PITTSFIELD — The Town Council has approved the appointment of Sgt. Marty Cochran as acting police chief because the current chief has stepped away to contend with some health problems.

The council on Tuesday approved Town Manager Kathryn Ruth’s appointment of Cochran to the acting position. Mayor Michael Cianchette said at the meeting that Chief Harold “Pete” Bickmore has to temporarily step aside in light of the health concerns and Cianchette didn’t elaborate on what those concerns are or how long Bickmore will be on leave.

Cianchette said he expects the police department to operate smoothly under Cochran’s guidance.

Cochran said Wednesday that he has worked for Pittsfield police for 20 years. He said he expects Bickmore to return in a limited capacity in the next several weeks and is happy to assist the department in the meantime.

The council on Tuesday also officially declared an at-large position vacant, and set an April 21 special election to fill the seat, with nomination papers to be available from Jan. 25 to March 7.

The seat was previously held by Amanda Collamore, who represents the area in the state House of Representatives and who stepped down at the end of December. She had announced her resignation earlier in the fall but the town couldn’t hold an election until the seat was actually vacant.

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In other business, the council set a public hearing on a potential $2 million loan for capital improvement projects for the council’s next meeting on Feb. 1.

The original proposal discussed Tuesday would designate the money for six projects: $1 million for road paving, $70,000 for bridge and culvert repairs, $600,000 to buy a fire truck, $180,000 to buy a dump truck, $60,000 to buy a truck for the town’s highway department and $180,000 to buy self-contained breathing apparatus equipment for the fire department.

Councilor Eric Saucier questioned if it is the best time to start these projects, when so many prices are higher and unpredictable because of the pandemic.

“I’m skeptical of this,” Saucier said. “I think everything here is valid (and) I think it has its place. However, if you look at history there’s probably not a worse time to buy anything than this coming year. I’m guessing but everything’s expensive.”

The loan would have a 20-year repayment period, which was estimated to raise the tax rate around 1%, Ruth said.

Councilors expressed concerns about lumping all of the projects together into one big loan. Ruth said the plan could be modified if councilors wish to break it into multiple loans and not do the projects all at once, although shorter loan repayment periods will likely mean higher interest rates.

The council seemed to agree that road paving and bridge and culvert repairs were the most pressing concerns, and that those two items may be done together in one loan.

“The two line items — paving for $1 million and the bridge-culvert rebuild for $70,000 — that seems to be something that’s a priority for us,” Cianchette said. “I don’t know the condition of the other items and whatnot, but I know they’re not dead in the water and collecting rust, so there are possibilities that those can be continued.

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