CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen voted on Tuesday to keep a single tax rate for the town, opting not to differentiate between commercial and residential properties. This decision is consistent with historic town practices.
Barbara Astorino, chairman of the Board of Assessors, addressed the board at the tax classification hearing. Although no specific tax rate was made available to the public, the board decided to go with a single tax rate as it has always done.
"Cheshire has historically always maintained a [single] tax rate," Astorino said.
She was asked by the board how urgent this matter was and what consequences might arise should they take more time to study the numbers.
"There is no drop-dead date set by the state to classify the tax rate but delays might prevent the town from sending out tax bills," she responded. "It's never been delayed before and, I assume, a new public hearing would have to be held and that it would have to be advertised all over again."
Chairman Robert Ciskowski noted very little relief to residential taxpayers should the rate be split.
"There isn't a tremendous amount of industrial or business in Cheshire," he said. "Without mentioning specific numbers ... if we shift to a split rate it's not going to make a big difference in the residential rate."
Board member Ron DeAngelis wished he had more time but was willing to make a decision for this year but revisit the issue in the future.
"I think it's probably too late now to study this [for this year] but it needs to be looked at before next year," he said. "How does it offset so that the town can grow revenue from the commercial side and not so much from residential?"
The vote to keep a single tax rate for the town was unanimous as was the pledge to study it in more detail in future years.
Cheshire's tax rate for fiscal 2019 was $13.10 per $1,000 valuation, which placed it in the middle of the pack for Berkshire County.
In other business, Fire Chief Tom Francesconi addressed the board in respect to several issues with the fire station. A special town meeting last year approved $85,000 for roof repairs.
"It's the northeast section of the roof that we're having issues with right now," he said. "When Wooliver (Roofing Contractor) got up there to do the work, they found all sorts of structural issues. Considering the ceiling rafter was in my office I probably could have told them that. They then said it needs to be re-engineered and put the whole project on hold."
Francesconi said the original cost to repair the roof was somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000. When the additional damage was taken into account the number rose to about $90,000.
"To have the roof engineered, the carpenters come in to do the actual work, then have Wooliver come in to sheath, rubber,etc."
Board member Michelle Francesconi expressed her frustration with the performance of Wooliver Roofing.
"I view it that having left roofing materials on the roof, having removed the exhaust vent in the area that was allegedly for just an estimate to be done, to me that's an acknowledgement that work was going to be done in that area and wasn't completed," she said. "I think Wooliver needs to answer why all of a sudden this is now being brought to our attention that it has to be re-engineered, because that should have been brought up to us months ago. We really need to make this a priority and fast track this."
Town Administrator Edmund St. John IV also expressed frustration with the roofing contractor.
"In the past they had always been very responsive and I think things have changed, unfortunately," he said.
Chief Francesconi brought up more costly potential repairs in the 33-year-old building including the boiler, and overhead doors. This topic brought the board back to the tax rate.
"The town has been patching for years now. At some point you gotta make a decision or we're gonna leave the town to the next generation where they will never be able to recover," said DeAngelis. "The tax rate has been kept so low it"s not generating enough revenue to do all these things we need to get done."
Ciskowski added, "We've had the discussion that the low tax rate is a double edged sword. People like it but it kind of hampers us to even keep the buildings up that we have now."
The fire chief brought another potential cause for expenditures on the building to the board's attention.
"Massachusetts is now an OSHA state. Prior to 2019, OSHA (federally) or the Department of Labor Standards (state) didn;t get involved in the fire service," he said. "That has since changed as of Jan. 21. I'm hoping for the best when the inspector shows up."
St. John said the special town meeting tentatively scheduled for Oct. 15 will now be held on Oct. 22. The agenda will include a tuition expenditure for a student to attend Smith Vocational school in Northampton as part of the school choice program, payment of some old bills from fiscal 2018-19, and hopefully a payment in lieu of taxes agreement for the solar array on the Ayotte property.
There were a few minor Highway Department issues that were tabled as the board wanted to have the newly hired superintendent, Robert Navin, on board to assist in their decisions. Navin was hired at last week's meeting but his contract has not been finalized.
The next Selectmen's meeting will include a visit from the Pat Mullins of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission to discuss Community Development Block Grant issues. The meeting will be Tuesday, Sept. 24, at 6:30 at the community center.
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