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Cheshire to Consider Substantial Salary Increases

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Selectmen plan to open up a deeper conversation about salaries in town, starting with the police and fire chiefs.
The board continued its review of the budget last week with the Finance Committee and both bodies agreed that the town needed to look at salary increases within emergency services leadership.
"I think we are ready to have that discussion," Finance Committee Chairman John Tremblay said. "We know [the fire chief and police chief] are worth more than what we are paying them." 
Police Chief Tim Garner was first to present his essentially level-funded budget. Although he put forth salary increases for his officers, he took no increase.
This did not sit well with the board.
"It just seems a little weird that the chief is not getting a higher percentage than the other officers," Selectman Mark Biagini said. "If he is OK with it then I am fine. But it just doesn't seem right."
Garner said he has never put in for an increase and would "rather take care of his officers." He said he does make an hourly rate when he is out on patrol so does have the opportunity to increase his pay.
But this is not the case for the fire chief who is only paid a fixed amount.
Chief Thomas Francesconi did ask for a 3 percent raise, bringing his salary up to $3,979, however the Selectmen felt this was still way too low and nowhere close to what other similar communities pay.
"That needs to be looked at, and I think we are the lowest around for a town of our size," Selectman Ronald DeAngelis said. "That salary is like a dollar a person in town ... for the amount of responsibility we put on him we have to compensate him."
He said this could also be said for the chief of police.
Selectman Jason Levesque said the town also has to think long term and once Garner and Francesconi retire, he anticipated that the town will have a difficult time finding replacements at this pay.
"I am not saying go anywhere, but we have to think about succession," he said. "We can move incrementally or make a giant leap when it is time to refill the position." 
Biagini recommended that the Selectmen simply round up each salary and double it. Both chiefs would receive an $8,000 salary bump.
Tremblay agreed with Biagini's sentiment, but did not want to input a number without any research.
"It is no surprise to anybody that these folks are well underpaid. My concern is that we are shooting in the dark, and if we are going to have salary discussion let's gather some more information," he said. "I think we need to talk about real numbers."
The board agreed to undergo a more thorough salary study but did stick the $8,000 salary in the budget as a placeholder.
Selectwoman Michele Francesconi left the room for the conversation because she is married to the fire chief.
The fire chief had some other budget updates and said he will use $18,000 from his budget to repair the pump on Engine 2.
He said Engine 2 is a mini pumper and is often used for brush fires and in inclement weather. Because of its smaller size, it can go places where larger engines can't. The cab and chassis on the engine were replaced in 1995 but the actual pump is original to the 1976 vehicle.
Francesconi also asked for a town meeting article to allocate $15,000 to purchase a used pickup truck to act as the department's brush truck. This vehicle will replace a military surplus vehicle from 1984.
"I think this is necessary  for the town, and I think unfortunately ... we are upside down with it," he said. "I don't think it is responsible for us to use taxpayers' money on a truck that is just going to cost us."
He went over a complicated ritual he needs to go through to make the vehicle go into drive where he needs to keep one foot on the gas and another on the break so he can keep it running and stopped at the same time so it doesn't stall.
He said he did apply for a $95,000 Assistance to Firefighters Grant to purchase a new truck but was unsuccessful. With the dry season coming, he preferred to have a working brush truck in the fleet.  
He also asked for another $10,000 to give to Adams Ambulance to offset the salaries of emergency medical technicians stationed in the Fire Department. 
"I thought it would be a good gesture for Cheshire to give back to them," he said.
Two years ago, the town asked Adams Ambulance to leave a vehicle stationed in Cheshire. With low volunteerism, especially during the day, the town has to rely on Adams Ambulance to respond to medical calls that are on the rise.
He said with ambulances either traveling from Adams or Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, response time was a concern.
The town set this arrangement up with Adams some years ago. Cheshire had difficulties finding volunteers to cover the town during daytime hours. He said this became more critical with increased medical calls. This also cut down on response time.
Francesconi said Adams Ambulance did not request this amount, but he just felt it was fair to offset the additional salaries they have to incur by occupying Cheshire.
Tremblay agreed with Francesconi but wanted to see more data and reasoning behind the $10,000. DeAngelis added that he wanted reassurance from Adams Ambulance that it would stick around for the foreseeable future.
Francesconi said he would talk to ambulance and see what kind of information he could find.

Tags: cheshire_budget,   fiscal 2022,   

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Cheshire Town Meeting to Vote on Appointing Clerk, Tax Collector

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
Updated with corrected quote from the Town Clerk and clarification from the Select Board Chairwoman
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The town will move toward making the town clerk and tax collector positions appointed instead of elected.
During a budget discussion Tuesday, the Selectmen voted to place an article on the town meeting warrant that would change some town clerical positions from elected to appointed.
The discussion arose from Town Clerk Christine Emerson's budget presentation. She added in a $10,000 line item to hire an assistant who she can train to replace her in the three remaining years she wishes to work.  
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