March 31, 2023
Town Meeting Time is Here
By Gregory T. Federspiel
Manchester’s Annual Town Meeting takes place on Monday, April 3 at the Memorial School on Lincoln Street. The doors will open at 5:30 and the High School a Capela group, the Sound Waves, will be performing. The meeting will start promptly at 6:30PM. (Please allow time to park, using the high school for overflow parking, and check in through the main lobby entrance.) Childcare is available. Please be sure to bring your copy of the Finance Committee’s Report and the School District’s mailing as these will be the best way to follow the articles that will be considered.
The first half of the meeting is devoted primarily to the approval of various budgets. Details of the proposed FY24 Town budget are contained in the Finance Committee Report. Overall, town operating budgets are slated to increase 3%. The additional staff for Police and Fire have pushed the increase up a bit more than usual. However, we are benefiting from the savings that resulted from switching our dispatch services to the regional center along with reductions in public safety overtime budgets.
The Town’s capital budget is also higher as we tap more of our reserve funds to pay for one-time capital expenses. Construction costs and vehicle prices have increased substantially in the last couple of years, and we still have a significant amount of infrastructure that needs upgrading. Come the early 2030’s we will have freed up large sums after fulling funding our pension and OPEB obligations which will allow for large capital projects to move forward in a fiscally prudent way.
The School District lowered their proposed budget from what they approved back in February as they achieved last-minute savings in their health insurance expenses, in additional retirements, and in a few other measures. Their final proposal, as detailed in their report that residents will receive in the mail, differs from what is discussed in the Finance Committee Report as the changes were made after the FinCom Report went to press.
The School District’s overall operating expenditures are now proposed to increase by 2.85%. However, because the District seeks to stop relying on reserve funds to pay for operating expenses (this is not sustainable in the long run) the proposed increase in Manchester’s appropriation is slated to increase by 3.9% in order to make up for no longer using reserve funds. Originally the increase was slated to be 5.7% as reported in the FinCom Report. Due to shifting enrollment patterns, the Town of Essex needs to approve a 7.1% increase to their District appropriation.
At most, the proposed budgets call for a tax increase of 3%. Because the Town has excess levy capacity (we have had annual tax increases below 2.5% in recent years which builds up unused (excess) taxation) voters can approve budgets that will result in a tax increase of 3% and not have to vote for an override to the limits imposed by Proposition 2 ½ .
In addition to the articles involving expenditures, there are 10 articles (#10-19) proposing various local option law adoptions, general bylaw changes and possible zoning amendments. Again, the Finance Committee Report provides the details of each of these articles and past columns in this paper have provided additional information (previous columns can be found on the Town’s web site.) Each of these articles will be presented and explained during the Annual Town Meeting. Only one of the three proposed zoning amendments that are in the Warrant is recommended for approved (Article 17 – Adult Entertainment). The other two articles, 18 regarding Accessory Dwelling Units and 19 regarding new Senior Housing provisions, are recommended to be passed over by both the Select Board and the Planning Board.
The Annual Town Meeting is a critically important community event. Residents gather to discuss important matters, from budgets to regulations, that impact the quality of life here in Manchester. Every voter has an opportunity to express their opinions and to influence the outcomes on all 20 articles that are before the Town’s legislative body – you! I urge you to attend and engage in this important proceeding. I look forward to the evening.