To the Editor:

One thing that can be said for “Taxachusetts” is that it allows municipalities to clawback tax dollars in the form of grants. In the last five years, the broad array of Manchester’s grant applications has quadrupled and, of necessity, are forecasted to become even more aggressive in the future. We've received funding for encouraging the Atlantic to reclaim Ocean Street and, conversely, we’ve received funding for discouraging the Atlantic from claiming Town Hall! There’s an important difference: priority.

Recently, if the Town website (www.manchester.ma.us) can be considered accurate, over $1.6mil in grant money has been requested for various projects. Grants typically require a percentage of matching funds from the municipality, in cash, and via in-kind services. Often, there are consultant fees. (Consultants may impose their own favorite problem-fixers, e.g., annoying, ahistorical bump outs. No thank you!) Grants are not “free” money. When we request and receive money that doesn't map to our priorities, then look for a default place to spend it (e.g., widening upper Beach Street sidewalk) we violate the spirit if the not the letter of the grant funding mechanism.

This year's Master Plan "identifies potential capital costs of around $85 million over the next 10 to 15 years. Only $1.5 million of these are currently considered in the Town’s five-year capital plan. Over $20 million, are anticipated to come from grants primarily for resiliency efforts to mitigate the impacts of flooding, climate change and harbor dredging. The balance of identified costs is to maintain, update or replace municipal buildings and infrastructure."  

And the source of the remaining $65 million?? Hello? Recession? Hello?

So, what’s my point? 

Sharpen your pencils! IF, over the next 10 years, our Town is lucky enough to be granted return of the millions of State and Federal tax dollars necessary to sustain our needs, we must start now to be scrupulous in how we prioritize, request and spend this precious resource. It is best not for cosmetics, or fat cat wishlists. At the Town Meeting on November 19th, you will be asked to approve the controversial Town Hall Common “rehabilitation” project whose costs have escalated to $428K (including an outsized, short-of-private-funding Veteran’s Memorial proposal that should be relocated). To be sure the area is a weary, unattractive patchwork, that could be beautified. This project is also paid for primarily by our tax dollars, but in a yearly percentage grant via the Community Preservation Act (CPA). Compare that to the value, and necessity of Black Earth’s new composting facility. We received a $400K state grant for construction, and need to match $300K more. As recycling is forced to decrease, composting will increase, and this sustainable investment actually generates fees from other communities for our Town coffers. It’s a much better value.

Make a point with your vote!

Sheila Hill

Manchester-by-the-Sea