FROM THE TOWN ADMINISTRATOR’S DESK
Despite this week’s snowstorm, spring is just around the corner and our Annual Town Meeting, set for April 1st,will be here before we know it. The warrant, that is, the list of items voters will be asked to vote on, was finalized at last Monday’s Selectmen’s Meeting. In all, there are 20 articles to be put to a vote.
The majority of articles relate to budgets, which is what I will focus on here. Voter authorization is required for all categories of expenditures. Article 3 seeks approval of the budget for the Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School District. This budget shows a large increase due to the increase in the number of Manchester students (from 4 to 9) who are now attending the vocational school.
Article 4 is the overall Town operating budget with approval being sought for the funds necessary to operate the various Town Departments. Operating expenses are proposed to increase 2.36%. Non-salary lines items are up less than half a percent. Salaries and benefits account for the bulk of the increase.
Capital investments are the focus of Article 5. The proposal for FY20 shows a large increase due to the need to accelerate our efforts to improve the water pipes in the eastern portion of town. This larger than normal spending on capital is funded through the use of reserve funds and will not impact tax rates.
Article 6 & 7 ask voters to approve capital exclusions for the purposes of purchasing a new ambulance and for drainage and sidewalk improvements. We are continuing the recent practice of asking voters to approve new capital exclusion votes as we retire a like amount of debt exclusion. This strategy of moving to a cash basis allows us to use the same level of taxation year to year for Town capital investments while avoiding the expense of borrowing.
The School District budget will be debated and voted on in Article 8. For next year, the District’s operating request is for an appropriation that is 2.76% higher. This increase is lower than what the District has requested in recent years. The overall operating budget is up some 3.25%. However, Manchester’s increase is lower because the District is using a small amount of reserves and student numbers from Essex has increased relative to Manchester’s student population (a switch from what we typically have seen). The big jump comes in the District’s debt service. With the approval of the new elementary school, total debt more than doubles and will be paid for through the voter approved new debt exclusion.
Article 9 presents the various projects the Community Preservation Committee is proposing. A list of 11 projects plus funding for administrative costs will be presented. The two largest requests are for $100,000 each – for re-doing the Town Common in front of Town Hall and for the Affordable Housing Trust.
Article 10 seeks $10,000 toward expenses related to the Town’s 375th Anniversary celebrations. The citizen’s committee is hard at work planning a series of events for 2020.
Article 11 requests approval of the annual contribution to our OPEB Trust fund to cover our future liabilities for retiree health insurance. Article 12 is the annual approval of the Park and Recreation Department’s Revolving fund (fees collected for programs are used to pay for these same programs.)
The last two money related articles are Article 19, which seeks funds to purchase electronic voting devises for town meetings rather than rent and Article 20 which, if voters increase proposed budgets, would allow use of available funds to cover the higher cost.
All told, excluding school debt, proposed expenditures will fall below the limits of Proposition 2 ½. Details on the other articles and more information on various budget proposals will be the subject of upcoming pieces.