100% by the School District.  The cost of Coach Field is split evenly between the District and Manchester.  Voters approved the Town’s share of Coach Field using mostly Park and Recreation program fees to cover the cost.  The work is slated for this coming summer into early fall though the budget issues facing the District (see below) may alter the timing.

CAO Newsletter Error:   Related to the up-coming elections, incorrect information was contained in the Council on Aging May Newsletter. The newsletter, privately funded by the Friends of the COA and advertisers, had a layout/editing error made by Town staff which resulted in incorrectly noting a letter as being from the Planning Board.  The letter was not from the Planning Board but rather from a Planning Board member running for re-election.  This member has since agreed to pay the Friends of the COA.   The letter also stated incorrectly that two Planning Board members are running for re-election – only one is with an appointed member filling a vacancy seeking election for the first time.   Neither the COA nor the Planning Board endorses candidates for election.  The COA Director and I take responsibility for the error and apologize for any confusion.  Going forward no campaign letters or advertising will be allowed in official Town publications.  A report has been filed with the MA Office of Campaign and Political Financing about this error.   

School Budget: The Town of Essex voted against a Proposition 2 ½ override needed to pay their share of the Manchester Essex Regional School District.  This means that both towns must hold a special town meeting to vote again on a proposed District budget.  The School Committee will need to develop a new proposal for consideration by both communities. Details will need to be worked out in the coming weeks.   A late June Special Town Meeting may need to be scheduled.  If a proposed budget were to fail a second time, then, the two towns would meet in a joint special town meeting and a vote taken with one combined tally of the voters present.  If a new budget is not approved prior to the start of the new Fiscal Year come July 1, the District would need to operate on a one twelfth budget month to month based on the current year’s total budget until such time as a new budget is approved.   

MBTA Zoning Task Force: With the appointment of the last two members of the Task Force by the Select Board and Planning Board at a joint meeting this past Monday, May  8th, the Task Force is ready to begin its work.   Impressively, eight residents applied for the two at-large positions.  Deciding who to appoint was not easy given the strength of the applicants.   Hopefully the candidates who were not appointed along with residents in general will provide substantial input to the Task Force as it works through the complexities of determining how best to respond to the new state requirement for by-right multi-family zoning.   Stay tuned for future forums on this topic.

Resiliency Action Steps:   Stay tuned as well for upcoming workshops on options for dealing with rising sea levels and bigger storms.   A set of recommendations resulting from the analysis of the village core area will be ready by the end of June.   Preliminary ideas include extending and re-enforcing the MBTA RR track berm as a means of holding back storm surges and waterproofing the sewer treatment plant as well as Town Hall and the Fire Station.  On a similar timeline are options for the Rotunda at Tuck’s Point.  The pilings must be replaced – do we rebuild in place but with taller pilings or do we consider relocating the Rotunda to higher ground altogether?  No doubt these discussions will be lively with many strong opinions.  

School Street Construction:  The work of grinding down the old pavement and laying down new pavement is in full swing on School Street.  Obviously, this work is disruptive to many and the noise and dust a true annoyance.   Progress is being made and with luck the work will be mostly completed by the end of May.  Motorists are encouraged to use Pine Street instead of School Street when possible.  Once completed the road will have new all new sidewalks, road surface, water and sewer pipes and improved drainage.  Thank you for your patience.  


May 05

From the Town Administrator's Desk - May 5, 2023

Posted on May 5, 2023 at 10:41 AM by Tiffany Marletta

May 5, 2023
Election Day set for May 16
By Gregory T. Federspiel

Town Election Day is Tuesday, May 16.  Voting takes place all day at the Memorial School starting at 7AM and going until 8PM.   Alternatively, voters may request a ballot by mail up to May 9th.  Absentee ballots are also available either through the mail or by stopping by the Town Clerk’s Office.  Absentee ballots are available in person at the Town Clerk’s Office up until noon on Monday, May 15th.  

A sample ballot and instructions regarding absentee or mail-in voting are available on the Town’s web page under “Town Meetings and Elections”. Voters will be deciding on eight elected positions and 1 ballot question regarding the approval of a debt exclusion to pay for new turf fields at the Highland and Brook Street fields.  

The eight positions and candidates are:  

Housing Authority: Elizabeth A. Heisey
Library Trustee: David K. Lumsden
Town Moderator:  Alan Wilson
Planning Board (choose 2): Christopher Olney, Martin E. Flood, Donna L. Furse, Susan Hanson-Philbrick
School Committee: John Binieris
Select Board (choose 2): Karen Bennett, Ann W. Harrison, John Round
(In all cases, write -in candidates are an option as well.)

The ballot question is a follow-up to the approval voters gave at the Annual Town Meeting this past April for the replacement of the synthetic turf fields at the Middle-High School and the Elementary School.  Both Highland Field and Coach Field need to have the materials replaced as the surfaces and underlying cushioning are worn out and will present a safety hazard if new material is not installed.  Both fields are well passed the typical 8-10 years of useful life.  As part of the specifications for the new fields, the School District is requiring that the materials that are to be used must be certified to be PFAS free.  

Manchester’s share of the needed bond to pay for the two field comes to a maximum of $796,740.  A yes vote on the ballot question will allow the Town to exclude the resulting annual debt payments from the limitations of Proposition 2 ½ , thus the “debt exclusion” moniker.  By approving a debt exclusion for the temporary period of the needed bond payments, voters are targeting the Town’s regular levy capacity to be used for operating expenses and other capital needs.  As typical of most towns, ManchesterThe Town has regularly approved debt exclusions for larger capital projects such as the new schools, larger water and sewer projects, and other special infrastructure needs.  Non-school debt has been steadily declining as we have been using cash for capital projects for over ten years.  A significant drop this year in the annual payments for the middle-high school means that even with this new debt for the fields the Town’s annual school-related debt payments are also declining.  

Each field will cost about $800,000 to replace.  Because Coach Field is used extensively by non-school programs, the Town of Manchester pays for half of the replacement costs directly.   Voters also approved this share at the Annual Town meeting, utilizing in large part funds received through Park and Recreation program fees.  This leaves a total of $1.2 million that is divided between the two towns according to the School District’s apportionment formula, resulting in the nearly $800,000 noted above as Manchester’s share of the District’s cost – 66%.  The Town of Essex will be deciding at a later date how they want to pay for their share of approximately $400,000 (use of cash on hand, a debt exclusion, etc.)   

Be sure to vote either early via mail-in/absentee voting or at the polls on May 16th!