$5.5M budget adopted for FY18

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MANCHESTER — Town meeting voters on Saturday approved the fiscal 2018 town budget proposed by the Select Board, making no changes to a spending plan which will total $5,530,222 and raise taxes 2.3 percent.

A lighter than average crowd of 149 voters made its way through the agenda in four hours and completed its business in workmanlike fashion, with all items passing easily on voice vote and some passing with only one or two audible "no" votes.

But there was still debate.

One of the more spirited discussions was over whether voters should authorize $160,000 from the town's Capital Improvement and Reserve Contingency (CIRC) fund to purchase a parcel of property adjacent to Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park from Christ Our Savior Parish.

Town manager John O'Keefe said a purchase of the property, which could be used for overflow parking for events and/or an additional playing field, would hinge upon it passing environmental review. Contamination was found on the property a few years ago, and the town is awaiting additional study, to make sure it won't be on the hook for cleanup costs, before moving forward.

Questions about the purchase focused on the potential for wetlands and environmental issues, and whether the town needs the property.

Bradley Myerson was among those in favor of moving ahead with the plan, saying the purchase was an opportunity to expand the park's uses that would benefit future generations.

Economic development, and concerns over recent store closures and a lack of workforce housing were raised a number of times — during debate over the town's plans to bank local option tax revenues above $1.215 million, and in a wide-ranging discussion during the "other business" section of the agenda.

In the latter discussion, Judy McGraw expressed frustration with the cost of housing and taxes and asked what the town is doing to address that.

O'Keefe also said that the town's planning commission is working on a comprehensive rewrite of the zoning ordinances.

And town zoning administrator Janet Hurley outlined some of the proposed changes, which include encouraging multi-unit residential construction near the town center. (A public hearing on that plan is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, March 13 at town hall.)

In discussion of items for Tuesday's Australian ballot election, Doug Kilburn of the Board of Water Commissioners and Betsy Bleakie of the Manchester Community Library made their cases for two of the biggest-ticket items on the ballot.

Bleakie asked for support for the $221,900 voter appropriation for the library, representing 35 percent of the library's operating budget for fiscal 2018.

She pointed out that the library's funding request, while greater in dollars, represents a 15 percent reduction in the town's share of the MCL budget from four years ago, and that the average library reliance upon town funds in Vermont is 80 percent.

Sylvia Jolivette, while praising the library, said it's hard for taxpayers to see the library's request climbing yearly. "I think Betsy and her employees are doing an excellent job, but we've got to tighten our belt," she said.

Ed Morrow said Manchester taxpayers are getting great value for their dollar at the library and urged a yes vote on Tuesday. "We have a world-class library," he said.

Kilburn, addressing a proposed $3 million bond to replace aging water mains on Main Street in Manchester Village, said the project would improve water flow and fire protection in Manchester Village while retiring 2.25 miles of aging cast iron water main — some of it 123 years old.

Asked by Leslie "Red" Cole whether taxpayers or ratepayers would pay the cost of that project, Kilburn answered that ratepayers would foot the bill.

The meeting began with the dedication of the town report to Morrow, who co-founded the Northshire Bookstore with his wife Barbara; and with recognition to outgoing select board member Carol Lattuga, who stepped down after 16 years on the board; and to Berta Maginnis, who led the Manchester and the Mountains Chamber of Commerce until it dissolved last spring.

Select Board vice-chairman Wayne Bell also led a moment of silence in memory of two residents who passed away last year: Vernon "Skip" King, who was a strong advocate for the disabled, and Jean Bongartz, a business owner who served on the town beautification committee for 20 years.

In other business, town meeting voters took the following actions:

- Set tax payment deadlines of 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 8, 2017 and Feb. 9, 2018.

- Authorized CIRC fund expenditures of $35,000 for streetlights for the Depot Street reconstruction in 2018 and $15,000 for a new softball backstop at Thompson Park.

- Approved five-year tax exemptions for the Manchester Rod and Gun Club and the Fraternal Order of Eagles.

- Appropriated a total of $15,981 to 10 human service organizations.

Reach Journal editor Greg Sukiennik at 802-490-6000.

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