Cheshire, Massachusetts in Berkshire County held its annual town meeting this week.
Citizens from the community of around just over 3,000 streamed into the old Cheshire Elementary School on Monday. The meeting began with a recognition of a pair of long-serving town employees. Stanley Tracy of the highway department retired this year after 34 years. Carol Francesconi, who served on the town select board for 30 years, was also acknowledged by select board chair Robert Ciskowski.
“I saw her stand her ground with voters, vendors, school officials, and state officials," said the chair. "Quite inspiring actually.”
Both received certificates and a round of applause.
Addressing the assemblage, Cheshire Town Administrator Ed St. John said that the community had much to celebrate in 2019, and announced that Cheshire had taken action on an item on the town’s masterplan: creating a new town website.
“Launching soon, we’re going to have a website that is more information – well, not necessarily more informative, but more user friendly, easier to access, easier to navigate," said St. John.
In addition to better promoting the town by highlighting its core with banners and signs, St. John said Cheshire was working on ways to encourage growth.
“We can create citizen-led action groups for economic development, for business association, grant development, and many more,” he told the town.
The biggest discussion of night came from an exhaustive analysis of the more than $6 million 2020 town budget, which passed after a great deal of tweaking and adjusting.
Only two of the articles on the 14-item warrant failed. The first concerned the town borrowing $95,000 to purchase a used road grader to replace Cheshire’s 1986 Dresser Road Grader. St. John said that the town had reviewed its options, and that this route was better than continuing to rent and holding out hope for repairing the current grader.
“Some of the parts just don’t even exist," said the town administrator. "The original manufacturer of this machine doesn’t exist. It was sold once or twice on the way through, and the closest place to fix it is in Albany if I’m not mistaken.”
John Tremblay, of the town’s finance committee, said the group disagreed.
“We believe that the solution will be arrived at, but at this point we’re supporting continuing to rent,” he told the crowd.
Many in the town also disagreed, and the article was voted down.
The other item voted down provoked passionate discussion. It was also the sole citizen’s petition on the warrant. Town Moderator Donna DeFino read it out:
“For the purpose of reducing the conditions that create public nuisances through enacting regulations including without limitation, restrictions to cultivation, and to prohibit, to the maximum extent allowed under state law, with limited exceptions, the commercial, medical, and recreational cultivation, manufacture, testing, distribution, transportation, and storage of cannabis in order to preserve the public peace, health, safety, and general welfare of the citizens of Cheshire.”
In the ensuing debate, it became clear that some residents – many from the town’s Stafford Hill neighborhood – were disturbed by reports of possible outdoor marijuana grow operations near a residential area. Cheshire hasn’t approved a single marijuana business to operate in town yet. Concerns over the legality of passing a bylaw in direct conflict with the town’s existent bylaws as well as over the measure’s severe language saw the motion deadlock on a 43-43 vote. There was talk of re-examining the town’s marijuana policies, especially concerning outdoor cultivation, after the outcry.