CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to extend the deadline for residents to pay their taxes at Tuesday night's virtual meeting.
Like several other municipalities, Cheshire will give its property owners until June 1 to pay real estate and personal property taxes. The board extended the date from May 1 in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. The June 1 date also applies to the application process for exemptions or abatements.
The town election has also been given a new date in wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Town elections will be held June 1 instead of the original date of May 4. The location will still be the Community Center on School Street.
The annual town meeting is still scheduled for June 8 and Town Administrator Edmund St. John IV said the budget process pushes on despite the global shutdown. He is confident the town will be prepared under any circumstances.
"We have the bones of the budget with departmental requests in, but we'll need to solidify that in the coming month. We have to wait and see how revenue projections are coming in. That's the biggest unknown right now. A lot of towns are grappling with this very issue," he told the board. "Fortunately, or whichever way you want to look at it, there are a lot of other communities that are facing large shortfalls ... based on their tourism-based economies. A lot of our tax base is not tourism based so we're kind of avoiding that hit."
"What kind of philosophy will we have moving forward? What kind of revenue will we have moving forward? If board members have any ideas, certainly let me know and we'll try to incorporate what we can into all these budget scenarios."
St. John also gave a general update on the COVID-19 situation.
"We're reaching a peak period, nothing has really affected the town in a sense of changing our operations from what we've been doing. Right now we're just planning on what's next. Trying to do what the board just did tonight in terms of extending the property tax date. The board has already acted on changing the election date. The thing we're keeping an eye on right now is the annual town meeting. We haven't had any plans to move that, however we are keeping a close eye. I think the next few weeks are going to be especially telling."
The board did cover some non-COVID-19 topics Tuesday night.
Highway Superintendent Bob Navin intends to seek bids for mowing the town's fields and grassy areas. He feels his crew's time could be better spent maintaining the town's roads, among other projects, rather than mowing grass. Especially at the old Cheshire School.
"A while back we threw it out there (contracting out the school grounds maintenance), I wasn't sure what the board wanted to do about it. It's about 10-12 man hours a week (mowing at the school). We didn't know if we wanted to continue with [us doing it] or to look into subcontracting that out," he said.
Navin reached out to a couple local contractors to get an idea of what it might cost. He stressed that these were not official bids but ballpark numbers.
"I got some rough ideas. We're looking at a $7,000 to $8,000 yearly contract to take care of the school lawns. I wanted to throw that out there to see how the board wanted to proceed."
Selectman Ron DeAngelis liked the idea and wanted to broaden the scope of the bid should it happen.
"I think we should get a hard number to do all the mowing in town. We wouldn't want to just do part of it. [Right now] we pay for the mower, we pay for the fuel, we pay for all of that so that be [weighed] against what an outside vendor would give us," he said. "The other benefit we need to look at too is keeping the manpower off of the mowing, which to me is a waste of time for the guys at the Highway Department, and putting those hours back into the stuff that doesn't get done every year. That's a huge plus for the town."
St. John said he started going over the numbers with Navin and quickly saw some potential financial savings.
"We factored in the cost of the straight labor rate, benefits tacked on, just to get a full picture of what that would cost. Plus depreciation of the assets that we have. We didn't even get into the cost of gas and oil because by that point we were already over what the quote was for [the school]."
Navin told the board he will put together an in depth look at the proposed bid over the next couple weeks.
"Me and Ed will work on this over the next couple weeks and try to get a more complete analysis. I just wanted to throw it out this week to see where the board was and how much you wanted to pursue this."
Navin did relay a bit of good news to the board in light of the health crisis.
"We will be getting the docks back in the water sometime in the next week, weather permitting. I contacted MASS DCR (Department of Conservation & Recreation) and as of right now there are no restrictions from any of the waterways so we decided to go ahead and try to get the docks in for the kayaks and other stuff on the lake."
At last week's meeting the board acted on awarding two contracts they recently solicited. A $115,000 contract was awarded to LB Corp. of Lee for a total resurfacing of Maple Drive that is scheduled to take place this year. The board also voted to purchase a 2015 John Deere road grader from Five Star Equipment out of Dunmore, Pa., for $173,000. The town voted in 2019 to authorize the board to borrow up to $195,000 to purchase the equipment.
The next Cheshire Selectmen's meeting will be Tuesday, April 21, and will be held virtually. Please refer to the town's website for instructions on how to log in.
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Cheshire Hopes to Get Clearer Picture of School Project for Town Meeting
By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Correspondent
Town Hall will function a little different as the town uses some of its CARES Act funds to make the building safer and improve remote access for employees.
CHESHIRE, Mass. — Town Administrator Edmund St. John IV told the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday that he's planning to have the request for proposals ready soon for the former Cheshire Elementary School.
The board decided to keep the former school building under town ownership with a goal in mind of making it the central hub for all town services. Board members also have an eye on constructing an emergency services complex on the 10-acre site in the future. St. John said he hopes to have a cost estimate for architectural and engineering services to present to town meeting next month.
"I did finish the first draft of the RFP and forwarded it for [the board's] approval. If the board approves the draft we can publish this to start the process to move forward so town meeting has the information it needs to act on the request to fund the project," he said.
"This will provide a schedule and a timeline for this to go out and do a site tour, ask questions, and allow for the board to interview prospective firms. The two agencies who reached out to us in our initial request (for re-use studies) are very interested in this. These are two agencies that have long histories with these kinds of projects. I'm pretty encouraged that once we put this out we'll really receive a good response."
Named after the former pastor of St. Mary's Church, the Rev. Thomas Begley, the site will serve through-hikers of the Appalachian Trail and give them a place to regroup for a night or two while charging electronics, replenishing their water supply, and getting rid of refuse
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The site is designed to give hikers a short one- or two-night respite and a place to charge their phones and get clean water. Hikers have been welcome to use an area at St. Mary's Church but will now be redirected very slightly down Church Street.
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