Manchester budget contains money for generator, phones, busy election – journal inquirer_ manchester

MANCHESTER — Budget workshops conducted by the Board of Directors in the last several weeks have provided new insight into a number of upcoming efforts to improve services across the town’s departments.

A series of meetings with leaders of various town departments delved into those departments’ plans for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

The $184.2 million budget represents an increase of 2.48 percent from the current year and, if approved, will lead to an increase of 0.99 percent in town taxes.

One of the biggest increases seen in this year’s budget was an allocation of about $225,000 for the Police Department to purchase a replacement generator.

Police Chief Marc Montminy told the directors that the current generator, nearly 20 years old, has failed more than any other generator in the town, between six and eight times.

During these failures, the department has had to use a mobile unit, and has also needed to stock up on parts for the generator in the event of somewhat frequent failure.

Montminy said the Police Department has chosen a natural gas generator, as that’s less likely to fail.

As far as the department’s non-capital budget goes, Montminy said, other than contractual salary increases, the budget is lower than in past years. He did say an allocation of $19,000 would be used to lease up to five unmarked cars for use by the detective division.

Economic outreach

Another notable change in the budget is the creation of an economic development outreach position. This position, partly funded by $20,000 previously earmarked for an initiative to improve manufacturing efforts in town, will take over some efforts from the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Town Manager Scott Shanley said.

Since many businesses in town are not chamber members, they don’t get services. The new employee would interact with local businesses and provide assistance when necessary, also possibly working to fill vacant space in town and look for business opportunities in the community, Shanley said.

This would be the first new town position in eight years. While the directors asked if the Economic Development Commission could cover its responsibilities, Shanley replied, “The town can’t take businesses for granted.”

The new hire would need to track business and real estate, he said. “We do it on a macro level, but we don’t do it on a micro level, and the micro level is where a lot of this stuff happens,” Shanley said.

“We need someone to do work volunteers couldn’t do,” added Mayor Jay Moran.

More money for election

The town registrars’ budget will jump 19.4 percent or $47,000, but that spending was expected due to the November presidential election. Manchester registrars Timothy Becker and James Stevenson said that in years with only local elections, turnout stands at about 30 percent, but in years with presidential elections that number jumps to 80 percent.

Staff training, Election Day registration, and extended hours of operation on Election Day represented most of that cost increase.

Another $68,000 is in the budget to convert school telephones to a new IP telephony service.

Under current services, in the case of an emergency, a 911 call from a school would simply give the dispatcher that school’s name, but not a location within the building, Shanley said. That can possibly compromise safety, particulary in large buildings like Manchester High School.

While state infrastructure upgrades were expected to upgrade phone information systems, that effort has been pushed back for several years, he continued. As a result, the town will upgrade its resources. Once the upgrade is complete, a given 911 call would tell the dispatcher a specific area of the school, allowing first responders to save valuable time.

Building inspection is also expected to see spending rise by just over $50,000.

More than 80 percent of that total is dedicated to assistance and contracting for several prominent upcoming projects in the town, including the Wal-Mart on Spencer Street, the renovations and additions to the Bennet Academy and Cheney project, and the upcoming Broadleaf Apartment complex.

Small increase for water

For the water department, despite two $600,000 ongoing projects to improve access to pipes and problem areas as well as public works infrastructure, water rates will remain relatively low. Manchester’s rates will rise by just under 50 cents per month under the current 2 percent rate increase, going from the lowest rate in the Greater Hartford area to the second-lowest rate.

Shanley noted the rate increases are based on an extended outlook to protect against spikes. While it could have seen no increase this year, there’s no way of knowing if a 7 percent increase would be necessary next year, he said.

Water and Sewer Administrator Patrick Kearney also reassured the board that a situation like that in Flint, Michigan, where a switch in drinking water resources made the water toxic to residents, won’t happen in Manchester.

Kearney said the water department keeps alkali and pH levels high to prevent pipe corrosion, as well as a pipe phosphate to prevent water from directly touching pipes and creating mineral buildup.

The sewer department is also planning similar infrastructure rehabilitation and replacement, though the spending is mitigated by $302,000 in savings from electrical costs and elimination of nitrogen credits.

An expected 6 percent rate increase will boost bills by $2 per month on current bills of $33 per month. That’s higher than other local towns’ rates, but only a few dollars more expensive than Vernon and South Windsor.

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