CHESHIRE, Mass. — A draft fiscal 2018 budget presented to the Selectmen on Tuesday is up $306,732, a 5.5 percent hike over this year.
The Selectmen reviewed the proposed $5,902,686 budget on Tuesday prior to the board's regularly scheduled meeting.
"All in all, I think for most people, town government, living in Cheshire is a bargain," Chairman Robert Ciskowski said. "Look at some of the rates surrounding us even some of the hill towns. We do OK."
"I think we know what we are and that is a good thing," Selectman Edmund St. John IV added.
Town Administrator Mark Webber said the $306,732 increase is roughly split between education and town operations.
Instead of programming in a flat salary increase for town employees, the Selectmen used information from a study they conducted last year of salaries throughout the county.
"We just tried to come up with a conservative number from what it had been and what high and lows we saw throughout the county," Selectwoman Carol Francesconi said. "This is what we came up with."
The Selectmen had little concern with the budget but Ciskowski did suggest perhaps raising the town clerk's salary so it was more in line with the assessor and treasurer.
"I really see the town clerk's position more than a $14-an-hour job ... I think the responsibility of the job is great. We would be nowhere without a clerk," he said. "It is such a meticulous job that entails impeccable record keeping and it just seems a little out of whack to me."
The Selectmen tabled the line item for a later discussion.
Francesconi added that she wished the town could set aside more money for building maintenance.
Webber said the town has close to $80,000 in levy capacity so officials have to be careful when making any increases.
Instead of cutting the Highway Department's budget, it was increased $26,000, or 3.3 percent.
Highway Superintendent Blair Crane said he was happy with the increase but he could always use more.
"I think everyone will benefit greatly from that," he said. "It really is all proportional the more you have the more you can do but this is doable for sure. We just have to make smart decisions."
The Selectmen had no words for the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District assessment because of a proposed amendment that would allow the town to increase its assessment without triggering a proportional increase in Adams. Cheshire would be able to independently fund the elementary school, which is slated to close.
"I don't know what to say about it right now," Francesconi said. "There are too many variables."
Not only do the Selectmen have concerns about funding the school if it is kept open, but also the cost of closing and insuring it.
St. John suggested that next year, departments provide the board with "wish list" budget to help prioritize needs in the community.
"I think we need a wish list or a best scenario budget that rather than be restrictive asks what say the Highway Department would want to repair if they had the resources," he said.
The board will meet with the Advisory Board again next week to continue going over the budget. The annual town meeting is June 12.