The Selectmen, in consultation with the Board of Health, have approved the partial opening of town beaches starting Monday, May 25. The opening is restricted to residents and only for transient use -walking and running. Residents will be required to show a beach tag to enter Singing Beach. Beaches will remain closed on weekends and no facilities or parking will be provided during this initial stage.
This action is based on the decline in COVID 19 hospitalization cases and continued strong adherence to physical distancing, wearing face coverings, frequent hand washing, and self-monitoring of health. The better job we all can do with these strategies the smoother our reopening plans will be.
Park and Recreation staff will be joined by members of the Police Department to help with the orderly use of our beaches. We ask all residents to have their beach tags out and their faces covered when entering the beach. The number of beach goers will be monitored to ensure adequate distancing. Especially during high tides, we may have to deny access to avoid crowding. Beach goers will be reminded to not gather in groups and not to engage in any beach games during this initial phase. Again, the use for now is limited to walking or running along the beach. No facilities will be open as shorter stays are being encouraged.
The decision to move forward with this next phase of re-opening was accompanied by robust debate. Indeed, there were some 90 participants dialed or logged into the Selectmen’s meeting this past Monday – a record! It is challenging to find the right balance between providing access to our beaches while ensuring the health and safety of residents and staff as well as how to handle visitors to town. Given our unique situation with the commuter train within a short walking distance to Singing Beach, and the on-going health emergency caused by the COVID 19 pandemic, the Selectmen feel it is best to not allow non-residents during the initial phases of re-opening.
Our opening of our parks, beaches and harbor will be a work in progress, evolving as the COVID infections evolve and how people are able to manage their use. As businesses slowly reopen and more people are out and about, we will adjust our staffing and protocols. Each of us plays a part in making our re-opening efforts a success as it is the cumulative impacts of individual actions that will govern future responses. This is true locally as well as at the state level as state actions move through phases of reopening as well.
In other discussions at last Monday’s Selectmen’s meeting, further planning was advanced to hold our Annual Town Meeting on the high school football field June 22. We are working to hold a “crisp” meeting by combining the more perfunctory articles like approving the annual reports, stipulating no pay for the moderator and selectmen, and approving the annual revolving fund for the Parks and Recreation Department into one “consent agenda” article. Any consent agenda item can be pulled out for further debate if voters desire. We also plan to postpone a couple of articles as well. In this way we should be able to approve the needed budgetary articles and proposed conservation land purchase before the evening gets too late as we sit outside. We plan to start a half hour earlier – 6:30PM. We have a rain date of June 24.
Further discussion was held on a Plan B budget that avoids a tax increase for the upcoming budget year. The School District is facing the prospects of large decreases in state aid thus, while they will need to reduce their expenditures because of this, they will likely need the original appropriations from both Manchester and Essex in order to keep reductions from cutting too deeply into instructional programming. This remains a work in progress. If the Town’s appropriation to the District is not reduced, we will need to make additional reductions in the Town’s operating and capital budgets. Staff pay, further reductions in the fire engine fund and the Sweeney Park design effort have been flagged as potential further reductions if needed.
Finally, the Annual Town Election warrant was approved. In addition to the elected positions to be voted on, residents will be asked to approve a capital exclusion appropriation to pay for the next phase of water pipe replacement work. The annual election is scheduled for June 30th with mail-in balloting available throughout June.