Avoiding override vote, Cheshire opts to tap deeper into surplus

By Dick Lindsay, The Berkshire Eagle CHESHIRE — Cheshire has avoided a property tax override vote — at least for this year. At Tuesday’s annual town meeting, residents approved a balanced budget of nearly £6.64 million, an increase of 6.2 percent over the spending plan that ran out June 30.

The town has been operating on a monthly spending plan that is one-twelfth of the previous budget. Meanwhile, voters rejected several proposed zoning bylaw changes to tighten restrictions on related recreational marijuana facilities. The articles defeated included a ban on outdoor cannabis farms and a rule that would have mandated odor control systems for all marijuana cultivation and processing projects.

Rejecting the prospect of a Proposition 2 1/2 override, which would have placed a higher burden on taxpayers, residents approved using £376,000 in surplus funds, so-called “free cash,” to cover nearly all the £389,000 spending hike in the budget. The initial budget proposal, which called for taking £235,000 in surplus money, would have required an override vote at a future town election to authorize spending £139,000 above the town’s levy limit to cover the spending increase. But on Tuesday night, the Select Board and Finance Committee supported spending another £141,000 in free cash and avoid the need for an override vote, and voters approved that change.

Under the revised budget, residents will see a tax increase of about 45 cents per £1,000 of assessed property value — about half of what the initial budget would have cost taxpayers. The Board of Assessors will formally set the new rate later this fall The thought of an override apparently did not sit well with the local electorate, according to Select Board Chairwoman Michelle Francesconi.

“We’ve been listening to community feedback the last couple of weeks since we announced the override,” she told the nearly 90 townspeople gathered in the gymnasium of Hoosac Valley Middle and High School. Originally scheduled for mid-June, the town meeting was postponed for three months due to the coronavirus pandemic. Article Continues After

Francesconi said voters passed a strong budget that will help the town catch up on infrastructure projects and enhance town services, such as extended hours at the trash transfer station and programs at the senior center. However, an override may be looming for fiscal 2022. “Next year, we’ll have to look at that,” she said.

Additional funding articles approved include:

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– £259,751 in Water Department surplus money to replace the water main in and around Arnold Court. – £130,000 borrowed toward a 1-ton truck for the Highway Department. The loan now requires approval of a debt exclusion ballot question at a special town election.

– £60,000 in existing funds to hire a design firm to develop a plan for renovation and construction toward converting the former elementary school into a community center and Town Hall. The firm also will develop plans for a municipal public safety building on the school site. – £60,000 in surplus money for a new highway department tractor and attachments for mowing and snow removal.

– £58,000 in town savings to pay for a police cruiser, replacing a 2013 Ford Explorer. Cannabis zoning nixed Article Continues After

As town voters remain divided on tougher recreational marijuana regulations, they rejected four of the five citizen petition articles for changes to cannabis zoning. The articles failed to get both a simple majority and the required two-thirds majority of actual votes cast. One resident called the proposed zoning amendments coming from “a few people with self-interests.”

The zoning measures included: – A ban on all outdoor marijuana cultivation facilities. – Mandated odor control system for all marijuana establishments and medical marijuana treatment centers.

– Regulations creating a Marijuana Overlay District for siting cannabis farms that include a minimum 5-acre lot size. – Mandated metered water usage and annual report of water use by all marijuana facilities. Proponents withdrew a fifth article defining a marijuana facility as being all buildings, fences, cannabis plants and other related items.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com

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