MANCHESTER — The Manchester Select Board was a couple of members short Tuesday, but the three who were in attendance began working on issues that are going to present a difficult few months.
Board chair Ivan Beattie began the meeting by welcoming Heidi Chamberlain to the board.
Chamberlain was appointed at the last board meeting to fill the seat of Wayne Bell, who stepped down at the end of September.
Beattie pointed out that Chamberlain’s expertise in finance and budgeting is one of the things the board found most appealing heading into the town’s annual budgeting process.
The board reviewed the current budget, exploring various funds and budget’s revenue sources and expenses to give Chamberlain an introduction to the budget to help her wrap her arms around the big job the board faces in the coming months.
Town Manager John O’Keefe gave a short rundown on some of the known changes.
One big impact on the revenue side will be the lack of local option tax revenue.
“There’s going to be a serious reduction in our local options taxes,” O’Keefe said. “We’re going to have to figure out how to deal with that.”
The unaudited fiscal year 2020 budget shows income of $1.31 million from the local options tax and the budgeted FY2021 budget expects $1.255 million. That number will likely be off because of the impacts of COVID-19 and the future is unknown.
The bright spot is that the total local option tax number includes both sales tax and the rooms, meals and alcohol taxes. While rooms will be deeply impacted, the meals portion will continue to produce some tax from all the take-out orders even if coronavirus makes a comeback. And alcohol sales increased in the last quarter of the previous fiscal year.
But the sales tax has stayed strong throughout as people are now paying sales tax on Internet orders. The FY2020 numbers show that $732,105 came in from sales tax, while room, meals and alcohol made up $465,974.
O’Keefe said there were two other things that are bright spots heading into the budget.
The town spent about $90,000 for COVID preparations to outfit an emergency preparedness center and COVID-19 related PPP and other expenses.
O’Keefe said the town believes it will be reimbursed for about $75,000 of that from state and FEMA sources.
O’Keefe said the town has looked at the current year budget and found places to cut back on expenses.
The town has held off on some paving, did not buy a small tractor that was budgeted for, has left several town positions unfilled and is holding off on giving some raises that were in the budget. The savings is about $135,000 so far.
BUDGETIt’s budget season and the Select Board discussed how to handle budget discussions given the rising cases of coronavirus.
The board also kicked around how to handle their budget discussions, which, normally take place during one long day during which department heads come in and pitch their budget to the board.
“I think it comes down to the comfort level of the board members,” O’Keefe said.
Beattie said everything could change quickly.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen between now and then,” Beattie said. “It could really take off. It will be interesting to see how the department heads feel about it.”
The board considered holding budget discussions via Zoom and potentially over multiple nights versus one marathon session.
TOWN MEETINGThe board also started discussions about town meeting and the potential for COVID impacts to Town Meeting Day.
The regular floor meeting on Saturday followed by Australian voting the following Tuesday is looking less likely as the current coronavirus infections continue to trend up. Questions about whether to try to do a floor presentation via Zoom or the logistics of how to do it were discussed.
Town Clerk Anita Sheldon offered advice to the board.
First, she said, instead of a hybrid model with some votes from the floor and some via paper ballot, she suggested moving the vote to Australian ballot.
Sheldon said the floor meeting could be an informational meeting and be kept on Saturday, with the voting on Town Meeting Day.
Other options were also considered, including trying to hold the event outdoors under a tent or at Applejack Stadium.
More questions were asked, such as will candidates be required to get petitions signed — Sheldon said “no” — and will the board require petitions for social service groups wanting to be on the ballot?
Beattie said if the town ends up voting the entire ballot on paper, it could answer questions that have been asked about the value of Town Meeting Day.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about is town meeting really relevant here in Manchester when 200 people show up and make decisions for the whole town,” Beattie said. “I love town meeting. I would hate to see it go away. But, this could give us a one-time opportunity to get a sense of what it looks like voting by Australian ballot.”