The voters approved a $5.2 million budget Monday night.
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The proposed construction of a Dollar General permeated the conversation Monday night at the annual town meeting, when members passed 13 articles including new zoning bylaws and the budget.
Advisory board member Jonathan Tremblay took the stand and asked if there was anything else the town could do to stop the construction of the store on South Street. The company is looking to tear down a 19th-century mansion and build the chain store, much to the chagrin of residents.
"There is a Dollar General 5.9 miles north, and there is another one 6.3 miles to the south," Tremblay said. "If this town doesn't want this store then we have an opportunity to stand up and say there is no need for another one of those stuffed in our community."
Tremblay asked the Planning Board and Building Inspector Gerald Garner for any options.
Garner said there is little the town can do at this point because of the lack of protective zoning. He said the only viable option is to buy the property.
"The property owner still holds the property and as I say, you can always buy the property," Garner said. "Everybody can get together and buy the property and do what they want with it."
Garner said he understands the towns concerns and is doing all he can to work with Dollar General. He said he is pushing them to change their look to a more colonial style and working on drainage issues.
In addition to the construction of Dollar General, town meeting members also inquired about the town's ability to seize or tear down the dilapidated buildings, such as the one on the proposed Dollar General location, that liter Cheshire.
Garner said that tearing down structures costs a lot of money because usually the case must go to court and if they grant the town rights to tear down a building, it usually has to be done at their expense.
“As you all know there are many buildings in this community that could be torn down or boarded up,” he said. “The average board up is $3,500, and we just don't have the money allocated for that so that is why properties are the way they are.”
He said they are currently working on a plan to allocate the money to secure or tear down dilapidated buildings.
Town meeting passed Articles 10, 11, and 12 which would create regulations for the installation of large wind energy facilities, small wind energy facilities, and solar photovoltaic. The regulations would include standards on design, development, monitoring, placement, removal, modification, construction, public health impact, and environmental impact.
Before the approval Cheshire had no regulation for the alternative energy sources in their bylaws.
Some town meeting members shared concern that the regulations would encourage the development of large windmills.
The bylaws state that windmills would have to be a half mile away from residents and no closer to a property line than a quarter mile. This means there are only four locations in Cheshire where a windmill could be installed and they do not receive ample wind.
Garner said that creating regulations in the bylaws will only better protect the town from unwanted installations
“It does preserve the town in some aspects," Garner said. "They [installers] would have to abide by our regulations right now…we have nothing there to regulate."
Town meeting member Michele Francesconi urged town meeting to pass the bylaws because she feels Cheshire’s inability to change their zoning laws gives them less control over what happens in the town.
"The citizens inability to pass zoning bylaws is part of what has brought Dollar General into the town, and it also allowed all of the dilapidated homes all over the town to continue to degrade and decrease the value of property," Francesconi said. "It;s also the inability to progress here and restrictions are good sometimes."
Some town meeting members made a motion to table the three articles because they felt they did not have enough time to read the bylaws.
Richard Scholz raised concerns about the depleted free cash fund.
Selectmen Paul Astorino explained that there were ample open forums and they were well advertised.
"They have gone out of their way to inform the public, and if you chose not to go or could not read the sign in front of the fire house I don’t feel sorry for you," Astorino said. "This has been well documented and well presented at many public meetings."
Town meeting members approved two large budget items; a new highway department dump truck with related plow equipment for $195,000 and a new fire truck for $450,000.
The new truck will replace a truck that has been in service since 1986.
Thomas Francesconi, chief of the Volunteer Fire Department, said that truck will be decommissioned soon and if a new one isn't purchased, the townspeople's safety is compromised.
He said that every year emergency vehicles must be inspected and certified. The 1986 truck has many problems which include a rotting frame, a dying engine, and broken pump gages. Thomas Francesconi was told by the inspector that "attempting to refurbish the vehicle would not be a cost effective endeavor."
Thomas Francesconi has been looking for a new fire engine option with Town Administrator Mark Webber for the past four years. They have had little luck finding grants and do not expect to receive more than $50,000 in grant funding.
Advisory Board Chairman William Craig said the two new trucks will add close to 24 cents to the tax rate.
"If my house was on fire I’d sure want to know they had a vehicle that wouldn’t get halfway up Windsor Road," Craig said. "I think we owe it to ourselves to protect the assets we have in town."
The two purchases must also pass a debt exclusion vote scheduled for June 24.
The town’s total operating budget of $5,293,703 was also passed Monday night. This is a 6 percent increase which translates to $314,717 more than the last fiscal year. The majority of these increases come from the Adams Cheshire Regional School District.
Voters approved article 5 which ill appropriate $188,000 from free cash to reduce the tax rate.
Town meeting member Richard Scholz showed concern about the appropriation because it will leave near $58,000 in free cash. He said that that this was the lowest amount he could find going back to 1999. He said typically in those years Cheshire had near $400,000.
Carol Francesconi explained that free cash is often an unknown because it comes from many different things including budgets that have not been completely spent and state reimbursement. She said that the amount taken out will keep the budget from needing an Proposition 2 1/2 override vote. The town is $2,000 under the levy limit.
"I have been on the board for 25 years, and I have never seen our free cash under $200,000," Carol Francesconi said. The Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Board work very hard to keep the budget under proposition 2 1/2 and quite honestly if we didn’t have free cash to balance the budget we would have to go for an override."
Webber said that continued use of free cash will run it dry.
"This is lower than it should be; ten years ago I said we can’t keep using free cash to reduce the budget, and we have been using it every year since so I have been made a liar," Webber said. “At some point we are going to run out, but we are not there yet.”
Town meeting also approved article 9 which will change the water department to enterprise funding.
Town meeting amended the first article and asked that the next annual report be made available January 1, 2015. It was made available the day of town meeting this year.