CHESHIRE, Mass. — The fiscal 2021 budget preparation dominated at Tuesday night's Selectmen's meeting.
Aside from reviewing the Board of Health and Council on Aging operating budgets, the board discussed at length what some members see as stagnant salaries for many town positions.
Town Administrator Edmund St. John IV recently undertook a salary study with input from the Massachusetts Municipal Association's Human Resources department. Chairwoman Michelle Francesconi feels Cheshire has fallen behind other similar communities in compensating it's employees.
"Based on feedback that we received at the town meeting last year, a concerted effort has been made by the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee towards improving the overall salary structure of our town. We have been undercompensating our employees, we do recognize that, and it's something we are looking to address," she said to the virtual attendees.
"We also recognize the fact that we are in this COVID situation but we know we need to address fair compensation for our employees. We're looking to balance any COVID related issues but also honor the promises or goals we had set for improving [salaries]."
St. John echoed Francesconi's thoughts and outlined the process he undertook with the MMA.
"Over last summer and fall I worked with the Mass Municipal Association's Human Resources department on a benchmark salary study. That provided some good data on salaries across the commonwealth. We looked at job functions and things of that nature across towns with a similar population," he said.
St. John set some immediate goals to reach as far as pay increases for certain salaried positions in town. He also set a five-year goal with step increases each year.
A few of the biggest jumps include the treasurer/collector position from $49,279 to $67,238, the town clerk from $24,211 to $40,947, and the town accountant from $24,855 to $40,095.
The five-year increase for all 10 positions, should all goals be met, would be a roughly $140,000.
Not all selectmen were on board with the potential increases. Member Robert Ciskowski was particularly vocal against across-the-board raises given what he sees as more pressing needs in town.
"I have a different perspective on this. We looked at other towns in Massachusetts, but did those towns ... have road studies done? Let's compare their roads to ours. How good is there infrastructure? Do they need a fire station? Do they need a roof on their old school building?" he asked the board.
Several of those potential expenditures have come up in the past year at many meetings. Ciskowski's point being that when comparing similar-sized towns six of one is not always a half dozen of the other.
He also cautioned against rewarding a standout employee with a significant pay increase with no guarantee their successor would be as deserving.
"Right now, some of those positions, I think we have some excellent people. Are we separating the position from the person who has done the job a long time? I think we have to. Are we rewarding the people that are there? Are we assuming they are going to live to be a thousand and stay in that position?" he asked. "I'm really not comfortable looking at other communities that much."
Member Mark Biagini had a much more traditional and timely reason for wanting to slow the progress a bit on across the board raises.
"A lot of people are out of work still and we can't raise our taxes a lot. People are trying to put money away to pay the water bill, the tax bill, and everything else. If we start raising taxes it will take the money away from that," he explained. "I think a slower approach will benefit us. At least if they know that we are looking to go forward with this, not right now because of what's going on, they'll understand more about how the two boards [Selectmen and Finance] are working together."
The board ultimately decided to look at 6 percent raises at next week's meeting and determine what effect it would have on the tax rate. The final decision would be made at the annual town meeting on Sept. 15.
Carole Hildebrand from the Council on Aging gave a short budget presentation to the board and received little push back. The main reason being that the operation on School Street, even amidst the coronavirus pandemic, has been increasingly busy. With food insecurity for seniors on the rise because of the economic uncertainties posed by the virus, and the abundance of 55-plus residents in general, business has been brisk.
"There was a total of 1992 [volunteer] hours and that was a savings of $14,894. Even though the center is closed because of the pandemic we have a lot of things that are going on. Lunches to go we started with three days a week, we're up to five. The month of July we had 446 lunches we gave out. Anyone that comes they just drive their car to the front door and we run out with their lunch," she said.
"We have emergency food once a week. Anyone can come just give me a call. It's averaging five to eight calls a day. I do wellness calls, I try to do at least five a day."
Seniors are most vulnerable to severe complications from COVID-19 and Hildebrand said she just wants residents to know that there are people out there who care and are thinking of them and that resources are available.
Hildebrand also announced the COA van will be operating for medical rides only starting on August 19th.
The largest increase in the COA budget was a $7,875 jump in additional employee compensation for a part time position to help with the increased demand for kitchen help.
The Board of Health budget will see an increase of roughly $20,000 from expanded hours at the town's transfer station. The town recently conducted a survey to gauge where it might improve its customer service and one of the largest replies was for increased hours for rubbish disposal.
Residents wanted longer evening hours so those working until 5pm could still have time to make a transfer station run. Monday hours were also a frequent request. In response the town will be adding Monday hours from noon to 6 and extending the Wednesday and Friday hours until 6. Saturdays will remain 8 to 5.
The next meeting of the Board of Selectmen will be Thursday, Aug. 13 at 6:30 p.m. It will be a budget discussion with the Hoosac Valley Regional School District and the Northern Berkshire Vocational Regional School District. It will be held virtually so visit the town website for login instructions.
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Cheshire Town Meeting Approves $6.6M Budget, Rejects Pot Bylaws
By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
Carol Francesconi takes the gavel as moderator for the meeting.
CHESHIRE, Mass. — Town meeting on Tuesday night rejected four citizens' petitions that would have greatly limited marijiuna facilities.
Voters did approve amended versions of the 16 other articles on the annual town meeting warrant during a nearly three-hour session held in the Hoosac Valley High School gym.
That included a revised fiscal 2021 budget of $6,640,131.64, authorizations for purchasing a number of vehicles and the redirection of $60,000 approved last year but unused toward a design work for turning Cheshire School into a municipal complex.
The marijuana bylaws would have required any growing facility to file a water usage report annually to the town; allowed only one non-retail cannabis facility in town; broadened the definition of "facility" to include accessories such as fences, plants and related items; set up a 24-hour odor control; and asked the Planning Board to revisit its approved bylaw.
iBerkshiresTV host Jeff Snoonian speaks with Selectmen Chairwoman Michelle Francesconi and Town Administrator Edmund St. John IV about the upcoming annual town meeting, the budget voters will decide and the precautions being put in place because of COVID-19.
The annual town meeting is being held... click for more
On Friday morning, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association released the sport-specific modifications that on Thursday unanimously were approved by the associationís COVID-19 Task Force. click for more
The Finance Committee recommended using $376,000 in free cash to offset the tax increase necessitated by the town's rising costs. The Selectmen had decided to reduce last year's offset number from $140,000 to $110,000.
click for more
The MIAA Board of Directors Wednesday morning approved a plan that moves football and other sports the commonwealth considers at a high-risk for COVID-19 transmission to a newly created Fall II season that will be wedged between the winter and spring. click for more