CHESHIRE, Mass. — Cheshire's proposed fiscal 2020 budget represents a 2.94 percent increase over this year.
The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday reviewed the $6,272,575 budget that is $179,119 more than fiscal 2019's $6,090,255 spending plan.
"It looks like a good budget," Chairwoman Carol Francesconi said.
Town Administrator Edmund St. John IV said the proposed budget is $36,000 under the levy limit and that he is trying to keep the tax increase at a minimum 50 cents. He said based on current numbers, the new tax rate would be $13.60 per $1,000 assessed value.
"We are in a revaluation year and these are very preliminary numbers but we wanted to keep this within about a 50 cent increase from last year," St. John said. "I was able to keep it at exactly 50 cents."
St. John pointed out a $30,000 decrease in the amount of free cash used to offset the tax rate. Historically the town has levied $170,000 against the tax rate but St. John changed this number to $140,000.
"We are looking to decrease our dependence on available free cash to offset the tax rate," he said. "This budget reduces the amount of free cash used."
Two other free cash expenditures include $13,000 to develop a technology improvement plan and $17,800 to fund the assessors reclassification certification. This leaves the town with $168,976 in free cash.
St. John said he asked departments to request things they may not typically ask for. He said he wanted to at least have an idea what the departments were looking for.
"I wanted to encourage the departments to basically come forward with budgets and encourage them to make requests that they may not normally make," he said. "The purpose behind this is to promote forward thinking rather than just maintaining what we have done in the past."
St. John noted there were some unanticipated savings in education that increased that line item just .28 percent. The Adams-Cheshire Regional School District budget came in with an increase of $50,106, or 1.79 percent. The Northern Berkshire Vocational School budget came in with a decrease of $40,792.
St. John said this gave the town more wiggle room to really tackle some of the department requests and larger town projects.
Much of the budget was flat funded with some departments only slightly decreasing or increasing.
The Police and Fire Department increase was just under $3,000. The Highway Department budget of $869,362 increased $21,270. St. John said this was mostly driven by wage step increases.
St. John said the Council on Aging budget of $46,803 increased 104.35 percent. This is a $23,900 increase to fund the addition of a program coordinator
"This represents a dramatic shift in how we approach serving our aging population," he said. "The goal of adding this position is to increase the offerings and communication available to residents who would like to avail themselves of this service."
St. John added there was also an effort to bolster budget items that are often underfunded so there would be less reserve fund transfers. Specifically, he pointed out the town buildings budget of $270,240 which increased 6.81 percent.
"Many of these increases represent actual expenditures on these items," he said. "Historically, we will make transfers throughout the year to cover for these, but I feel that this is not a sound practice moving forward."
St. John said the Selectmen's budget of $116,237 has increased 12.32 percent to accommodate the increased board to be voted on this May.
Also included in this budget was a $2,500 marketing initiative line item.
"It represents a new way of communicating and advocating for our town," St. John said. "Many communities spend significantly higher on this item with the purpose of attracting both new visitors and new residents, while keeping current residents informed of what the town has to offer them."
The Selectmen will now hold a meeting with the Finance Committee to review the budget and make final changes.
The town will hold public budget reviews May 23 and 30 at 7 p.m. These will be held at Cheshire Elementary School.
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Cheshire Selectmen Eye Salary Increases in FY21 Budget
By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Correspondent
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The fiscal 2021 budget preparation dominated at Tuesday night's Selectmen's meeting.
Aside from reviewing the Board of Health and Council on Aging operating budgets, the board discussed at length what some members see as stagnant salaries for many town positions.
Town Administrator Edmund St. John IV recently undertook a salary study with input from the Massachusetts Municipal Association's Human Resources department. Chairwoman Michelle Francesconi feels Cheshire has fallen behind other similar communities in compensating it's employees.
"Based on feedback that we received at the town meeting last year, a concerted effort has been made by the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee towards improving the overall salary structure of our town. We have been undercompensating our employees, we do recognize that, and it's something we are looking to address," she said to the virtual attendees.