July 25, 2023
Rotunda Public Forum; Water Rates Update
By Gregory T. Federspiel
The Select Board will host a second public forum on Thursday, July 27th at 6:30PM at Town Hall to present the options for refurbishing the Rotunda at Tuck’s Point. This iconic Manchester facility requires all new pilings and other support structures to remain usable. As part of the refurbishment the structure needs to be raised at least 4.5 feet to meet new Army Corp/FEMA regulations due to rising sea levels and bigger storm surges.
Our consulting engineers have developed four options, with one of them (#3) being a land-based option – the picnic knoll just to the left of the pier as you face the Rotunda. Under this option, which provides greater protection for the Rotunda, the existing pier would be modified to have a viewing deck at the end. As the table below notes, this option is the least expensive, but it removes the Rotunda from its current water location.
Tuck's Point Rotunda Options Estimated Cost
1. Replace in existing footprint $2.3 million
2. Replace with 38' extension $2.5 million
3. Relocate landward w/viewing deck $1.7 million
4. Replace in existing footprint in 2 Phases $3.6 million
Option 1 offers the least change as it keeps the Rotunda where it is albeit at a higher elevation. Option 2 pushes the Rotunda seaward 38’, gaining an improved view out of the harbor and allowing the new pilings to be installed while moving the Rotunda only once. In Option 3 the Rotunda is placed on footings on land. The existing pier would be refurbished with a viewing deck installed where the Rotunda stands today. Lastly, under option 4, the existing support structures would be raised in 2 phases – first to 17’ (from 14.5’) and then to 19’ in about 25 years.
In addition to deciding on the location for a rebuilt Rotunda, how to fund the project also needs to be answered. We received state support to help pay for the engineering work done to date. We are in a good position to apply for construction funds as well (up to $1.0 million). One option for funding the remainder is to consider increasing the Community Preservation tax surcharge. Currently it is at 1.5%. Going to 3% would generate enough funds to bond for the Rotunda project as well as for the reconstruction of Sweeney Park, another large project on the horizon. By raising the surcharge to 3% we also become eligible for additional state CPC funding.
While there is little doubt that voters will want to preserve the Rotunda, predicting which option will garner the most favor is not as easy. No doubt the over-water options will be preferred but it is worth pausing to contemplate the safer land-based option. This choice is one of many sea level rise induced choices we will be making in the years ahead. The Select Board encourages you to attend the forum on the 27th to express your preferred option.
Water Rates Debate
Last Monday, July 17, the Select Board held a public hearing on a new water rate structure aimed at discouraging high water use for irrigation purposes. A range of public comments were heard from praise for the new structure to concerns about the timing of when such rates should go into effect and the financial hardships the higher rates for high end users might impose. In the end, the Select Board decided to approve a 2.5% increase to the current rate structure and postponed making a final decision on the new structure until September. This will allow additional time for water users to better understand the proposed new structure and make adjustments to their water consumption habits (e.g.: more efficient irrigation systems) should they want to before new rates become effective. Even with the 2.5% increase the majority of water users will be paying around a half cent per gallon of water (a real bargain compared to bottled water!) with the highest users paying 7/10ths of a cent for the marginal difference in water use. Under the proposed restructuring, the range would change from a low of half a cent to a high of 2 cents a gallon. For the very high-end users this increased cost can translate to thousands of more dollars in annual water bills unless conservation measures are taken. Utility bills are sent out quarterly.
The Select Board will take up the proposed restructuring in September with the goal of adopting new tiers and rates to be effective in October.