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Orange to vote on single proposed budget

ORANGE — Come Monday, townspeople will be reviewing a single proposed spending plan for next year, not two.

The final figures, which the Finance Committee will present at town meeting on Monday night, reflect some big, reaching compromises between the committee’s earlier budget and Town Administrator Diana Schindler’s recommendations.

At its meeting Wednesday night, a majority of the Board of Selectmen voted to present a single budget to voters.

Selectmen’s Chairwoman Kathy Reinig opposed the motion.

She and Town Administrator Diana Schindler advocated Schindler’s recommended budget be made available as it included some key differences in revenue and expenditures.

Schindler’s budget included about $100,000 in additional revenue, which she said was based on this year’s local receipts. She added that officials from the state’s Department of Revenue agreed her projections were realistic.

Without the higher revenue figures, Schindler and Reinig said that some of Schindler’s initiatives will not take place and town departments may not have enough money to operate effectively.

But Selectman David Ames said “I think one budget is important … to reduce the confusion factor” at town meeting. Many residents and officials at the board’s meeting expressed resounding support for officials to present a unified budget on town floor.

Reinig said several people told her to “fight for” the additional column.

Ames urged the Finance Committee to work with Schindler in developing a unified budget, and to consider boosting revenue estimates, which they did Thursday night, increasing revenue estimates to $17.5 million.

The Finance Committee approved other requests, bridging the gap between its and Schindler’s budget. These changes include:

∎ Adding $5,000 to streetlights, boosting that line item to Schindler’s recommendation of $30,000, allowing for more streetlights to be turned back on. Except for ornamental lights, all streetlights were turned off to save money last year.

∎ Adding $25,000 to maintain and repair the armory. The selectmen voted Wednesday to keep the building open after many residents voiced support for it. Schindler and Reinig maintained more funding was needed to make badly needed upgrades if the selectmen approved keeping it open.

∎ Funding a $3,520 increase in Cemetery Superintendent Josh Knechtel’s salary, to oversee the parks and transfer station. The increase offsets a decrease in Highway Superintendent David Frye’s salary, who will no longer oversee town parks.

∎ While smaller than Schindler’s request, the change will allow consolidation of three departments, creating a more efficient and collaborative public works team.

Some key areas in which compromise was not reached:

∎ The committee did not fund a $10,000 increase to Administrative Coordinator Sheri Cleveland’s salary. Schindler advocated that Cleveland was the lowest paid clerical employee, but is tasked with higher-level coordinating functions, serving several town departments. Finance Committee Chairwoman Linda Smith said the committee did not support Schindler’s request in order to be fair to other employees. “We’d have every employee coming in … screaming, why does she get $10,000 more when we just get a 2 percent raise (the committee allowed for all employees?)”

∎ The committee did not approve $3,500 for Community Development Director Kevin Kennedy to work on planning projects unrelated to the grant-funded projects currently supporting his salary.

∎ Schindler asked for $14,000 more in building inspection department wages to keep up with increased department activity and new development.

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