Manchester budget up slightly

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MANCHESTER — Taxes in Manchester are slated to go up 3.25 percent based on the budget approved by the Select Board recently, according to budget documents provided by the town.

The increase is the result of strict cost-cutting in many areas to offset large increases in insurance costs and other increases. The belt tightening in some areas were able to offset most of the increases and allow for spending on needed capital improvements, while keeping the increase to a manageable rate.

Select Board chairman Ivan Beattie said the board did its job to provide the services the town wants and needs while holding the line on costs.

"That is what we're supposed to be doing," Beattie said. "My job is to try to maintain the level of service that people have come to expect at the most reasonable cost."

The board approved a budget for fiscal year 2021 with total spending of $6,989,226, which is $1,078,887 more than last year's spending plan of $5,910,339 in fiscal year 2020.

Those numbers do not include the voter appropriations that are approved at town meeting.

The $1 million increase sounds like a lot until its revealed that most of that increase is offset by an increase in non-property tax revenues of $969,500. Non-property tax revenues grew from from $2,821,500 anticipated in fiscal year 2020 to an expected $3,791,000 in fiscal year 2021.

The result of that is a budget increase of $109,387, which is 3.25 percent when factoring in town meeting voted appropriations.

The money raised through property taxes to support this budget is proposed to increase from $3,088,839 in fiscal year 2020 to $3,198,226 in fiscal year 2021.

There is also expected grand list growth of as much as 0.5 of 1 percent, which, if that comes to pass, would decrease the

budget increase to 3.1 percent, Town Manager John O'Keefe said.

If approved by voters, the tax increase would be $22.27 — $741.95, up from $719.68 — on a tax bill for a typical house valued at $275,000.

Among the drivers of the cost increase is a large increase in health insurance costs for the town.

"Health insurance has jumped up incredibly," Beattie said, adding that the board's job was to find a way to accommodate the increases while controlling the impact on the tax rate. It's unreasonable to think taxes won't go up. We don't like to exceed a 3 percent increase."

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Insurance rates jumped close to 24 percent, offsetting savings found in payroll costs despite a 3 percent cost of living raise.

"Our payroll costs are actually down by 0.1 percent," O'Keefe said. "But with insurance factored in it's up 14 percent."

Part of the spending includes a capital improvement bond for some bigger ticket items that O'Keefe said are largely projects that have been put off for a while.

The proposed bond of $972,000 includes $350,000 for a new maintenance building at Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park. Other projects at the rec park include improving parking and sidewalks and work on the grandstands at Apple Jack Stadium.

Other costs in the bond is spending to improve the public safety building near town hall where the police department, fire department and Northshire Rescue Squad is based.

Among those improvements will be paving part of the facility, installing new lighting, improving safety at the police station and others.

There is also $155,000 to help purchase a new fire department rescue truck.

More funds are destined for sidewalk work in town.

"Some people might like some of the projects and not like some of the other ones," O'Keefe said. "It's things that has kept getting kicked down the road."

Beattie said he watches the budget closely and although he's not has stingy with tax dollars as he once was, he assured voters he's watching their money.

"I question every single line as John O'Keefe and town staff are well aware," Beattie said. "I question every single part of it. What is the level of service that we expect and require? I think we reached a reasonable compromise."

Manchester, despite its level of services to town residents, has the 17th lowest tax rate in the state out of 251 towns and cities.

"To be in that group with the level of service we provide is crazy," Beattie said, adding he wants people to watch them. "They should hold our feet to the fire."

Contact Darren Marcy at dmarcy@manchesterjournal.com or by cell at 802-681-6534.


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