CHESHIRE -- Town voters approved what officials called a $4,978,136, "get well" fiscal 2014 budget Monday at annual town meeting which included increases in town expenditures and savings in education costs.
"The town is still in a solid financial state at this time," said Selectmen Chair Paul Astorino, crediting town departments with creating "functional budgets at reasonable costs."
The total budget is down 5 percent, thanks largely to $170,000 savings due to the town joining the McCann School District -- where approximately 42 town students attend school -- in April.
"It was a good decision," said William Craig, of the Cheshire Advisory Board. "It will be significant savings to the town year after year."
Education funding changes at the state level contributed to the savings, officials said, cumulating in a total reduction of 13 percent to the town's education costs.
This allowed officials to replenish several stagnant line items. Cheshire's spending has seen notorious cuts since 2008, with a proposed proposition 2.5 override failing to get the necessary votes in 2011.
Most notably, the Highway Department's budget increased 12 percent from $691,880 to $772,675; the majority of town employees and officials saw raises of 3 percent; and a warrant article saw voters approve the creation of a $30,000 capital equipment stabilization fund.
"I think it's nice that we're finally putting some money away for a rainy day," Craig said.
The fiscal 2014 budget utilizes $172,000 out of free cash to offset the tax rate. Taking Monday's vote into account, which approved the spending of $230,000 in free cash, the town will have $209,000 remaining in free cash and $492,000 in the stabilization fund.
Annual town meeting also saw the framing of an important political issue looking forward.
Resident Barry Emery requested that the town look into possibly separating the town and water department budgets, which remain "under the same umbrella."
Emery, like many residents who don't live in the downtown area, is not a town water user, and said he and others' taxes go toward some water department expenses and annual bond payments on a $1.2 million 2009 lawsuit settlement that was the result of a water issue.
He said he had just incurred costs to repair his well on East Harbor Road.
"The town didn't help me with that expense and I don't feel it's appropriate for me to help [the water department] with their expenses," Emery said.
The bond payments total roughly $111,000 annually and will continue until 2019, amounting to roughly $121 per homeowner, per year.
"If it was [an independent water] district," Town Administrator Mark Webber said, "the district could sue and be sued. [The settlement] was unfortunately a town obligation."
Francis Waterman, of the town water department, said the department was in "100 percent agreement" with the idea, and that discussions with Berkshire Regional Planning Commission have already been initiated.
Any changes to the current organization would have to involve both town and water department and settle historical disagreements between the parties -- most notably who owns 715 acres of disputed land off Greylock Road.
Town voters shot down a proposal by resident Peter Franz to increase the town clerk's budget to repair and bind town historical books from $2,000 to $10,000.
That item has seen cuts in recent years, and costs to repair these books, of which there are tens, stand at roughly $2,000 per, according to Town Clerk Christine Emerson.
Emerson called for a the establishment of a pre-planned program for the town to follow year by year as a more efficient means of preserving its history.
"I work very hard to get these books into a state where they're going to last for the next generation and maybe a generation after that," she said.
To reach Phil Demers, email