CHESHIRE, Mass. — At the conclusion of a nearly four-hour meeting, town meeting shot down the purchase of a used grader but approved the $6.2 million fiscal 2020 budget.
Town meeting said no on Monday to borrowing $95,000 to purchase a used grader during a meeting that dragged on well after 10:30 p.m. Some 73 voted in opposition to the article while only 21 voted in favor,
"I don't disagree with what you all are saying about our need for a grader but there are other options that haven't been looked at," resident Bill Craig said. "You are guessing. You may be absolutely right but you don't know."
The town's current grader is on its last legs and the town has been forced to lease a grader to maintain town roads. A new grader would cost the town near $300,000 and the Selectmen deemed this out of the question.
Different options were discussed and Selectman Robert Ciskowski said the current machine needs about $20,000 in repairs but anticipated that even after making repairs more issues would arise.
He said parts are no longer available for the machine.
"I don't think it would be a good idea to fix this," he said. "The grader has become a parts orphan."
Residents asked if the town has looked at subcontracting the grading work out and Town Administrator Edmund St. John IV said they had reached out to contractors but have yet to hear back.
Ciskowski thought it would be unlikely that the town could come to a workable arrangement with a contractor.
"Some contractors do have them but they are not going to pull them off a $5 million job," he said. "We would be a very small fish to a big contractor."
St. John said the town could continue to lease a grader but this means it still would not have a machine at its complete disposal.
Few straight out said the town did not need a grader but most people felt it would suffice to continue to rent a grader until the town has more information about other arrangements.
This was also the recommendation of the Finance Committee.
"We know we need one and we support a grader," Finance Committee member John Trembley said. "But based on the information we have we would like to continue to rent."
Before voting on this article, town meeting considered the first few articles, which represented the fiscal year 2020 budget of $6.2 million. The budget articles set the pace for the rest of the meeting and Treasurer Rebecca Herzog held every salary in the budget to make a point about the new Council on Aging program director salary.
Herzog said she thought the $22,724 salary was too high for a new position especially when other employees are paid so low.
"We will reach a point where you will be forced to increase salaries," Herzog said. "We have talked about this and the same thing happens year after year. We are very very low compared to surrounding communities."
St. John did say he agreed that the town's salaries were out of form and he would like to undergo a salary study in the near future.
He added that this higher amount won't necessarily be the salary but will give some room to increase it if need be.
Herzog made the motion to decrease the salary to $14,820.
This met opposition from members of the Council on Aging who said this salary is in line with other program directors in the area and that they will not be able to attract a qualified candidate with this lower salary.
"It does seem to me that we should be getting someone in that salary range," Council on Aging member Peter Traub said. "I think that is appropriate to be able to continue what we have been doing."
Other residents felt the employee was needed and would only improve the Council on Aging.
The motion failed.
The meeting picked up in pace after the Council on Aging discussion but town meeting still had to vote on each salary line item because Herzog held them. Some amendments were made to provide salary increases that were erroneously left out of the budget.
The meeting started to hit a stride after the budget was approved and although all but two of the articles were ultimately approved residents still asked questions -- mostly to clarify aspects of the articles.
Article 13, A citizens petition article, also went before town meeting to see if the town will adopt a marijuana cultivation bylaw that would enact regulations to limit the condition that create "public nuisances."
This is in response to a proposed open cultivation operation on Stafford Hill.
There was a lot of discussion on the matter with many Stafford Hill residents vehemently opposed to the cultivation. Many felt the current bylaws did not truly address outdoor cultivation
However, the article was doomed from the beginning and Town Counsel Edmund St. John III said the town already has marijuana bylaws.
Specifically, he pointed out that they went through a Planning Board process that this citizens petition article did not and even if accepted, the attorney general would certainly disapprove it.
There was still quite a lot of back and forth with many against the cultivation facility while others supporting the possible business growth in the community.
There seemed to be some interests in clarifying the current bylaws but no action was taken Monday night.
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This had to be the most frustrating meeting to sit through in 30 years. As someone who lives at the end of a dirt road to say I'm not happy about the grader vote would be an understatement. Do people only vote Yes on articles that affect them personally? Is it always about the cheapest way to do something or does having something available when you need it make more sense than saving a few
dollars? Those of us who live on dirt roads and have no children in the schools pay taxes like everyone else but get very little for our tax money. Why is it the towns of Lanesborough, Windsor, and Savoy can afford to own their own machine but we can't? If people have questions for the selectmen and want them to do studies, etc. maybe they should attend the weekly meetings instead of waiting for the annual town meeting.
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