Selectwoman Carol Francesconi said crafting the budget faced challenges with unfunded state mandates and needed repairs to town facilities and roads.
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The town will hire its first full-time police officer following Monday's approval at town meeting.
The Board of Selectmen proposed a budget increase of $12,203 to hire one full-time officer, which faced some resistance at town meeting before being ultimately approved.
"This budget, if passed, will allow for Cheshire for the first time to have one full-time officer," Police Chief Timothy Garner said. "We are one of few remaining part-time departments."
Residents questioned the need for the officer and suggested shifts could be covered with additional part-timers to avoid paying for the benefit costs. Ultimately, voters overwhelmingly approved the additional funds.
"We need to have a body in that cruiser all day long," Selectman Paul Astorino said. "This is just an easy way at proving better blanket protection for the town of Cheshire."
While voters supported the Selectmen on the increase to the Police Department, a proposal to reduce use of the Council on Aging van was rejected. The Selectmen proposed reducing use of the van from 24 hours to 16, at a savings of $4,918 but voters opted to restore the funding.
"The numbers do not support 24 hours," Astorino said citing that usage numbers show the van was not being used a third of the time.
However, residents said senior citizens need the van to be as accessible as possible.
"We have people in this town who rely on this van. It is their only means of transportation," Neil Baker, a van driver, said. "The Council on Aging van has the highest percentage of cuts [in the budget]."
Many Council on Aging members voiced concern with the reduction of hours while the Board of Selectmen said the usage could be more efficient. But in the end, the residents voted to restore the hours.
Voters approved eight warrant articles that includes the budget, purchasing new town vehicles and joining the Northern Berkshire Regional Vocational School District.
The additional $5,000 to maintain the van's hours will come from free cash. Initially the Selectmen proposed to use $290,000 in free cash to offset the tax rate but after voters restored the van's hours, the board agreed to up that amount to $295,000.
The rest of the $5.2 million budget passed easily. The budget includes $2.2 million for the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District. Most of the town departments were level funded. Overall the budget is increasing by about $363,000 — roughly 7 percent.
Some of the larger increases were $7,950 for the building inspector, $8,000 for the assessor's office, $6,000 for veteran's benefits and $5,000 for the Cemetery Department. The Senior Center will also now be open all year.
"Last year as a budget reduction, we decided to eliminate the use of the Senior Center during the winter months. This year we decided to keep the Senior Center open all year," Selectwoman Carol Francesconi said.
In other articles, the town approved joining the Northern Berkshire Regional Vocational School District. McCann Superintendent James Brosnan said about 40 Cheshire students are expected to enroll next year and by joining the district, the town could save up to $100,000.
"The better part of this is that you will have a representative at that table," Brosnan said.
Voters also approved purchasing a new plow truck for the Highway Department, new a sport-utility police vehicle and to accept the donation of a small parcel of land on Route 116.
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