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Orange depts. looking at budgets

ORANGE — Now that budget season is in full swing, finance officials are busy crunching numbers, asking questions and listening to the priorities of each department as they meet with the town’s department managers.

They are using the figures submitted to selectmen by Town Administrator Diana Schindler as a jumping off place in preparing next year’s budget that will be recommended to voters in June.

Schindler said her budget figures “are not set in stone, but are placeholders for the priority areas where I see a need for an investment of resources … to make our town operate more efficiently and effectively.”

Her budget provides level funding to most departments, with the exception of half a dozen priority areas. Schindler said the investment made in many of these areas will pay off in increased revenue in the future.

Areas where Schindler recommends increased funding:

Assessor’s office: Schindler has added $42,000 for wages in this office to hire a professional assessor. “The assessors are a critical link between the town and the taxpayers. … They are responsible for valuing all commercial and residential properties. … That relationship needs to be built on trust and confidence. … Having volunteers do that at this time … just isn’t working.”

She said that currently the Board of Assessors is “doing a lot of work; they are willing, able and capable and they want to have an active role … but we need, and the assessors want, a professional, trained assessor who can perform some of the duties our all volunteer board has been doing for years,” she said.

Treasurer’s office: She has also added about $25,000 for wages in the Treasurer’s Office to bring in more administrative help. The financial team is finally getting on top of a backlog of work that has plagued them over the past year due to staff vacancies and the transition to a new accounting system. She said additional help in the Treasurer’s Office will allow the treasurer to stay on top of balancing, banking and reconciling tasks in the years ahead.

Planning: Schindler also added about $7,000 to cover a portion of Community Development Director Kevin Kennedy’s salary. Currently Kennedy’s salary is funded entirely through the federal Community Development Block Grant. The shift will allow him to support the Planning Board in reviewing proposals for new commercial, residential and industrial development.

Council on Aging: Schindler wants to beef up programs for the growing population of senior citizens in town. She has added nearly $15,000 to wages and $12,000 to the director’s salary.

Airport: Schindler agreed with airport commissioners’ request for a 20 percent salary increase for Airport Manager Len Bedaw. After reviewing the pay schedules of all town department heads, she said the increase is in line with the level of responsibility in his position. “He is not only keeping up with all the FCC regulations, but Orange Airport is a very successful airport that is generating revenue for the town,” she said. She said all the current airport staff are a critical in that achieving that success.

Other department head salaries are level funded from last year — with a few exceptions:

Police Chief Craig Lungren’s recommended salary of $84,100 is lower than former Chief Robert Haigh’s ($92,500). Haigh’s higher salary included educational expenses the town was required to reimburse him as stipulated in the state’s Quinn Bill.

Schindler has also shifted around money in the newly created Department of Public Works. Schindler’s budget reflects a $19,000 salary increase for Public Works Superintendent Josh Knechtel to compensate for the increased responsibilities he takes on in overseeing the Highway Department and transfer station. This increase is funded by eliminating the $48,500 salary of the highway superintendent.

In addition, Schindler said she requested more money for some expenses that are clearly going to need more money than was budgeted in the current fiscal year. Some of those areas include technology, legal fees, insurance, snow and ice.

Wages for most employees are level funded in Schindler’s budget as the town is currently in negotiations with the four unions representing employees. The final agreements from these negotiations may require increasing wages in different departments.

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