Yes to FY24 District Budget, Fire Truck, Bylaw Updates


Manchester and Essex each held Special Town Meetings this week and passed all warrant articles—including a critical one at a lightning-fast, eight-minute meeting in Essex—that finally gave the ME School District approval to its compromise budget.

Manchester endorsed the school budget at its town meeting and also approved articles for funding on two turf athletic fields, a new fire truck, and furthered updates to the town zoning bylaw.

First, on Monday at Essex Elementary School, 173 residents assembled for the vote on just one article of business to reapprove $9,434,813 to fund the town’s assessment of the Manchester Essex Regional School District FY24 operating budget, technically ending a stand-off between the school district, the Town of Manchester and Essex voters, who last month voted down a Proposition 2½ override and left the School Committee and the district scrambling to find ways (including teacher layoffs) to reduce its budget.  

ME School Committee Chair Theresa Whitman told fellow Essex residents the new budget “gets Essex out of override territory,” but that doesn’t mean they’re out of the woods.

“It’s not a solution, but it’s a bridge,” she said Monday, adding that work between the two towns to fix the structural issues with district budgeting is just starting.  Passage of the article was nearly unanimous (just 3 people voting against) and without comment from anyone in the public.

Several School Committee members and District Superintendent Pamela Beaudoin, sitting in the front row, were visibly relieved after the decisive vote.

By Wednesday’s Special Town Meeting in Manchester, the issue of the district’s FY24 budget was ceremonial since the original (higher) district budget passed easily at April’s Annual Town Meeting.  Voters easily approved Article 1b (187 to 29) funding $16,044,334 for Manchester’s assessment of the new district budget.  Then the issue was about how to apply for the $491,610 “refund.”  

Article 2 addressed the refund by appropriating $400,000 to pay Manchester’s portion of the $1.6 million renovation of two turf fields (Brook St.’s Coach Field and Lincoln St.’s Hyland Field) shared by the town and the school district.  Using these funds would reduce Manchester’s share of the borrowing cost to pay for the new turf. 

John Carlson asked if artificial turf was the way to go, and asked if a return to grass fields was ever considered.  Select Board Chair Ann Harrison responded that between school athletics, club teams, and MBTS Parks & Recreation—field use has dramatically escalated, and turf stands up to that use.  She also said both fields have far exceeded their recommended eight-year life.

Tom Kehoe of Lincoln Street said he was “worried” that the town of Essex—which as a partner in the School District has financial responsibility for a portion of the fields’ replacement costs—hasn’t yet brought the issue before its voters.  What if they don’t approve the project, he asked?  Town Administrator Greg Federspiel said that issue is addressed in the School District Agreement, and if Essex votes down the expenditure, the balance would come from School District reserve funds.

Ken Warnock of Running Ridge Road moved the question, and Article 2 passed easily, 208-40.

With Articles 3, 4, and 5, Manchester’s Planning Board continued its march to renovate the town’s zoning bylaws.  This was the third meeting in which the board has chunked out a years-long initiative, presenting elements of the change in installments.  It was the final step in reorganizing the zoning regulations.

The biggest source of discussion came with Article 3, which represented the bulk of the needed recodification and modernization of the bylaw.  A summary of the key changes was provided in writing for voters. (The changes have been on the town’s website and were the subject of two public hearings before town meeting).  

After Sarah Creighton introduced the article for the Planning Board, the board’s Mary Foley spoke out against the passage of Article 3.  She said the bylaw is complicated and needed more study and recommended it be passed over.  Ron Skates of Boardman Avenue agreed and said the bylaw section was very complicated and required more examination.  

Sylvia Vriesendorp of Masconomo Street disagreed.  She said experts have been working for years in public meetings on these changes.  She urged approval.  

Isabella Bates of Masconomo Street agreed and said change is inevitable, and Manchester must rise to the challenge of being in control of that change to shape the town and what it will look like in the future.  Sandy Bodmer-Turner of School Street said further delays to addressing the bylaw updates could mean that Manchester escalates its track to pricing out middle- and lower-income people from being able to live in town.  And that is a shame, she said.

John Keefe of Victoria Road disagreed.  He offered a series of amendments to language that included stripping away key terms (such as “climate change”), saying they were nebulous and not exact.  (One, however, that he sought to retain was “neighborhood character.”)

In the end, a real estate attorney, Adam Zaiger of Union Street, offered an amendment to Keefe’s amendment to delete the wording of Keefe’s amendment and substitute the word “shall” for “may” in referring special permit applications to other town boards for comment. That was good enough for voters.  The amendment to the amendment passed (174 to 54), and then the newly-worded Article 3 passed easily, 182 to 43.

Article 4, designed as a backstop in case Article 3 was voted down, was passed over.  Then Article 5, which sought to fix typos and inaccuracies, passed easily without discussion.

Finally, two other items related to the Manchester Fire Department.  First, the town is in for a sorely needed new ladder truck after voters supported funding to fully stock the remainder of the town’s apparatus reserve fund, clearing the way for the purchase of a $1.5 million truck needed to replace a 22-year-old current one that is inoperable.  When Chief Cleary recommended the town replace the truck last year, the price was $1.3 million.  The Manchester Finance Committee did not to recommend the purchase, instead backing the purchase of a new ambulance (75 percent of Fire Dept. calls are for EMT services).  

Since then, the ladder truck has been sidelined because its diesel engine no longer passes state inspections, and the price of a new ladder truck has ballooned to $1.5 million.  Select Board member John Round, who introduced the article, said the town will now bypass purchasing the ambulance and instead purchase a ladder truck that has “advanced medical equipment.”  Article 6 passed 196 to 12. 

The final vote, Article 7 put $50,000 into the salary fund needed to cover town staff salaries.  That passed 197 to 9. 

theresa whitman, greg federspiel, john carlson, me school committee, essex elementary school, planning board, ann harrison, sylvia vriesendorp, adam zaiger, manchester-by-the-sea, massachusetts, essex, massachusetts, ken warnock, ron skates, john round, tom kehoe, several school committee, mary foley, john keefe, sarah creighton, pamela beaudoin, manchester finance committee, isabella bates, sandy bodmer, hyland field, sandy bodmer-turner