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Orange OKs money for expenses

ORANGE — Despite the cautions of their finance officials, voters approved requests for new money to fund additional expenses at a special town meeting.

The first request was for $62,000 for operating expenses, short-term debt interest and a deposit to the town’s stabilization account.

Finance Committee Chairwoman Linda Smith said committee members voted not to recommend the request as the state has not yet certified the town’s new tax base growth estimates. In addition, the dearth of revenue and expense reports coming out of Town Hall has kept committee members in the dark about the town finances for the better part of a year.

“It’s our duty to have the whole financial picture and advise you … but we don’t know the true financial status of the town … We don’t even have the financial information to set our tax rate,” Smith said.

But Town Administrator Diana Schindler said, “New growth is always an estimate … Our assessors have been very conservative” in making new growth estimates of $220,000, which is $145,000 higher than original projections.

If the money is not appropriated, it cannot be accessed until next year, Schindler said, but the town has critical needs now. Several contractors such as legal counsel and technology consultants have done some work and are “waiting patiently … These bills have to be paid and we have to be able to do our daily operations.”

The Finance Committee also voted not to recommend a request for $15,000 for technology upgrades as committee members did not feel a coherent plan existed for making the upgrades.

Voters went forward to approve that request after hearing officials talk about the desperate need for technology upgrades and their ideas to formulate a townwide plan.

Selectmen’s Chairwoman Kathy Reinig said department heads now replace computers as they crash. But if they know money is available to purchase them through a townwide plan that ensures better, more compatible operating systems, they will be encouraged to hold off.

Voters also approved money transfers that will allow the continued consolidation of the highway and cemetery departments, and fund more administrative support for the treasurer and the assessors.

Selectmen had no trouble getting voters’ blessings on the initiation of a new program that will allow low-income seniors to work for the town in exchange for a reduction in their tax bill.

“I have seen this program work greatly … it helps out seniors and it helps out the town in numerous ways,” said Selectman David Ames, who initiated the request.

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