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Cheshire Tackling Budget Process, Phase II Reopening

By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Staff
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CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen elected a new chair Tuesday night as Michelle Francesconi was elevated to the seat for the first time. 
Francesconi was elected in 2019 when the board expanded from three seats to five. She will take over for Robert Ciskowski, who was roundly thanked by his fellow board members for his leadership over the past year.
Town Administrator Edmund St. John IV is preparing to work with a 1/12th budget scenario for the first part of fiscal 2021. Cheshire, like many other municipalities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, has postponed its annual town meeting past the state's June 30 deadline, thus preventing them from finalizing a budget. 
State revenue and local aid numbers are unknown at this point but are expected to take a significant hit because of the pandemic. St. John and the board feel this is the most prudent course of action.
"A lot of the work that's been done has been understanding the 1/12th budget process. In the 351 communities across the commonwealth, not many have gone through this process before. We had a great call on Friday set up by the Small Town Administrators and Managers (STAM) group which was very helpful," he said.
When towns can't finalize a budget by the end of the current fiscal year they must default back to a 1/12th, month-by-month budget based on the previous year's numbers. This includes all departments in the town including the school district shared with Adams. 
St. John recently met with Adams Town Administrator Jay Green and Hoosac Valley School District Superintendent Aaron Dean to discuss their options.
"I met with [them] for about 2-2 1/2 hours. Working together to see what issues each town is facing knowing that we're going into a 1/12th process," he said.
Adams has yet to make a decision on trying to hold their annual town meeting before the required deadline or to plan on adopting a 1/12th budget. They will be discussing it at their meeting Wednesday.
St. John also mentioned possibly applying for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding to address technology needs at the schools as well as personal protective equipment for faculty and students all necessitated by the pandemic.
The CARES Act is a $2 trillion federal relief package passed by Congress in March to address economic hardships brought on by the novel coronavirus. The act is wide ranging and provides relief for individuals, businesses, and municipalities.
St. John is still leading the effort to find a reuse opportunity for the closed Cheshire School. He recently solicited an additional feasibility study .
The school is the home of Youth Center Inc. and several other small ventures but the town is looking to best utilize the space with a long-term solution.
The surrounding open spaces and playgrounds at the school were discussed as Phase II of Gov. Charlie Baker's reopening plan draws near. The second phase addresses open spaces and recreation but St. John feels it brings as many concerns as answers.
"What I have drafted is that the playground and the area surrounding the playground (at Cheshire School) shall stay closed to the public. What we recognized is that this is in conflict with other activities that are permissible in Phase I (non-contact sports). My concern is that if we focused on just allowing lets say, pickleball ... at the school there's really no way to monitor ... that the other equipment isn't being used," he explained.
"Quite honestly my concern is what happens over the weekends. Do we start employing our Highway Department and staff to clean playgrounds every hour? One comment someone made to me that is somewhat awkward but has some truth and relevance to it was 'Do we sanitize the slide every time a kid goes down?' To what end are we going to make sure everything is safe? I'm very hesitant to rush through any decision right now."
St. John said he is working closely with Health Inspector CJ Garner and might propose a joint meeting of the Board of Health and the Selectmen to decide on the most sensible plan of action.
"This is a priority project and I'd like to see if we could get the Board of Health to participate in a meeting ... to address these issues. We're getting into nicer weather, people want to be outside, people want to use facilities. At the same time we have to recognize that this is a slow process," he cautioned.
There were no other changes to the board outside of the chairman spot. Mark Biagini will remain clerk, Ron DeAngelis continues as the highway liaison, newly re-elected Jason Levesque will stay as emergency services liaison, and Francesconi will still head up marketing and development.
The next meeting of the Cheshire Board of Selectmen will be Tuesday, June 12, at 6:30 p.m. and will be held remotely. Visit the town website for details.

Tags: cheshire_budget,   COVID-19,   fiscal 2021,   

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Father Tom Tent Site Becoming a Reality in Cheshire

By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Correspondent
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Father Tom Tent Site is inching closer to its "official" opening. 
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
Highway Superintendent Robert Navin said he hopes to have the water line completed this week, which would leave just a few loose ends to tie up before making the official announcement. One very loose end is the COVID-19 pandemic and the unique safety concerns that constantly arise from the virus. 
"I've liked this idea a lot and I'm glad to see everything moving forward. With that being said I guess I just have reservations in the climate we find ourselves in making sure that everything is being cleaned as often as possible," said Town Administrator Edmund St. John IV. "I think we need adequate signage saying, to some extent, campers are using these facilities at their own risk. Whether or not it's a valid concern it's just a concern that I have." 
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