Essex Voters Pass School Overrides, Deny Apple Street Land Taking


Essex voters approved $345,351 in Proposition 2½ overrides to address a “reset” in funding for Manchester Essex Regional School District and the annual assessment for Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School students. 

In another vote, they blocked a town effort to acquire a series of narrow roadside lands by eminent domain that are required to raise and widen Apple Street for emergency vehicle access.

The votes were among ten articles addressed by 437 voters that attended Monday’s Annual Town Meeting in the Essex Elementary School before the business was continued to Tuesday to tackle the rest of the 42-article 2023 Warrant.

In all, the town presented an FY24 budget is $22.5 million, which includes $9.2 million for general town operations, $2.3 million for the sewer enterprise fund, $877,416 for the water enterprise fund and $9.72 million for Essex’s apportionment of the MERSD budget.  Warrant articles also addressed non-substantive reordering of the Town Bylaw, adoption of fee-based trash collection, surcharges for short-term rentals, a proposed survey of historic homes, among others.

School Overrides Pass

The four MERSD FY24 budget-related articles were addressed early.  Essex FinCom Chair Benjamin Buttrick told voters that the school district’s planned discontinuance of using reserve funds as a source for operations was a significant reason for Article 3’s $289,165 override. 

He said Essex’s share of the district budget—determined in part by enrollment—has been escalating by about five percent annually in recent years because the proportion of children from Manchester in the school district has been declining. 

“This is a structural issue,” said Buttrick.

Overall, the district has produced $780K in cuts and savings as it finalized the $30 million FY24 budget.  Theresa Whitman, chair of the ME Regional School Committee, said the district was fortunate to find efficiencies that respond to fiscal concerns—especially for Essex, which spends 44.86% of its annual budget on education—while also responding to residents demanding “level services” associated with a top school district.

Whitman reminded voters that MERSD is ranked fourth in the state, according to Boston Magazine’s 2023 ranking, and it’s that top education that draws people to Essex and Manchester.  She said school district budgeting is a challenge that should be a “two-town conversation.” 

Together, the overrides translate to an average annual increase in taxes of $662 per person.

Linda Osburn said that, as a retired schoolteacher, she has supported the school district, but taxes in Essex are “getting out of control.”

Ed Neale moved the question, and after the packed gymnasium twice proved challenging for an accurate card count, Davis moved the question to a ballot count.  In the end, the override (Article 3) passed with the required majority (254 to 175). 

Then, Article 4 ($9.3 million Essex’s apportionment FY24 MERSD budget) passed easily.  The other override seeking $56,186 for the town’s share of the Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School District’s FY24 budget passed with the required majority.  Both overrides will need to be approved by a simple majority on the ballot at May 8 election to become official.

Article 26: Apple Street

Article 26’s taking of six small land parcels along the southern portion of Apple Street valued at $8,000 by eminent domain failed after heated discussion driven by residents who want to preserve the small rural street’s character.  Selectman Peter Phippen said that, besides being one of three official scenic roads in Essex, Apple Street is also an officially designated emergency access road that now must be fortified to accommodate emergency fire trucks.  This has become a big issue with the increasing frequency of flooding of the downtown Causeway that would cut off access of one half of the town from the other. 

The article failed to secure its required two-thirds majority.

benjamin buttrick, theresa whitman, essex north shore agricultural and technical school, peter phippen, ed neale, linda osburn, essex elementary school, manchester essex regional school district, essex fincom chair, me regional school committee, essex, massachusetts