MANCHESTER — The first Manchester Selectboard meeting of the new year is Tuesday, and the agenda is packed with important issues, from the fiscal 2023 budget and a proposed sewer system expansion to what Vermont’s cannabis sales law could mean for the town.
The board, meeting at town hall at 7 p.m. Tuesday and on Zoom, will hear a presentation from attorneys Timothy Fair and Andrew Subin. Their firm, Vermont Cannabis Solutions, provides support to entrepreneurs wanting to sell products containing THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana.
Under the Vermont “tax and regulate” law passed in 2020, the decision on whether to opt in for cannabis sales must be made by town vote. Towns that do so get to collect 70 percent of excise tax revenue; the remainder is used by the state for drug use prevention and education.
“We want them to talk to us about what are ins and outs of the new law,” town manager John O’Keefe said of Fair and Subin’s appearance before the board.
“They are admittedly proponents – they’re up front about that. But they are two attorneys who are experts on the Vermont law,” O’Keefe said.
Last year, the board considered putting a cannabis proposal on the town meeting warning, but ultimately passed, deciding “it was too last minute and we didn’t have all the facts,” O’Keefe said. “So that’s what we’re trying to get.”
In 2016, the Selectboard made the sale of marijuana illegal under the town commerce ordinance. But that was two years before the state legalized the possession or cultivation of small amounts of cannabis.
Whether that ordinance would have to be formally repealed for legal cannabis sales to move forward remains unclear, O’Keefe said.
“That’s a good question for the lawyers,” he said. “It’s a constitutional question whether a pre-existing town ordinance would still take effect after the state changes its laws.”
The Selectboard will also continue work on the proposed $3.75 municipal budget for fiscal 2023. The spending plan would increase the town share of spending by 2.99 percent, or $109,151.
The board held a day-long work session on the plan Dec. 17 at the Park House.
The budget includes a 3 percent raise for unionized police officers, agreed to in collective bargaining, as well as a 3 percent increase for non-union employees.
The budget proposes a $20,000 one-time increase in marketing funds for the Manchester Business Association, which has annually been voted $50,000 from local option tax revenues by Town Meeting voters. That sum, and another $20,000 sports marketing partnership between the town and Riley Rink, would come from American Rescue Plan Act funds compensating communities for economic losses, O’Keefe said.
Also proposed in the plan is $15,000 for a part-time town officer who would enforce parking regulations downtown and town regulations at Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park.
One capital expenditure that might hold for a year is $120,000 to replace the slate roof of the Bennington County Court House, which the town now owns. A state grant specifically targeted for historic buildings with slate roofs would help defray the cost.
“It definitely needs [a new roof] but we think it can last another year. And we don’t know what to do with [the building] yet,” O’Keefe said. “It’s going to be expensive; it’s a big slate roof. But even if you could get away with another roof I wouldn’t be in favor of it.”
Also on the agenda for Monday is the $1.9 million expansion of the town’s sewer system, and whether to place it on the town meeting warning.
The proposal, in three suggested phases, would connect the existing system northward along Main Street (Route 7A), from Cemetery Avenue north to Hunter Park Road, which serves Riley Rink.
When the town overhauled its land use ordinance, that stretch of Main Street was envisioned as a prime location for mixed-use development and workforce housing.
The proposal calls for three phases, built in linear order up Main Street. Phase 1, at an estimated cost of $825,000, would run from Cemetery Avenue to near the Vermont Country Store office complex and the Aspen Motel. It would serve the Northshire Day School, the Palmer House, and a 20-unit housing development being built by William Drunsic.
The second phase, estimated at $675,000, would run northward from the end of the first phase to the mobile home park just north of Town Hall. O’Keefe said the second section has the most potential from a development standpoint, including a planned hotel, and would also provide equity for mobile home residents currently on wells and septic systems.
The third phase would reach up to Riley Rink, at a cost of $415,000.
O’Keefe said the board will discuss whether the expansion should be treated as a new sewer district. It will also consider whether to pursue an accelerated connection fee system that would incentivize connections sooner than later.
The connection fees would be greater for commercial developers and lower for the owners of small and moderate-sized homes.
“We do have capacity” for additional users, O’Keefe said. “We’re permitted 600,000 gallons a day – we’re at about 350,000.” He said the current plan is to add 100,000 gallons per day, he added.
Planned housing and commercial development on the road would provide $415,000 in fee revenue, he said.