At their meeting set for Monday, on May 3, the Selectmen will review the Annual Town Meeting (ATM) articles and finalize the budget as we enter the final stages of preparation for the ATM, scheduled for June 21st. We will gather once again on the football field to vote on numerous budget articles and a handful of citizen petition articles.
The proposed FY22 budget has been in the development stage since last fall. The Finance Committee has been meeting weekly throughout the winter pouring over departmental requests and fine-tuning their recommendations. The Selectmen conduct one final review at their upcoming meeting before the proposal goes off to the printer along with the Town Annual Report. Both will be delivered to all households a week ahead of the June 21st ATM.
Total expenditures for FY22 are slated to increase 3.48%. However, higher capital expenditures and higher Community Preservation project expenses account for nearly half of this increase. Factoring out these two categories total expenses are up 1.88%. Town departmental operating expenses are slated to grow by 2.36% and the Town’s contribution to School District operating expenses are slated to grow by 3.24%. Offsetting these increases are lower debt service payments.
For the current budget year, expenses were trimmed back (largely capital items) so that we did not have to raise the tax rate for this year. The proposed budget for FY22 is projected to require a 1.5% tax increase. We can do this in part by being less conservative in our projections of local receipts – vehicle excise tax, permitting fees, beach receipts, etc. Thus, we anticipate this year’s 0% tax increase to be followed by a 1.5% tax increase in FY22.
While we have not had such a vote in many years, at this year’s ATM there will be an article seeking approval to pay prior year expenses. Bills from a prior fiscal year that come in after the “books” for the fiscal year are closed require special voter approval to pay. We have two small bills totaling $1780 that require this special vote. One is for payments to the Registry of Deeds, and the other is for tree work done in Chebacco Woods, a cost we share with Hamilton.
In addition to the numerous votes on budgets (Town operating and capital, school appropriation, Community Preservation projects, OPEB trust contribution, etc.) we have a handful of citizen petition articles that will come before voters plus a requested article from our neighbors in Hamilton.
Hamilton seeks to relocate their road that currently goes through Manchester-owned land at Gravely Pond. The relocated road is further away from the Town’s drinking water source, a positive for us. Old rights of way will be discontinued with a new right of way for the newly located road.
One of the citizen petition articles relates to the 40B project proposed by SLV. This non-binding petition asks whether voters are against the project going forward and instead favor alternative projects that the Manchester Affordable Housing Trust and the Manchester Housing Authority might pursue.
Two other petition articles seek amendments to our town bylaws. One proposes that blasting for larger projects must follow guidelines that the Town develops and be approved by the Planning Board by a two-thirds majority vote. The other amendment proposes that all large developments must have two means of access/egress.
A fourth petition article requests that voters pass over any proposed Zoning By-law amendments at the Annual Town Meeting. Given that no such amendments are being put forth at this ATM, the article can be “passed over” as well.
A final petition article proposes that voters express their preference for keeping dispatch operations “in-house” and that the Town does not seek public safety dispatching services through the North Shore Regional 911 Services in Middleton. This is a non-binding vote aimed at informing the Selectmen of the wishes of the voters.
Even with a paired down list of articles, there are plenty of important decisions to make at the upcoming Annual Town Meeting. Once the articles are finalized next week the ATM warrant will be posted on the Town’s website and hardcopies delivered to all households in June. More details on the articles will be given in the weeks between now and June 21st.