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Orange adds two cops to force

ORANGE — The town’s voters have agreed to add two officers to the police department.

The extra money was included in the Finance Committee’s recommended $748,806 budget for next year. The decision came at the first session of annual town meeting, which was held Monday night.

The Board of Selectmen urged cutting the proposed police budget by $42,640 to hire just one new officer instead of the two requested by Police Chief Craig Lundgren. But voters backed Lundgren’s request.

The chief said that while one officer would certainly help, the department is currently short four to six patrol officers short. To keep three shifts running, seven days a week, without spending overtime money, two officers are needed, he said at town meeting.

The annual meeting will continued tonight as residents weigh in on many articles including budget recommendations from the Finance Committee and the selectman.

Monday night’s deliberations were marked by debate over many changes proposed by the selectmen to the Finance Committee recommended spending plan. While five of the amendments were approved and five failed, a number of votes were very close. One in particular, an amendment to raise town administrator’s expenses, was voted down with a difference of only two votes.

The Orange school budget was the focus of the most emotional discussion, at the close of the meeting. Several voters spoke regarding what they felt was a quick decision to close Butterfield School to save about $300,000. And they said that more transparency regarding the decision would have helped cushion the blow.

Resident Rhonda Bartlett argued against the decision to consolidate three elementary schools into two next year, asking why money couldn’t be cut from the Mahar Regional School budget and transferred to the elementary schools. Selectman Kathy Reinig explained that the Mahar budget has been approved by the other surrounding towns and at this point cannot be changed.

Discussion came to a close after School Board Chairwoman Stephanie Conrod explained the process the board went through to decide, offering to keep Butterfield open if someone wanted to donate $300,000.

Conrod, who has a child at Butterfield who will mov to Dexter Park after the closure, said she is upset about the decision as well, but that it was the only way not to eliminate important programs like art, music and gym.

In other action, voters:

Restored $2,700 in building department wages that had been cut in previous years. The money is to cover expenses for the Building Commissioner’s car which the town does not provide.

The remainder of the budget as well as 16 other articles to be voted on will take place as a continuation at Town Hall tonight. Budget categories still to be addressed are Public Works and Facilities, Human Services, Culture and Recreation, Debt Service and Miscellaneous Expenses. Articles to be voted on include Fire and Police Department vehicle leases, Police Station Repairs, and a petition from the floor to pay for a forensic audit of the accounting documentation in the town of Orange.

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