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Highway Supt. Bob Navin argues for a new road grader to town meeting Tuesday.

Cheshire Residents Approve All Articles at Special Town Meeting

By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Staff
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The Community Center was full for Tuesday's special town meeting.
CHESHIRE, Mass. — Voters approved all three articles on the warrant at a special town meeting Tuesday night. All three votes were overwhelmingly in favor but not without some spirited back and forth between the packed community center and town officials.
 
Article 1 was asking for $40,000 from the stabilization fund to pay for transportation and tuition costs for a resident to attend an out-of-district vocational school. 
 
Town Administrator Edmund St. John IV explained why the expenditure was being presented now and not at the regular town meeting in March.
 
"I didn't find out about this until the middle of August, basically. That was well after our budget was prepared and presented," he said. "Had I known in March, or before town meeting, we would've included that in our budget."
 
When asked if it will be a recurring expense, St. John said yes but clarified the process.
 
"As long as the student is attending that school, yes. But next year we'll be able to budget for it. We just didn't know in time."
 
Shadowland Cove resident Richard Keyes wanted to know if the town is protected in any way should the student become negligent.
 
"Is there a contingency that the child has to maintain a certain level in his grades? So they can get enrolled and decide not to go half the time and we're still paying?" he asked. "If they decide to go there and just goof off and isn't doing all that great, what's the sense of us sending them?"
 
Although St. John said there is no academic standard, the child must actually attend the school.
 
"The only contingency is the student must be enrolled in a program that is not offered locally. The law itself is that they have to be enrolled and go," he said. "If they are just getting a free ride to some other town to goof off for the day, that's not the purpose of the statute."
 
One resident was concerned with the draw down of the stabilization fund. The town recently approved $85,000 from the fund to finance much needed repairs at the fire station bringing the total to $125,000.
 
"We would just have to [reimburse the stabilization fund from free cash] at town meeting but that is certainly something that's possible," St. John said.
 
The article passed unanimously.
 
Article 2 asked voters to authorize the town to borrow up to $195,000 for the purchase of a new or used road grader. The town currently rents a grader every year to keep up its dirt roads.
 
New Highway Superintendent Bob Navin has been adamant about taking a long term look at how dirt roads are maintained in town and feels the convenience of having a grader available at a moment's notice is worth the cost of purchasing rather than continuing to rent.
 
"A month ago,the first day I started, the rented grader we were using was already broken down. It was used for 2 1/2 days and it broke down. Major transmission issues. It was gone for a little over two weeks," he said. "The weather has been a huge issue. The storm last week cost us three days. That grader has been out less than three days out of the seven we paid for it."
 
Navin explained that the spring rental period can be worse.
 
"A month rental, we're only getting 20 days usage out of it. Especially in the springtime, we're lucky if we get 10 days that it doesn't rain. Those remaining 10 days, most of them are never ideal for grading," he continued. "With a rented grader it's out of our hands when we can use it. We have to do it whenever we can. When conditions aren't always ideal for it. You can't get 100 part-time with a part-time machine."
 
 Selectman Ron DeAngelis agreed with Navin that buying is the smartest option.
 
"We've never been able to get all our roads graded every year while renting a grader. I think West Mountain Road was two years before it got graded. Every time they rented it ... rain," he said. "The town of Lanesborough owns a grader and they can schedule their roads throughout the summer so that they're actually hitting them three times in one year. It's easier if you keep the roads graded. We're so far behind we'll never be able to catch up this year."
 
Navin said the advantage of owning is about more than saving money.
 
"The rent versus purchase numbers are really apples and oranges. It's the level of service that you get," he said. "We have the grader here year round. It's not the perfect cost comparison because the level of service is totally different."
 
The cost comparison he was referring to was a breakdown provided by the board of the 20-year cost of buying a grader versus continuing to rent one. If the town were to spend the entire $195,000 plus add in expected operating and maintenance costs it was estimated to come in at around $450,000, if it took out a five-year note at 2.5 percent. Continuing to rent at the current rate would be slightly over $500,000. 
 
Finance Committee head John Tremblay likes the potential savings but was really swayed by the new highway boss and his commitment to care for the machine.
 
 "The Finance Committee was hesitant to support the purchase of a grader. The one missing element for me was Bob. The numbers are pretty clear. If we maintain the unit it will last 20 years," he said. "Bob spent an hour with us last week and he filled in all the blanks. Number one, they're gonna maintain the machine. Number two, the service level is going to go way up. There are a number of things that are gonna improve. He's big on maintenance."
 
 Longtime Cheshire resident Frank Talora wanted to know if the town had anyone qualified to run the pricey asset.
 
 "Two of us," Navin answered. "I've got hundreds of hours on a grader and Brett is very efficient on a grader. There are training programs through Baystate Roads/UMass and we would have them come in. They come in and train you on the new technology for the new graders. That's something we would definitely be pursuing with a new machine."
 
Resident Gary Trudeau felt the town was asking for too high a ceiling and said he had found several options well below the $195,000 limit.
 
St. John reminded everyone that although the town is asking for up to $195,000, it does not necessarily mean it will spend that much.
 
"This is just that upper limit that gives us authorization to borrow," he said. "If we find something for $147,000, the impact [on the town] would be less."
 
The vote to authorize borrowing up to $195,000 passed 51-5. Since it is being treated as a debt exclusion outside of the normal tax rate, it will have to be voted on by a town ballot to be held in January.
 
The third article was quickly and unanimously passed. It asked for just over $3,500 to pay some back bills from the past two fiscal years.

Tags: DPW equipment,   special town meeting,   

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Cheshire Still Seeking Right Fiscal Equation For Elementary School

By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Correspondent

The Selectmen have hoped to use the former school as a revenue generator. 
CHESHIRE, Mass. — When the Cheshire Elementary School was closed two years ago, the only silver lining to be found was the potential revenue source it might provide to the town through leasing the space privately. 
 
The Board of Selectmen are still working hard to figure out a formula that works.
 
Tuesday night's meeting was a good example as the board weighed the cost of temporary heating upgrades for the cafeteria versus rent the town receives from tenants. The upgrades would essentially serve one tenant that holds fitness classes in the west wing of the building. The school currently has three lessees: Youth Center Inc., the school district administration, and Berkshire Body.
 
"Electric heaters look to be the safest and most cost effective means to provide heating for the space," said Town Administrator Edmund St. John III. "We estimate the cost of the installation will be somewhere around $3,500." 
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