Manchester OKs $50,000 for marketing group

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MANCHESTER — A proposed $50,000 allocation of town funds for marketing Manchester dominated debate at town meeting on Saturday before passing by a voice vote.

Discussion on the proposal to provide the funds to the Manchester Business Association carried on for 90 minutes of the floor meeting before it was approved in a meeting which, despite its five-hour length, was short on suspense.

Voters completed their task in Tuesday's Australian ballot, approving $232,773 in funding for the Manchester Community Library and up to $1.5 million in previously-approved bond funding for water improvement projects. The library passed by a vote of 405-229, according to official results provided by town clerk Anita Sheldon.

Voters on Tuesday also approved $4,000 for the Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging in addition to funds for the library, which constitute one-third of its operating expenses.

Select Board members Wayne E. Bell and Greg Cutler ran unopposed and were re-elected, as were town clerk Anita Sheldon and school board members Dave Miceli and Joe Hoffman.

On Saturday, opponents of the MBA's request 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 argued 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.

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.

Reach Journal editor Greg Sukiennik at 802-490-6000 or at gsukiennik@manchesterjournal.com

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