Essex voters approve Regional School District budget share at Town Meeting | News

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ESSEX — Town Meeting voters approved the town’s share of the Manchester Essex Regional School District’s FY23 budget.

Essex is expected to pay $9,077,671 out of the total $29,250,987 budget, up 4.39% from last year. The article passed by a secret ballot with 185 in favor and 51 against. A motion to reconsider the motion failed to get a two-thirds majority vote. 

Last week, Manchester voters approved their $15,909,698 share of the budget, a 2.05% increase from last year.

During discussion on the article at Monday’s Town Meeting, School Committee Chairwoman Sarah Wolf acknowledged the fears some in town have regarding the ever-increasing school budget. She maintained the district has continued to operate “effectively and efficiently” despite the millions of dollars cut from the budget over the past few years, and contested the district is a “good value” and an “asset to the town.”

Finance Committee Chairman Ben Buttrick said he was “comfortable with where the budget had landed” for FY23. He noted that while the town is paying more of an annual increase than Manchester, Essex still pays less per student, which he characterized as a “good deal.” One Essex student cost the town around $18,000 — in Manchester, taxpayers pay approximately $20,000 per student.

Buttrick said the FY23 budget only represents a “short-term issue.” The bigger issue at hand, he said, was the district’s budget trajectory. He reinstated the Essex Financial Committee’s commitment to work with the School Committee on advocating for a Proposition 2 1/2 override at next year’s Town Meeting in order to “maintain the excellence in our schools.”

Selectmen Guy Bradford said the Board of Selectmen strongly supported the district’s FY23 budget as it “reflects the best efforts of all involved.”

The majority of voters who spoke during public comment commended the school committee’s work to make the Regional School District one of the highest-performing districts in the state. One said, however, they will not support the upcoming override until the district reconsiders how it spends taxpayers’ money. 

Later Monday night, voters allowed the town to form a Municipal Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The seven-member Board of Trustees will have the power to manage, purchase and sell land and accept donations for affordable housing purposes without Town Meeting approval. The town hopes this streamlining will increase the amount of affordable housing in Essex. Only 2.7% of the homes in town are considered affordable by the state, far from its 10% requirement. 

The moratorium on business and industrial conversions was also extended to Jan. 1, 2024. The extension would allow the town to apply for a $75,000 state grant to draft new zoning bylaws. These bylaws are to be pitched to voters  to present to voters sometime in fall 2023.

Here’s how voters voted at Essex Annual Town Meeting:

1: Elect town officers for Annual Town Meeting. — PASSED.

2: Accept annual reports from town officials and committees. — PASSED.

3: Amend the fiscal 2023 wage and salary scale. — PASSED.

4: Fix fiscal 2023 salary and compensation for elected officers. — PASSED.

5: Use $25,456 from the Town Septic Betterment Fund for an annual payment to the Community Septic Management Program loan issued by the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust. — PASSED.

6: Use $22,494 collective bargaining agreement with the Essex Police Association. — PASSED.

7: Approve the town’s fiscal 2023 budget at $8,915,100. — PASSED.

8: Fund the Sewer Enterprise Fund for the remainder of fiscal 2022. — POSTPONED INDEFINITELY.

9: Transfer $2,187,056 to the Sewer Enterprise Fund for fiscal 2023. — PASSED.

10: Fund the Water Enterprise Fund for the remainder of fiscal 2022. — POSTPONED INDEFINITELY.

11: Transfer $816,285 to the the Water Enterprise Fund for fiscal 2023. — PASSED.

12: Approve Essex’s share of the Manchester Essex Regional School District fiscal 2023 budget at $9,077,671. — PASSED, 185 in favor, 51 against.

13: Approve Essex’s share of the Essex Tech fiscal 2023 budget at $257,940. — PASSED.

14: Extend the temporary moratorium on business and industrial conversions approved by last year’s Town Meeting from two years to three. — PASSED.

15: Institute a Municipal Affordable Housing Trust Fund. — PASSED.

16: Increase terms for the moderator and constable from one to three years. — PASSED.

17: Allow the town to institute winter parking bans at any time during snow and ice states of emergencies. — PASSED.

18: Amend the town bylaw regulating restrictions on certain plastics by commercial establishments to allow non-renewable bowls, cups and lids through the end of the calendar year. — PASSED.

19: Allow voters to impose user fees at the town dump during any town meeting, not just Annual Town Meeting. — PASSED.

20: Allow the town to raise transfer station sticker prices to “some higher amount.” — POSTPONED INDEFINITELY.

21: Purchase a new computer server at Town Hall for $10,000. — PASSED.

22: Purchase a new dump truck with snowplow for $100,000. — PASSED.

23: Purchase a new water and sewer meter reading unit and its associated software for $13,000. — PASSED.

24: Pay for design work to improve the town’s Water Filtration Plant for $200,000. — PASSED.

25: Request a $2.6 million loan from the state Department of Environmental Protection to upgrade to the town’s Water Filtration Plant facilities. — PASSED.

26: Pay for any repairs, replacements and upgrades to the municipal sewer system $50,000. — PASSED.

27: Use $12,000 to purchase materials for renovations at Centennial Grove Cottage, its garage, and the Grove Concession Stand. — PASSED.

28: Match a grant for new firefighter air packs at $14,500. — PASSED.

29: Create a stabilization fund for climate change-related projects using $1,000. — PASSED.

30. Match a grant for a roadbed elevation project to reduce flooding on Apple Street near Southern Avenue at $80,000. — PASSED.

31: Hire a private company to remove green crabs from town waters at $5,000. — PASSED.

32: Approve $268,918 for the Community Preservation Committee’s fiscal 2023 selected projects. — PASSED.

33: Pay for operational expenses through the remainder of fiscal 2023. — POSTPONED INDEFINITELY.

34: Replenish the Finance Committee’s reserve fund for the remainder of fiscal 2022. — POSTPONED INDEFINITELY.

35: Pay $34,200 in outstanding bills. — PASSED.

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