Orange has found some ways to save

Josh Knechtel, the Orange Cemetery Superintendent, stokes up the fire in a radiant wood stove he has used to help heat his office . Recorder file photo/Paul Franz

Josh Knechtel, the Orange Cemetery Superintendent, stokes up the fire in a radiant wood stove he has used to help heat his office . Recorder file photo/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

Editor’s Note: Financial strains continue to challenge Orange’s leaders as they chart the town’s fiscal future.

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ORANGE — Despite staffing cuts, stretched resources and old failing computers, town employees and officials have found ways to keep basic services in place over the past few years in part because they have been resourceful.

One of those ways has been creating collaborative relationships with other towns and agencies.

Cemetery and Parks Superintendent Josh Knechtel said that he’s been able to keep cemeteries maintained due to a partnership with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. House of Corrections inmates are brought to Orange and work under supervision in the cemetery and on highway maintenance projects. According to Knechtel, they also helped sort, box and archive a mountain of old documents at Town Hall, creating much needed space in offices there.

“We consider them to be invaluable to us … they did an amazing job with that project,” said Town Administrator Diana Schindler.

She said there are other collaborations the town is exploring to create efficiencies in Orange and the region.

She and other town officials have been discussing the possibility of sharing equipment and an animal control officer with Athol and other nearby towns. And town and health officials have been discussing the idea of collaborating to provide certain health services through the Franklin Regional Council of Governments.

Schindler said the town is working with Franklin County to study the most efficient delivery of fire services.

Athol has applied for grant funding to study the feasibility of a regional fire district that would include Orange.

In addition to these partnerships, town officials are open to learning from other towns about how they can make the most efficient use of departmental budgets that are still pretty skinny after cuts in the past few years.

Knechtel, Schindler and the entire highway crew recently learned about cost-effective snow and ice removal techniques at a workshop taught by Mike Smith of the Heath Highway Department.

Schindler said calibrating the sand trucks will ensure that a limited amount of sand is dumped at any one time, potentially saving the town thousands of dollars over the season.

The presenters also advocated using a new kind of salt they said was less expensive than sand.

Selectman George Willard and other residents at the meeting questioned the move to salt as there have been some wetlands in Orange that have been contaminated by road salt.

Schindler said further research into the new kind of salt was necessary before she would advocate that approach, but “it’s great to hear about new ideas of making town operations more efficient, whether we end up using them or not … There are 350 cities and towns that are doing things we can learn from.”

“It’s never a bad idea to find out how other towns are handling situations,” said Willard. “But that doesn’t mean you’re going to emulate them. You really want to make sure what they’re doing is going to fit you.”

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