By James Niedzinski
---- — EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a corrected version of this story, correcting the town budget figures.
MANCHESTER — One article would pave the way for a ban on the disbribution of plastic bags by local grocery and convenience stores.
Another would give dog owners two extra months to walk their pets on town beaches, another would carry out a takeover of a Pine Street property for enviornmental cleanup — and yet another series of articles will tackle a proposed town budget that includes increases for the school district and town employee pay hikes.
In all, Manchester voters will face 29 articles on their warrant at the Annual Town Meeting, which is set for tonight at 7 p.m. at Memorial Elementary School – and could continue Tuesday as well if necessary.
Moderator Alan Wilson said Friday he is expecting more than 600 people showing up, and predicts the meeting may well extend into a second night.
”But I’ve been wrong before,” Wilson said of the time expected for the meeting. “I’m expecting a very serious discussion on a number of articles.”
The meeting will include discussion and voting on a fiscal 2014 budget of $27,823,273, an increase of $578,000 compared to spending for the current year, according to the Finance Committee’s Annual Town Report for 2 013.
But according to the regional school district budget, Manchester’s total assessment is up 3.26 percent — or $575,945 — compared to last year. The annual town report states the rise is due to the increased population in the district by Manchester residents and the fact that expenditures that were previously put off. In addition, the school budget has a fairly conservative amount set aside for state funding, the report states.
Other rising costs include pay to town employees, up approximately 5.3 percent ($283,196) mostly due to contracts approved at last years meeting and retroactive pay raises, the report states.
The town has also set aside $1.5 million to meet a state Department of Environmental Protection decision that states properties on a former burn dump on Pine Street must be cleaned by April of 2014, the debt is set to be spread throughout multiple years.
Additionally, lowered costs include health insurance expenses and debt services.
In capital expenses, voters will be asked to support more than $800,000 in items and repairs, including $110,000 for a large dump truck, $100,000 for an emergency rehabilitation vehicle and $100,000 road repair.
Beyond the budgets and financial allocations, voters will also take up warrant articles that have stirred a lot of interest leading into tonight’s meeting.
Article 25, would effectively ban any retail establishment from using all thin filmed, single used plastic bags. And a number of groups have lined up to support the move ‚ including the town’s selectmen, who endorsed the proposal on a 4-1 vote.
Petitioned by resident Gary Gilbert, the petition is also backed by a democratic state representative from Marblehead who is proposing a statewide ban, and representatives from Environmental Massachusetts, a Boston-based environmental advocacy group.
“I don’t want to be overconfident, but I have heard strong support for it,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert said one aspect of the bylaw that’s appealing to most people is it’s simplicity, given that it would affect only one type of plastic bag — the single-use bags commonly found in grocery stores, pharmacies and convenient stores.
He said the biggest impact of the plastic bag threat is the time it takes to break down if not properly recycled. A spokesman for the New England Aquarium had previously said the plastic bags resemble jellyfish, endangering the aquatic animals that eat them as well as their environment.
Gilbert was skeptical any ban would adversely affect a business that uses the bags. A company could permanently switch to paper bags with no handles or even save money by having customers utilize reusable bags, not spending money or paper or plastic, he said.
“It could go in so many different directions,” he said of the bylaw’s affect on businesses.
But Bob Vello, the General Manager of Crosby’s Marketplace, the only supermarket in Manchester, said the removal of plastic bags could have negative consequences.
Vello said the Manchester store currently uses plastic bags, pegged at three cents each and paper bags with handles, which costs 10 cents each.
One option, he said, would be to use handle-less plastic bags, which costs 6 cents each, but customers favor bags with handles.
Vello could not say if any ban would directly affect the customers, but the supermarket has made efforts to limit the use of plastic bags.
“We currently have a recycling center that takes all types of plastic bags, not just from our store,” he said Friday. “If we don’t distribute those (plastic) bags, we may lose the recycling center.”
Vello is not the only one against a townwide ban.
“Environmental awareness is not legislated, it’s something you teach people,” selectmen Thomas Kehoe said, the voted against endorsing the article.
Kehoe said he would have preferred the supporters of the bylaw work with stores in the area to reduce the bags, rather than banning them outright. He said he would have preferred to see statewide legislation on such a ban — similar to the bill being proposed by state Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead).
“I don’t think we should be doing this because two or three other communities are doing this,” Kehoe said.
Article 24, meanwhile, would ease the ban time for dog owners to walk their pets on town beaches. The current bylaw bans dogs on the beach from April 1 through Oct. 31; the new proposal would ease the ban to May 1 through Sept. 30, essentially opening the months of April and October to the dogs.
That citizen petition article has support from 33 local business, petitioner Olga Hayes said Friday. In addition, the beach would be used a lot more, Hayes found from surveying residents.
“People like coming into a dog-friendly town,” she said.
Hayes said she recognizes that opponents of the article have cited the health risks and uncleanliness of waste left behind by some dogs, but added that most owners pick up after their pets.
“It’s much better than it has ever been,” she said of the waste.
Hayes noted there are several dispensaries of containing bags to clean up waste around town.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.