Our opinion: A town meeting worth attending

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The Manchester Business Association will have its chance to appeal directly to voters, thanks to the Select Board voting to place its request for $50,000 in matching funds, a portion of which it intends to share with ITVFest, on the town meeting warning.

The association is seeking $50,000 from the "local option" tax — the 1 percent levy on hotel rooms, meals, alcohol and some retail purchases. It says it will match that sum with its own privately raised contributions, and then share $20,000 with ITVFest.

Last Thursday, the Select Board briefly considered another option: A grant-funding program for economic development, administered by an appointed committee and setting specific criteria for applicants to qualify and successfully apply.

It's an intriguing option. A formal grant process with a clearly outlined set of criteria and rules, such as return on investment and the presence of matching funds, would give would-be applicants direction on what they can expect, and decision-makers a clear template to follow. That, in turn, would partially get the Select Board out of the business of playing gatekeeper for similar funding requests.

It would also remove the responsibility for appropriating such funding, and with it a measure of direct control over spending, from Town Meeting voters. Whether the voters are comfortable giving up that responsibility is a question only they can answer.

We would not be surprised to see this proposal revisited for next year's Town Meeting, particularly as Manchester's portfolio of events, from festivals and concerts to soccer and lacrosse tournaments, continues to grow. From our perspective, there would have to be assurances that the process would be public and transparent, based upon fair criteria, and verifiable.

As for MBA's request, the board agreed with Chairman Ivan C. Beattie, who questioned whether a brand new grant funding proposal at this late date would offer enough clarity to Town Meeting voters. The voters would be better-equipped to make a decision if they knew who was seeking the funding and why, he said.

While the grant proposal has merit, we agree with Beattie that the association deserves to make its case directly to the voters. And so, Town Meeting will have that discussion — one of many on the agenda that are worthy of voters' time and attendance March 3.

Voters will also be asked to decide if the Australian ballot vote is the right way for the town to seek permission to purchase land for a bike trail. The Board of Water Commissioners is proposing a special assessment district that would impose a charge on water customers and properties within 1,000 feet of a hydrant. The town wants to know if it should appoint, rather than elect, a town treasurer in the future. And last and not least, there's a non-binding resolution placed on the warning by EarthMatters, calling on the town to take a more active role in promoting renewable energy and taking faster action to kick the fossil fuel habit.

This is important stuff, and it deserves an audience of active participants, far more than the 149 voters who attended Town Meeting last year.

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