Budget, warning approved

MANCHESTER - The Manchester Select Board has approved the fiscal year 2014 budget that will raise the tax rate by 6.99 percent, assuming that all appropriations on the town meeting warning are approved by voters.

The proposed budget calls for $2,506,199 to be raised by property taxes. The budget approved by voters last year required $2,342,508 to be raised by taxes, about $162,691 less than the new budget. The board gave its blessing to the budget during a meeting on Thursday, Jan. 24.

The new Park House building currently under construction at the Dana Thompson Rec Park is responsible for half of the property tax increase, according to Manchester Town Manager John O'Keefe.

Two articles on the town meeting warning - which was also approved by the Select Board on Jan. 24 - involve the Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park. The first article asks for the town to authorize up to $50,000 from the Capital Improvement Reserve and Contingency Fund for further improvements to the new Park House.

As currently constructed, the Park House does not have a security system in place, but it has been wired in case to allow for one later on. The former pool house also did not have a security system, but O'Keefe said that he thinks the new building should have one in place since the building will be used much more frequently after hours, during weekends, and over the winter.

Another possible installation would be an access card system that would let users in the community room during a specified time. An example of that might be if a class were using the community room for an event, a swipe of the card would allow for the card holder to access the building between a certain time.

"The access system that is a card system would allow more access to the building after hours to the public. It's expensive, it costs $10,000 to install, but it lets people in the building when they need to."

According to O'Keefe, other installations could include a pool sound system upgrade of $4,500, a fireplace in the community room that would be installed with the help from Friends of the Sun, a local heating business. The addition of the fireplace prompted the Select Board to look into installing CO2 and smoke detectors for safety concerns.

"It is not required by the state to have a smoke detector in the building," said O'Keefe, "but we think it is something we need to have."

Since the Park House will be used after hours, lights may be installed to further the safety of the area. This could also be used to help the parking situation on Applejack Field, said O'Keefe. They are also looking to add a pool overflow detector that would prevent flooding of the pool area as well as adding landscaping that was not in the original design of the building.

The other article asks the town to authorize the Select Board to transfer up to $50,000 from the Capital Improvement Reserve and Contingency Fund into the Recreation Fund to pay for a portion of improvements to the skateboard park based on a plan approved by the Select Board.

The Town of Manchester will not exceed in paying more than half of the actual funds for the skateboard park and that all other funds must come from other sources including fund-raising and grants, said O'Keefe.

"If the skatepark committee raises $40,000 then we will match it. If they raise $60,000 we will only pay $50,000. The committee has been working diligently and we hope them the best," said O'Keefe.

During last week's meeting, the Select Board also approved the annual town meeting warning. The amounts asked for either by petition or by request range from under $500 to more than $150,000.

One article on the warning is a petition from the Bennington Coalition for the Homeless asking voters to appropriate $5,000 this year, an increase from last year's request of $1,500.

The Bennington Area Habitat for Humanity has also asked the town, by request, to appropriate $2,400 in this years budget.

According to O'Keefe, Habitat for Humanity asks for this amount every year and the money would not necessarily be used for the current project on Jennifer Lane.

The Mark Skinner Library is asking the town for $153,200 from the town this year, the largest single amount being asked for on this year's Town Warning.

This is the fourth straight year that the Mark Skinner Library has level funded a request of $153,200 from the town. In an earlier interview, Betsy Bleakie, the library's executive director, said that the appropriation would account for 45 percent of the library's budget.

They have not raised their request out of sensitivity to the pressures on taxpayers from an economy still recovering from the downturn that began in 2008-09, she added.


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