Originally published in the Manchester Journal Dec. 20, 2017. 

MANCHESTER — Manchester’s Selectboard got their first glimpse at the proposed Town Budget for fiscal year 2019, which is projected to be a nearly balanced budget — if the Grand List increases as projected, that is.

The proposed budget, presented by Town Manager John O’Keefe at a work session Tuesday afternoon and evening, increases property tax spending by $118,857, or 4 percent (from $2,916,522 in fiscal year 2018). Currently, the town anticipates that the Grand List, essentially a list of all properties and associated values, will increase by 3.36 percent.

While that number does not take grievances into account, and is described in the budget’s overview as “the best case scenario,” it would result in a relatively low municipal tax increase — as little as $0.0018, or 0.7 percent. If the Grand List does not increase as anticipated, that rate could be higher. This portion of the tax bill is independent of the school property tax, which will be set by the Taconic and Green Regional School District.

“On a $250,000 house, the FY 2018 tax bill would be $618.25,” explains the overview. “The proposed budget, based on the draft Grand List, would be $622.75, or an increase of $4.50.”

In terms of town staffing the proposed budget does not include any new full-time employees. While the cost of health insurance benefits will rise for both the town (a 9 percent increase in premiums) and its employees (a 5.3 percent increase), dental insurance costs were reduced by 4.5 percent.

A 3 percent raise across the board is included for employees of the Manchester Police Department, unionized or otherwise.

“We always try to provide parity for the police department,” said O’Keefe prior to the meeting. “They’re unionized, so you really don’t want to create a situation where the union guys get 3 percent but people who aren’t in the union get 1 percent.”

Savings are anticipated to stem from the creation of the new Taconic and Green Regional School District, which will “go live” at the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1. Because the new regional district includes multiple towns, Manchester expects to see savings in mowing services (though some revenue will be lost as well), a treasurer for the district (chosen and funded by the RSD, rather than the town of Manchester), and costs associated with renting facilities.

“Since there’s so many towns involved, we’ve got to get some separation between the town and this new, huge school district,” O’Keefe said, noting that the town will pay $10,000, rather than the $50,000 previously allotted, to rent the gymnasium at Manchester Elementary and Middle School for basketball programs and Town Meeting. Facilities at Maple Street School will also be considered. “It doesn’t make sense for Manchester to kick in a huge amount of money, and the other towns not to.”

While those savings will total approximately $40,000, much of those funds will be utilized by an increase in appropriations to the Manchester Rescue Squad (MRS), an independent nonprofit organization rather than a municipality like the MPD or the Fire Department.

Currently, the increase in appropriations is set at $25,000.

“We can’t see $25,000 increases each year,” O’Keefe acknowledged at the meeting. “I did vote in favor this year, because the alternative is forming our own rescue squad.”

That endeavor would almost certainly be more expensive, he said. Manchester is the only town in the MRS’s service area that receives revenue in return, he added, for services like dispatch and rent. While the organization solicits donations through a subscription program and annual fundraising, those figures were lower than anticipated this year.

“They didn’t have great fundraising and they admitted that,” O’Keefe said.

Still, if appropriations are denied Manchester would be forced to form their own rescue squad. “There did not seem to be support to cut appropriations this year, but there was a universal opinion that this was too much,” he said.

The proposed budget also includes provisions for new equipment including: $13,000 for a replacement boiler at the public safety facility, $13,000 to fund a lawn mower lease, $35,000 to fund the purchase of a loader, $67,000 over five years for a new grader, and $30,000 for new public safety radios (with $25,400 to also be paid in FY20 and FY21).

The MPD is currently allotted $40,000 for their vehicle reserve fund, with $75,000 granted to the Fire Department for their equipment reserve fund. As the town is currently in the third phase of a five-year effort to preserve town records, $18,000 was allotted for that endeavor. Considering recent issues with the town’s aging front doors, $14,000 was reserved for improvements to the Town Hall entrance.

The budget proposal also includes provisions for town projects, including $225,000 to pave North Road. Improvements to the tennis courts, including resurfacing and fence repairs, are expected to be funded by $40,000 of federal funds. Federal and state funding will also be utilized in the $683,000 Depot St. project, previously approved at Town Meeting.

Appropriations to organizations including The Collaborative, GNAT-TV, the Tutorial Center, and more are anticipated to be discussed at town meeting. Executive Director Betsy Bleakie, of the Manchester Community Library, was in attendance to advocate at 4.9 percent increase in town appropriations to the MCL.

“For the Manchester taxpayer, if their fees are being increased are the non-resident fees being raised as well?” asked Selectboard Vice Chair Wayne Bell.

“Non-residents would pay a $75 annual fee per household to be a member of the library, but most Manchester households pay less,” Bleakie said, noting that the MCL will be hosting community forums on their funding. “If you are a non-resident household, you are paying more to use the library in the same way.”

Though the Selectboard questioned the proposal, and noted that Manchester businesses also contribute to that funding alongside households, Chairman Ivan Beattie acknowledged that the funding would ultimately be decided by voters at Town Meeting.

While the Selectboard took no action on the proposed budget at Tuesday’s meeting, discussion will continue at a Jan. 2 meeting of the Board of Sewer Commissioners and the Board of Water Commissioners.

Reach Cherise Madigan at cmadigan@manchesterjournal.com, or by phone at 802-490-6471.

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