Manchester Town Meeting passes $50,000 for marketing group, $4.8 million budget

MANCHESTER -- A proposed $50,000 allocation of town funds for marketing Manchester dominated debate at town meeting on Saturday.

Discussion on the proposal to provide the funds to the Manchester Business Association carried on for 90 minutes of the floor meeting before the measure passed by a voice vote.

Opponents asked if there was sufficient oversight of how MBA would spend the matching funds, and questioned whether the town should donate money from the same pool of local option tax revenue that has been used to stabilize property taxes. Supporters said it was vital that the town support MBA's visitor and business marketing efforts, predicting that the investment would help grow the local option tax revenues that would fund the proposal.

The MBA requested $50,000 in revenue from the town's 1 percent local option tax on hotel rooms, meals, alcohol and some sales. In return, it pledged to match that amount with private donations, and donate $20,000 of that sum to the Independent Television Festival (ITVFest).

After MBA president Paul W. Carroccio presented the plan, attorney Bradley Myerson rose to argue against it. He said there was no control or apparent oversight by the town and no guarantees that it would create a tangible benefit for residents, and questioned diverting local option revenues from the property tax relief reserve fund.

The MBA's good intentions "simply do not justify the expense being requested. It is not a free lunch," Myerson said. "If we approve this article we are throwing years of fiscal restraint and responsible budgeting out the window."

But Ron Mancini, an MBA member who has been an advocate of digital marketing for the town, said Myerson's comments clarified why the $50,000 made sense.

Since Manchester does rely on local option taxes for 20 percent of its budget, the town is already in the business of promoting business, Mancini said. That, he argued, is reason enough to promote those businesses.

"You don't just manage expenses," Mancini said. "No business, no government, can really run effectively just by cutting expenses."

Derek Boothby of Manchester said the proposal was "an investment in the future." And Sam Johnson of Sam's Wood Fired Pizza pointed out that his business cleared $12,000 the weekend of ITVFest — three times more than it usually makes in a weekend that time of year.

"I would really appreciate your support. It's hard enough to make a living and own a business and make a living in Vermont. Don't make it harder," Johnson said.

Jamie Dufour of Manchester proposed an amendment that would require a select board-appointed committee of three or more people to oversee the project. That amendment was eventually voted down, and debate continued until MBA member Anne Houser called the question.

Afterwards, Carroccio was pleased and relieved the measure had passed, and that voters had expressed confidence in the group's efforts. Its next steps are to solidify an agreement on use of the funds with the Select Board, raise the matching funds from constituents and the business community and set forth a strategic plan for the coming year, he said.

Passage of the $50,000 "absolutely" makes it easier to raise the matching funds, he said. "Whether it was one dollar or $500,000 there was the point that the town acknowledged the [MBA's] purpose."

In contrast, it took just 21 minutes for voters to consider and approve a $4.8 million budget for fiscal 2019, which carries an expected tax increase of 0.11 cents per $100 of assessed value of $24.84 cents per $100. That doesn't count voter appropriations, 11 of which totaling $17,481 were approved for human service non-profits Saturday.

Voters also approved of appointing rather than electing Manchester's next town treasurer, and OK'd a plan to create a water protection district — and with it, fees based on grand list value for properties that benefit from hydrant protection, regardless of whether they are water customers.

The treasurer decision means David L. Fielding, the town's treasurer for 37 years, will be free to step down in 45 days under the state statute governing the transition. Town Manager John O'Keefe said he and the Select Board will now advertise for the part-time position and run background checks on the finalist — things they could not do had the position was still chosen by election.

In the sole paper ballot of the day, voters supported making a future decision on town purchase of the rail trail between Riley Rink and North Road by Australian ballot rather than from the town meeting floor. The measure passed with 76 votes for and 56 against.

At meeting's end, town meeting voters approved a non-binding resolution pledging support for renewable energy and opposition to fossil fuel infrastructure, in order to fight climate change. That vote followed 40 minutes of speeches on the climate change crisis and the importance of taking action, including a suspension of the rules to allow several Burr and Burton Academy students to speak.

By the time the meeting drew to a close at 6:05 p.m., 5 hours and 5 minutes after it started, about 40 of the 215 registered voters who signed in when the meeting began at 1 p.m. were still in their metal chairs in the Manchester Elementary-Middle School gymnasium.

Voters' attention now turns to Tuesday's Australian ballot. While the town has no contested races for offices, voters will be asked to authorize up to $1.5 million in water improvement projects using previously bonded funds, $4,000 for the Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging, and $232,773 for the Manchester Community Library to pay one-third of its operating expenses. They will also be asked to approve the Taconic & Green Regional School District budget for fiscal 2019, as well as the proposed sending town tuition rate for Burr and Burton Academy.

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

- Approved a $1,198,000 capital budget for fiscal 2019, the bulk of which is funded by state grants for the Depot Street repaving project.

- OK'd Capital Improvement Reserve and Contingency (CIRC) fund expenditures of $30,000 for repaving part of East Manchester Road, $40,000 for resurfacing tennis courts at Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park, and $25,000 for the town share of a state recreational facilities grant for the park.

- Set the tax due dates for fiscal 2019 as 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 7, 2018 and Feb. 8, 2019.

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


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