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The Cheshire Selectmen meet on Tuesday night.

Cheshire Selectmen Hear From Highway Boss About Improving Fleet

By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Correspondent
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CHESHIRE, Mass. — Highway Department head Robert Navin told the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday night that he thinks the town will need to overhaul its fleet of vehicles over the next several years. 
The conversation originally started last week as a discussion about buying a mid-size truck with funds he thinks will be unused by the end of the fiscal year. Navin had a list of vehicles he feels will need to be replaced through 2026.
"It's in rough shape, the equipment, as far as the long term plan. To make this work the next couple years are gonna hurt. For the town to come up with [money] for the expenses," Navin told the board. "The F-550, that's kind of a must have, we really need that truck replaced this year. That's $130,000-$140,000. The Kubota is getting very tired. With all the attachments that it needs to be prepped for us it's a $50,000-$60,000 expense. That would be for this year alone.
"Next year would be the 2006 that we revived (earlier this year). You're looking at $200,000 plus, $250,000 it could be, to replace an all-wheel drive, winged-plow truck. Next year to try and replace the backhoe, that's getting tired. There's a lot of play in the moving parts, it's still running and we're using it but it's at the point where it's time to replace it. That's a 2004."
Navin went on to list another four big ticket items he feels will need replacing by 2026. The list included two plow trucks, a small dump truck and a boom mower. All told the dollar figure would eclipse $1 million spent on new equipment for a complete modernization of the fleet. 
The original request to spend $30,000 for a lighter duty pickup was rejected on grounds that although the money does exist in the Highway Department budget, it is not earmarked for capital expenses and therefore cannot be used as such.
Selectwoman Michelle Francesconi went through the situation with the board.
"It is not in our purview to purchase something out of a line item appropriation that is not the intended use of the line item. There are a few [other] options. A special town meeting could convene and approve to merge funds from different line items to be utilized for a capital expenditure. That would then have to go to a ballot vote and with the annual town meeting coming up so quickly after the grader approval, I feel like it's a bad idea to call a special town meeting for that purpose," she said.
The town recently approved up to $190,000 for the purchase of a used road grader to better maintain its dirt roads.
The highway budget still has about $90,000 in three separate line items for road repairs that Navin feels will go somewhat unused by the end of the fiscal year. This was the money he wanted to use for the new truck. 
If the money is unused by the end of the year it will go into free cash. The town of Cheshire has historically used free cash to offset property tax increases, as many other towns do, but board members want to take a closer look at that practice. They also want to do a better job spending the money the town has budgeted for road repairs on ... road repairs.
"We can't keep returning this money to free cash. The only way to repair some of these roads is to set up a fund that allows us to tackle some of these bigger projects. We're never going to be able to fund them out of the appropriations we've had on a yearly basis," Francesconi said.
"If you look at the last three years and the money that's been returned to the town that wasn't spent at the Highway Department, you could go pave or repair a street. It was a significant amount of money returned," Selectman Ron DeAngelis added. "That money should be spent where it was earmarked for."
Chairman Robert Ciskowski agreed with his fellow selectmen.
"When money is not spent in the Highway Department ... it goes into free cash. But we also traditionally, from advice from a previous Town Administrator, use free cash fairly liberally to keep the tax rate down. We're not the only town that does it. That can be a controversial item," he said. "People approve these [line items], how about we spend it (for what is was meant)? We have a remarkably low tax rate but I think if money is approved for highways, we have to try to spend it."
DeAngelis also wants to be realistic when it comes to keeping a low tax rate and still being able to provide an acceptable level of service.
"We also have to understand that there is a cost to doing things. There is a certain level of service [the town] wants," he said. "You have to understand it does cost. Not just for the road itself but we have to keep the equipment up."
There will not be a new truck purchased in the current fiscal year but residents will be asked for a substantial financial commitment to improving the Highway Department fleet in the immediate future.

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Maple Drive Project A Go For Cheshire

By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Correspondent

The Board of Selectmen listens to updates from Highway Superintendent Bob Navin about the Maple Drive project.
CHESHIRE, Mass. — Residents of Maple Drive will be happy as Highway Superintendent Robert Navin and the Selectmen confirmed at Tuesday's meeting the road will be getting a makeover come spring.
"The Maple Drive project is a go. It's in the state's hands ... I'm waiting for approval and I should have that any day. Then I can put it out to bid so early spring we can get this going. Everything is on track," Navin told the board.
The repairs include a repaving, catch basin repair, and some sidewalk and curb work. The town will use Chapter 90 road funds. A portion of that work went out to bid last year but received no responses. The town hopes that with a larger bid package, the response will bear fruit this time around. Navin expects the bid to go out later this week or next.
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