Manchester town meeting adopts $5.5M budget for fiscal 2018

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Readers: This story was edited at 10 a.m. on Sunday, March 5 to correct that 149 voters attended.

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, according to the town's online meeting calendar.)

In discussion of items that will be voted on by Australian ballot on Tuesday, 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 a $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.

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.

Town meeting continues on Monday night at 7 p.m. with the school portion of the floor meeting, which will discuss, but not vote on, the Manchester School District's $11.2 million budget. Voters will decide whether to accept the school budget at the town election on Tuesday.

Also being decided by Australian ballot on Tuesday are whether the town schools will enter the proposed Taconic & Green Regional Education District, and a contested Select Board race between Karen Geriak and Jan Nolan.

Geriak and Nolan are vying for the Select Board seat which is currently held by Carol Lattuga. She is stepping down after 16 years on the board.

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


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