MANCHESTER - The Manchester Rescue Squad is asking the select board to appropriate $32,356, in addition to the $5,000 a year in municipal support they already receive. The money would help cover expenses related to the purchase of a new ambulance.

John O'Keefe, town manager, said later that the town provides more than just the $5,000 a year in support. The rescue squad also receives free rent from the town and the use of the dispatch service. Such "in-kind" support is valued at $200,000, O'Keefe said.

Ben Weiss, president of the rescue squad, said after a second meeting with the Dorset select board, they have appropriated over $16,000 in their town budget for the squad. The squad is meeting with the four other towns it serves - Rupert, Danby, Mt.

At left, Ben Weiss, the president of the Manchester Rescue Squad’s board of directors, presented a proposal to boost the town’s financial
At left, Ben Weiss, the president of the Manchester Rescue Squad's board of directors, presented a proposal to boost the town's financial support to the squad during Tuesday's select board meeting. (Andrew McKeever photo)
Tabor and Winhall - to ask for their monetary support as well.

"We have also launched our annual fundraising campaign, so that you know we are trying our best to balance our budget," Weiss said. "This year the goal is $70,000."

Because Manchester represents 50 percent of the population the rescue squad serves, Weiss said it is important to their ambulance fund and organization for the money to be put in the town's budget. This $32,356 is an annual appropriation that will increase by 3 percent every year, to help offset inflation, Weiss said.

"This is not an unreasonable request, the rescue squad has spent a lot of time on this, they know what their needs will be on the capital side for replacing their ambulances on a reasonable rotation," select board chairman Ivan Beattie said. "What makes it difficult for us is we have to incorporate this in our budget, which affects your ability to pay taxes...right now, as it stands, property tax spending is going to increase about $280,000 - that's an 11 percent increase. To me, that's unacceptable - that does not include request from rescue squad ... [or the] library - they could bump this up 17, 18, 19 percent increase in property tax contribution. We can't do that."

Beattie said the select board could not give the rescue squad a definitive answer about their request, because they have to consider their priorities, as well as looking at their position in the larger community served by the squad.

Under the current rough draft of the budget, O'Keefe said that spending has gone up by $56,000 or 1.19 percent. However, the issue is not necessarily one of spending alone. Non-property tax revenue is down $232,000, partly because the town received a state grant for $175,000 for paving that will not be renewed this coming year. O'Keefe said the capital budget includes a new salt shed for $200,000, a new pool cover for $12,000, along with $40,000 to replace a police car and the $75,000 the fire department typically receives.

O'Keefe said over the last several years, the town has used surplus funds to keep property taxes low, as well as the state grant in the capital fund.

"Now as we start to pull back from those, we encounter a revenue issue and the revenue issue really goes into cuts in spending or increases in property taxes," he said.

Beattie said the town has been drawing from reserves because non-property tax revenue has declined sharply since Vermont joined the streamlined tax initiative in 2007, removing clothing from the sales tax. The town immediately lost one-third of its revenue, he added.

"We had built these reserves for a specific purpose, they have accomplished that goal," he said. "Unfortunately, the non-property revenues haven't returned as quickly as they may have, but we've done five to 10 year projections every year. We haven't missed those by much."

Select board member Steve Nichols said that property taxes will increase, if money is appropriated to the library, the rescue squad and others if reserve funds are not used.

"We may like the library, we have an essential rescue squad, we have a fire department budget that if the library gets their appropriation, the fire department operating expenses are going to be less than the library," he said. "We've got to look at these; we have a 150-page budget and we scrutinize even a five dollar issue."

Weiss said O'Keefe and Dorset town manager Rob Gaiotti asked himself and police chief Mike Hall to sit on a board and discuss the consolidation of police, fire and rescue services.

"My understanding is $30,000 will be spent for a consultant to write a report," he said. "It is a little bit ironic that there is money for a study when there is no money for an ambulance that has a more direct impact on public safety."

There has been no movement towards the consolidation study, Beattie said, but that there will very likely be serious discussion soon. However, he said this decision will be put to the voters and tax payers, only if Beattie can stand in front of the tax payers will be able to save money and get a better service as an outcome.

"If we decide to spend money on the study...we can't do that unilaterally, he said. "If that happens, it will be with the expectation that there will be a considerable gain to the voters and tax payers...of Manchester."

Weiss said Manchester postponing their decision about whether or not they will give the rescue squad the money they have asked for will make it more difficult when asking the other towns for support. Manchester has had issues in the past, he said, with the amount of support they have been asked to give to the squad compared to other towns. If Manchester does not support the squad, it will be very difficult to get the per capita support from other towns, Weiss said.

The select board meeting also celebrated the volunteer work some residents do for the community. Wayne Bell presented the 22nd annual Manchester Community Awards, more commonly known as the Unsung Hero awards. Bell said the winners are the people who work quietly in the community, often behind the scenes. This year, Lysa Connors Cross, Beverly Van Sickle and Karen Healy Allen were presented the awards. Van Sickle was unable to attend.

In other news, Police Chief Mike Hall introduced the two newest members of the Manchester Police Department. Abby Zimmer, the first female officer in Manchester and Jason Thom as. They were sworn in by Town Clerk Linda Spence Tuesday evening.