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Orange debates withdrawing from Central Franklin County Veterans Council

ORANGE — The town is being asked to join the same veterans aid group as Athol, a move touted as more convenient for vets but also more expensive for Orange taxpayers.

Bill Meehan, chairman of the Northeast Quabbin Veterans Council, and John Laughton, Central Franklin County Veterans Council representative, propose shifting to the Northeast Quabbin council, an opportunity that became available because of Templeton’s abrupt withdrawal.

Meehan said Fiscal Year 2016, which begins next July 1, will bring a $22,000 increase to Orange’s budget for veterans services if they decide to join.

Laughton recommended the switch, saying it will make things more available and get services to veterans more easily. He said it makes sense to join with Athol because it isn’t far to travel. At present, Orange veterans have to travel to Turners Falls if the Orange office isn’t open, and Athol’s office is open more hours than Orange.

Selectmen’s Chairman George Willard agreed with Laughton. He pointed out that the office in Athol is fully accessible as well as more private. Willard says it’s a “better opportunity for our vets to get served in a timely fashion.”

Others at a recent meeting were not so easily convinced.

Linda Smith, chairwoman of the Orange Finance Committee, pointed out that by joining the North Quabbin Veterans Council, costs for the town would triple and stretch the budget too much.

Rebecca J. Bialecki, executive director of the North Quabbin Community Coalition, said she has never heard a complaint from a veteran about the office hours. She says that the current service officer makes home visits and that Orange can’t afford to pay the extra money.

The Board of Selectmen agreed that hearing from town veterans on the subject was necessary. The time frame allows for one more board of selectmen meeting prior to the town making its decision. The topic has been put on the agenda for further discussion at the Wednesday meeting at 6:30 p.m.

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