Letter To The Editor: FinCom Recommends Yes on Question 1


To the Editor,

We feel the move to the North Shore Regional 911 Center is financially prudent due to the cost differential between the Regional and In-house 911 Center options.

Our current In-house option includes one dispatcher per shift which is not sufficient and needs to be increased to two per shift.  Under the regional approach the police lobby will be staffed between 8 a.m. and midnight.  It is very rare to have walk-ins during the late-night shift and the lobby will be monitored.

Two years ago, we held the tax levy increase to 0% due to the pandemic and held it to 1.5% last year.  The budget approved at the April Town Meeting, will require a tax levy increase of 2.5%.  Additional funding for the Memorial School, both expected and previously approved, will add 0.7% to the tax rate for a total projected increase of 3.2% for FY2023 commencing on July 1, 2022.  The operating budget cost differential between the Regional and In-house 911 Center is about $565,714 per year, a 1.9% impact on the tax rate. In addition, $480,000 will be needed for additional capital costs.

As a Town we have other fiscal challenges we need to address.

We expect the police department budget to be adversely impacted by the Police Reform Act, reducing our ability to rely on reserve officers to cover shifts when full-time officers are out (planned or unplanned), six dispatch shifts per week and special events.  Thus, to maintain appropriate staffing we expect we will need funding for additional full-time officers and/or a larger overtime budget.  The FY2023 budget, approved in April, includes funding for a full-time officer to replace a long-term disabled officer.

In the fire department, we can no longer rely on call firefighters due to additional training requirements and since most of our calls are for medical services, not fires.  The call firefighter funding was eliminated in FY2023 and a second full-time “floater” position was added to reduce the use of overtime.  The “floater” is not assigned to a shift but is assigned to fill in when someone is out to maintain a three-person shift.  The Fire Chief would like to maintain a four-person shift.

The FY2023 budget includes funds for increased weekend staffing in the Harbor Dept. to monitor heavier traffic on the water.

The Board of Health requested funding for a health agent, but the budget impact was not clear.  It is difficult to find candidates qualified to handle both Title V and health inspections, so it was more appropriate to use American Recovery Plan Act (“ARPA”) funds outside of the budge and consider the hiring progress made by the Board of Health during 2022 when reviewing the FY2024 budget.

The Manchester Essex Regional School District is struggling to maintain a budget within the constraints of Proposition 2 ½ and may require an override next year which will impact the tax rate.

Finally, the Finance Committee has a policy that reserves may not be used to fund the operating budget, but excess reserves may be used to fund the capital budget and OPEB.  We feel the appropriate level of reserves (free cash + stabilization) is 10% of the total operating budget (Town + School District apportionment).  Since FY2016, actual revenue exceeded estimates and actual expenses were below budget, causing reserves to exceed the 10% target.  Thus, over the past few years we used about $1 million per year in excess reserves to help fund the capital budget.  At the end of FY2023 we expect reserves will be at our 10% target and will not be available to help fund the capital budget.

Given these various challenges we feel it is financially prudent to move to the Regional 911 Center, use the funds to address budget challenges and help offset future pressure on tax rate increases.  

Please vote Yes on Question 1.

Sarah Mellish, Manchester FinCom Chair

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