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How much money does Orange have? Question clouds spending matters for voters at tonight’s meeting

ORANGE — There’s a special town meeting tonight, but according to finance officials, it may be hard for voters to make decisions when it’s unclear how much money the town really has to spend.

Two of the three finance-related articles on the warrant have not been endorsed by the Finance Committee.

The first request is for appropriation of $62,000 to this year’s budget to pay for additional costs of legal counsel ($20,000), technology needs ($7,300), short-term debt interest ($22,000), and telephone ($6,000).

Finance Committee Chairwoman Linda Smith said her committee’s push-back on that article is not about the individual line-item requests but about the inability of members to make decisions about increasing this year’s budget “when we have no idea where we are at in terms of revenue or expenses ... they want to spend money we don’t even know we have or is certified yet.”

Smith said she believes Town Administrator Diana Schindler “just wants to have access to the money before we know how much we really have.”

Smith said that despite repeated requests, committee members have not seen a revenue or expenditures report since May.

While Schindler reported in previous Selectboard meetings there is over $200,000 of new growth revenue, Smith said the state’s Department of Revenue has not certified that amount.

She added the town’s assessors believe that actual new growth from solar companies and the Walmart expansion may be at least $50,000 to $60,000 less than Schindler’s estimates. “It’s all an estimate ... we don’t know it for a fact, but we’re trying to spend it anyway.”

Selectboard Chairwoman Kathy Reinig said that while the new growth estimates, $75,000 higher than original projections, hasn’t been certified, “it’s common that it wouldn’t be certified” at this stage of the review process. “But we’re confident it’s going to be certified.”

Smith added officials are still negotiating with the town’s three unions that will lock in union wages and benefits for the next three years. At this point, “we have no idea what those contracts are going to look like.”

The Finance Committee also did not endorse an additional appropriation of $15,000 for technology.

Smith said committee members understand the need for upgraded technology, but are concerned town officials do not have a vision for making the best use of available resources in purchasing equipment.

Smith said, “everybody thinks it’s a good idea ... but there’s no plan. What kind of software do they want to buy? How many computers are needed? What departments are receiving them?”

The Finance Committee endorsed selectmen’s request to transfer a total of approximately $35,700 from various wage accounts. The transfers will boost support services for the treasurer and the assessor’s office.

And they approved transfers from highway and cemetery wage and salary lines that are critical to the creation of the new consolidated public works department.

The meeting is to begin at 7 p.m. in Town Hall. The meeting was rescheduled from last week, which was canceled due to lack of a quorum.

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