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Orange backs police spending

Money for Senior Outreach Program also gets OK

ORANGE — The town’s Police Department and senior citizens are getting more support from taxpayers.

Voters have unanimously approved a transfer of $43,000 from surplus to police wages so that a new police officer can be hired. Chief Robert Haigh said that hiring another officer is necessary to cover open shifts when serious crimes occur simultaneously, and when his staff take vacations or are sick.

Currently, he fills schedule gaps by requesting officers to work overtime. Overtime is 1.5 times more expensive than regular pay. Haigh added that excessive overtime also leads to staff burn-out. In addition, officers working double shifts do not have sufficient time to fill out reports at the end of the first shift before they begin answering calls on the second shift. He added that two shifts each are covered by overtime workers.

At a special town meeting last week, Rhonda Bartlett asked whether the new officer will eliminate overtime costs. Haigh said in such a small department, there will always be some overtime. However, these costs will be substantially reduced once the new officer and another recent hire are fully trained, he said.

Haigh said that once he has hired a new officer, another who was hired last summer will be able to attend the Police Academy as required by state law. After that the new officer will attend the academy. By this time next year, both officers will be fully trained and on the beat.

Haigh told voters that once both officers are trained, he will be able to maintain the new person’s salary with his current budget. “I won’t ask you for another $50,000 next year,” he said.

Voters also unanimously supported officials’ request for a $10,000 transfer from surplus to fund the Senior Outreach Program, which operated on grants until last month. Over the past few years, the program has been enormously popular with senior citizens, who rely on Outreach Worker Tracy Gaudette to help them combat red tape to gain access to Medicaid insurance and other services they are entitled to.

Selectmen originally sought $5,000 to restart the program this spring. But after discussion in a joint session between the two boards, Finance Committee members decided the program needed more funding.

Jim Kornwell moved to increase the request to $10,000. “Hopefully the state of Massachusetts will come to their senses and support our senior citizens,” he said, adding that Orange voters would not need to wait. “Let’s support the people who got us this far,” he urged residents.

After much debate, voters approved a $2,500 transfer from surplus to increase Highway Superintendent David Frye’s salary.

Finance Committee Chairman Bob Anderson said that while selectmen and the Finance Committee approved the transfer, he did not support it. “I am not looking to punish (Frye)… but one of my personal concerns is that we will set a precedent.” Anderson said that as the salary increase will be coming out of the one-time surplus account, he was not sure how the town would support Frye’s increased salary in the future.

But selectmen argued that Frye’s salary was cut disproportionately to other department heads during the deep budget cuts last fiscal year. Selectmen’s Chairman Richard Sheridan contended that when many employee salaries were restored to the levels of previous years, Frye’s was not.

Selectman Kathy Reinig added that the $2,500 will bring Frye up to $51,028, still several thousand dollars shy of the amount he was making two years ago.

Voters supported the recommendations of their officials to put off discussion and voting on a proposed increase of Fire Chief Dennis Annear’s salary. The increase of $2,535 was included in the meeting warrant as a transfer from surplus.

Sheridan said that the recommendation was originally made to keep the town in compliance with state laws. In small towns like Orange, the law stipulates fire and police chiefs make 1.5 times the highest salary of a full-time, permanent firefighter under their command. Sheridan added the board has not yet concluded how the Annear’s salary is impacted by the law and asked voters to “postpone action indefinitely.”

In apparent opposition to the tabled request, Rhonda Bartlett noted Annear makes about $90,000. Annear has served as fire chief since 1992.

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