Cheshire voters reject buying a snowplowing dump truck, saying the town needs a smaller one

By Dick Lindsay, The Berkshire Eagle

CHESHIRE — Voters have rejected buying a £230,000 dump truck with a snowplow believing a smaller one best suits the highway department.

While the annual town meeting Monday outright voted down the proposal, 66-65, a two-thirds majority was needed for approval in order to borrow the money to pay for the public works vehicle. Several residents that included local contractors felt the 10-wheel, all season truck was more than necessary and that a more traditional 6-wheel truck was the way to go. A couple of private snowplow operators felt the truck would have trouble negotiating some of the town’s narrow streets.

Public Works Superintendent Blair Crane noted the larger truck would make the highway department more efficient, roughly cost £10,000 more than a 6-wheeler and replace two aging dump trucks. Crane has said one of the older vehicles, a 2003 international, was becoming a money pit, costing taxpayers £18,000 in repairs over the past 12 months. Town officials will regroup to determine how best to address the highway truck situation with a solution that voters will accept.

Town Meeting voters did pass the other 15 articles on the warrant, including a £40,000 four-wheel drive pickup for the highway superintendent. Select Board members said Crane using his personal pickup when on the job is unacceptable and a liability for the town. The board noted Crane is practically on call 24 hours a day for public works emergencies, in addition to his regular day-job duties.

The £6.1 million operating budget for fiscal 2019, starting July 1, passed with little debate. The annual funding measure, up 2.8 percent from the current spending plan, includes the town’s £2.79 million assessment to help fund the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District. The budget also includes nearly doubling the annual salary of part-time Town Administrator Mark Webber.

As of July 1, Webber’s pay will jump from £21,433 to £40,000 as his work week will double from 1 1/2 days to three. Select Board Chairwoman Carol Francesconi had said with town business more complex and the workload increasing, the town needs Webber working a three-day work week. The other two days, he’s the town administrator in West Stockbridge.

Since Webber plans to retire a year from now, Francesconi told town meeting voters a three-day workweek with higher pay should make the municipal job attractive to those looking to succeed Webber. Voters also adopted a recreational/medical marijuana zoning bylaw, limiting the town to one recreational retail pot shop within the business zones along Route 8 roughly from where the Appalachian Trail crosses the state highway, near the Dollar General to Farnams Road. Voters did amend the bylaw proposal to increase from one to six the number of nonretail recreational marijuana businesses restricted to the agricultural-residential zones.

One resident felt Cheshire should be more welcoming to cultivators of cannabis, which can bring in significant tax revenue to the town. All potential marijuana businesses in Cheshire must go before the Planning Board for a site plan review and special permit. Dick Lindsay can be reached at [email protected] and 413-496-6233.

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