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Mark Webber returns as interim town administrator in Cheshire and started reviewing the fiscal 2022 budget.

Webber Attends First Cheshire Selectmen's Meeting

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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CHESHIRE, Mass. — Interim Town Administrator Mark Webber held his first meeting with the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday and has eyes on the upcoming budget process.

The Selectmen voted to appoint the former town administrator while it conducts a lengthy search for a permanent one. Edmund St. John IV, who replaced Webber when he retired, resigned in December.
Webber said he took a brief look at the budget documents but noted it was nothing out of the ordinary that he hasn't seen before. 
Chairwoman Michelle Francesconi said departmental budget worksheets are due Feb. 1, and they are slowly trickling in. She said some departmental worksheets in the past were left incomplete. She hoped to avoid that this year.
Looking towards the budget, Francesconi revisited the idea of hiring a maintenance person to help keep up town property.
"We have a lot of maintenance and we have a lot of old buildings," she said. "We rely on the Highway Department so I think this is important."
At a past meeting, Selectman Jason Levesque suggested consolidating all of the town's maintenance budgets and calculating whether or not hiring someone outright would be cheaper than hiring different contractors throughout the year.
"There is always stuff to do and I feel like this might be useful," Levesque. "Sometimes you are forced to let things go because you don't want to keep hiring contractors, but if you have someone the regular maintenance becomes easier."
Webber said other communities have such positions. He said he thought Cheshire would benefit from the hire especially now that the Cheshire School is the town's responsibility.
Francesconi asked if the position would be part time. She felt offering health insurance would make the position more enticing.
Before closing, Francesconi said she met with Hoosac Valley Regional School District Superintendent Aaron Dean who had agreed to a 25 percent rent increase for the use of the school.  
"There is a give and take to all of this, and I think it is important for us to acknowledge that this has to be a productive relationship," she said.
The district uses the former elementary school as its central office.
The district has also expanded its footprint to the library. The Selectmen took notice as the district cleaned out the space mostly used for storage.
There was a concern that the district was overstepping its footprint and possibly discarding materials that did not belong to it.
Francesconi said the district was happy to amend the agreement but also noted it did not throw away any of the useful books in the library. They were instead divided up between the schools and community libraries.
She saw no need to keep the old furniture and other materials being discarded from the space.
"I really don't want to hold on to the junk in the classroom," she said. "I don't want to be 100 percent responsible for everything that is left." 
The School Committee still has to approve the amendment. Francesconi said Dean will come before the board at a future meeting.
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Cheshire Considering Senior Tax Work-Off Program

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff

CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Selectmen are exploring implementing a senior tax work-off program, however, with an abundance of eligible seniors, the program would likely have to be modified.

The senior tax work-off program has been a regular agenda item for some time at board meetings, but after discovering there are about 1,100 eligible seniors, the Selectmen agreed some more thought needed to go into the program.
"I know there have been a lot of questions behind the scenes," Chairwoman Michelle Francesconi said at Tuesday's selectmen's meeting. ... We need to factor this into the budget and hone in the requirements for the program so we can ensure stability."
The program, which has been adopted by other Berkshire County municipalities, allows eligible seniors to work or complete tasks for their community. Instead of receiving payment, an earned amount is subtracted from their taxes. 
Francesconi said the Selectmen have to continue to work with the assessor and noted restrictions would have to be implemented if the program were going to work in town.
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