Manchester voters approve budget, other spending issues

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MANCHESTER — For the second year in a row, the Manchester Business Association's $50,000 appropriation request was approved by voters but not before a lengthy debate over the spending request.

Supporters and opponents took to the mic Saturday at Manchester's town meeting at the Manchester Elementary Middle School.

MBA President Paul W. Carroccio presented an information sheet detailing the business marketing organization's successes for the year, but, just like last year, Brad Myerson stood in opposition to the allocation saying there was little control over how the money was used after it was approved and there were better ways to spend that money.

Myerson said the funds could be used to help establish some sort of public transportation, public restrooms or to benefit one of the many social service organizations that were asking for a fraction of that amount.

"The point is, those organizations provide a tangible public benefit," Myerson said. "Yet we are being asked for the second year in a row to fund a business promotion organization that can fund itself. It is not a wise use of our tax funds."

Myerson said that the MBA had given money to the ITVfest, which left Manchester and moved to Minnesota after it asked for more financial support from the town and didn't get it.

But Bill Drunsic said no money was given to ITVfest, and he sees the MBA funds as an insurance policy, pointing out that the rooms and meals tax brings in $1.31 million and funds more than 30 percent of the town budget.

"It is as an insurance policy that the rooms and meals tax fund stays healthy," Drunsic said. "The local option tax revenue that we collect and send to the state and is sent back to this town that offsets your taxes. We have to ensure that it continues to survive if you want to continue to have one of the lowest tax rates in the state."

He said the rooms and meals tax is dependent on tourists.

"You have to market this community," Drunsic said. "You have to let people know that this is the right place to visit. I think this is a necessary item to support that continues to help our businesses be viable."

Orland Campbell said that businesses expand because of local support and drew a big laugh when he said, "I hate to agree with Brad (Myerson) but I think there are better ways of spending this money"

"I think local business succeed because they're good businesses," Campbell said. "I think people come to Manchester because it's a hell of a place to be."

Ron Mancini, the owner of Mother Myrick's Confectionary, said his business "wouldn't be a success without the people in this room, but we wouldn't be the business we are if it was only the people in this room."

"Manchester is a town in transition," Mancini said. "It's important to sustain that effort."

In the end, the item passed in a close voice vote in which the "ayes" were determined to have the edge over the "nays" as moderator Michael Nawrath made the determination and nobody challenged it.

That vote was the most contentious of the 3-hour, 12-minute meeting but there were a couple of other items that drew some debate.

The town's $4,979,239 budget passed without any serious opposition although it drew some commentary about the funding of the fire department.

Former State Representative Jeff Wilson asked about plans to fund the fire department's current and future needs.

"I just want to make sure there is a plan and everybody is on board and the fire department is going to have what it needs," Wilson said.

The issue of funding the department was an issue during the budgeting process as the department's leadership has continued to warn that they cannot continue to push some of their funding requests down the road.

As they had during the budgeting process, Select Board Chairman Ivan Beattie assured voters that the board is in full support of the fire department, but there were some hard decisions made about how to best help the department tackle a lengthy list of needs.

"You'll note the fire department operating budget is up over 30 percent this year," Beattie said. "We had lengthy discussions with the principles in the fire department about how to fund their requests."

Manchester Fire Department Chief Chris Towslee clarified that one of the pressing needs the department needs to tackle in the next year or so is a 34-year-old rescue truck.

He then read off a long list of equipment and supplies the department had funded through donations and fundraising including $35,000 Jaws of Life.

"That's just an example of what we do to keep the taxpayer money down," Towslee said. "At some point and time, this is going to end."

The overall budget is up just 2.1 percent Beattie told voters and thanked department heads for presenting tight spending plans.

"It's one of the lowest tax rates in the state," Beattie said, adding that the town with smaller budgets than Manchester "very few of them have any municipal infrastructure."

Other budget items passed with little discussion or opposition.

A $931,100 appropriation to defray the operating expenses of the town passed easily as did a measure to transfer local option tax revenues of $1,310,000 into the Property Tax Relief Reserve Fund.

Three requests to spend Capital Improvement Reserve and Contingency Fund were approved including $125,000 for street lights on Depot Road, $115,000 for improvements to the Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park, and $25,000 for a used sidewalk snowplow.

An appropriation of $17,481 to fund 11 local human service organizations passed with a smattering of nays.

Although one man spoke against funding the groups out of taxpayers' pockets, most of the conversation was about how little the groups were asking for and whether or not voters could give them more than they asked for.

A nonbinding article asking whether voters wanted to "urge the Manchester Selectboard to adopt an ordinance to prohibit the use of single-use plastic bags," passed with a few nays after voters listened to several youthful supporters and others.

Fifth-graders Jordan Choi and Grayson Moore, from MEMS, and their teacher Anna Nicholson presented a letter written by the entire fifth-grade class. Nicholson and Choi read the letter.

They were followed by Burr and Burton Academy senior Sage Lalor who pointed out that Vermont communities are always trying to figure out how to attract young residents and things like this can make a community more appealing.

"I want to live in a place that doesn't sit back and wait for others to act," Lalor said. "I want to live in a place where we live out our values."

In an issue that will be decided from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 5, at the town offices, Manchester Community Library Executive Director Violet Gannon addressed voters.

The library has proposed a budget of $243,740.

Mary Cardel said that when she first moved to Manchester there was a group trying to form a community center, which eventually failed.

"Now we have the Manchester Community Library," Cardel said. "We should think of it as the Manchester Community Center and Library. I think we should vote yes."

Nobody opposed the measure at the meeting.

One of three write-in candidates was present to ask for votes Tuesday and another was represented by family.

Todd Nebraska gave his qualifications and asked voters to write him in for the three-year seat being vacated by Steven Nichols who has chosen not to run for re-election.

One of his opponents, Melissa Levis was represented by her brothers, Max and Oliver Levis who touted their sister's strengths.

The third candidate is Dick Stillson.

The meeting adjourned at 4:12 p.m.

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


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