FROM THE TOWN ADMINISTRATOR’S DESK
By Gregory T. Federspiel
The Special Town Meeting is upon us! Voters are urged to gather at the Memorial School this coming Monday at 7PM to debate and vote on three articles. Given the larger than normal crowd expected, everyone is encouraged to arrive early in order to have time to park, sign in and find a seat. (For those who live in the vicinity of the elementary school, please consider walking!)
To review, the three articles are to consider:
1) Reducing the number of Finance Committee members from 9 to 7;
2) Amending the snow emergency parking ban bylaw by referencing the appropriate state law that allows a town to process violators with a simple “in-house” ticketing process;
3) Approving the School District’s proposal for a new elementary school in Manchester and approving a new debt exclusion to fund the project (approval requires a second vote by ballot on November 6)
The Finance Committee and the Selectmen are recommending approval of all three articles.
No doubt the focus of the evening will be on the school proposal. The first two articles likely will be dealt with quickly and without much discussion. The question of whether to go forward with the new school project is a critical one for the Town and, as it should, will garner a good amount of discussion.
The School Building Committee, made up of your fellow taxpayers, has concluded that the current elementary school has too many structural and mechanical issues to warrant reinvesting in it, particularly given that the state will not help fund a renovation. They believe that the proposal to replace the 67 year old building is the most cost effective way to proceed out of all the options studied. With state funding in hand, it seems the time is now to move forward. Many note that delaying the project will end up costing taxpayers more in the future.
Asking taxpayers to vote in a tax increase is never easy. The cost to Manchester to service the anticipated borrowing for the project is $1.7 million a year. If this amount is funded 100% through a new debt exclusion taxes will need to be increased by 6.5% assuming a 5% interest rate on the bonds. This would be in addition to the typical 2.5% annual increase in taxes needed to maintain town and school operations. Such an increase needs careful consideration regardless of how important the need for the new school is.
The impact on taxpayers for the proposed increase could be softened if voters decide to use other funding strategies in addition to a smaller debt exclusion. The Finance Committee and Selectmen favor pursuing these other funding strategies (use of uncommitted local revenues, finding operational efficiencies and fostering a larger tax base) but feel that voters in the future should be given the flexibility of using the debt exclusion option for all or some of the debt payments.
Part of the decision making process for voters will no doubt include examining how this project fits within the rest of the town’s needs and fiscal planning. The Finance Committee recently affirmed four key guiding principles including funding operating expenses without the need for overrides (relying on annual tax increases up to 2.5% plus another 1% growth in revenues through new construction), keeping total debt at no more than 10% of total expenditures, maintaining reserves at 10% of total expenditures, and staying the course to fulling fund our retiree liabilities by the early 2030’s.
Regarding other capital needs, a new “pay as we go” approach is planned, paying cash for our capital needs for the foreseeable future. We do this in part by converting debt exclusions to capital (cash) exclusions as we retire old debt. This keeps the amount of excluded taxation constant (except for the new school project) and, when combined with general funds, will give us some $3 million each year to spend on our capital needs.
Looking down the road some 15 years from now, the high school debt will be fully paid off, our liabilities will be fully funded and all non-school debt will be retired giving us significant resources to reallocate to the needs that we will have come the 2030’s.
Attend the Special Town Meeting to voice your opinions, ask your questions and to cast your vote on the three questions that are before us.