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Second town meeting brings balanced budget for Orange

ORANGE — Voters eventually approved an $18,243,487 operating budget for next year, at the second of two meetings held this week.

The budget was based on recommendations from the Finance Committee and differing recommendations from the Board of Selectmen.

Having two separate and different balanced budget recommendations to consider left a $16,272 overage in the spending plan that needed to be addressed at the end of the discussions. A motion was made by Selectman David B. Ames to use $16,272 from the town’s “free cash” surplus to keep the budget as voters wanted and have it balance. The town approved his motion.

Focus on town employees and proposed raises brought a $3,000 increase to the Sanitation Department.

An amendment not approved, proposed by the selectman, increased the airport manager’s salary. The requested amount for Manager Len Bedaw was approximately $3,000 higher than the $5,712 increase that was already set forth by the Finance Committee. Bedaw himself and Chairman of the Airport Commission, Julie Cole argued for the additional funds by pointing out the success of the airport and the desirability it brings to Orange. This line item was subject to cuts in 2011 and the Finance Committee’s recommendation, while not as high as the selectmen’s, took that into consideration, setting it at the $50,000 voted in by the town.

Petition articles fail

Two articles that were brought forth by petitions from the floor raised debate. One was a request to lower town and special meeting quorums from 75 people to 45. Another was a request for a forensic audit of the town’s books.

Resident Pat Smith brought the quorum issue to the floor, stating frustration with the process when showing up for special meetings and not having enough attendees to enable a vote. Several voters responded against the idea, citing the importance of town meetings as the last real place for democracy and that a small number of residents can’t be the voice of the whole town.

One resident commended the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee, saying this year’s town meeting was successful in that it made her feel involved and that continuing to draw people into the process will get people to show up. The request failed and the quorum remains at 75 voters.

The audit idea was brought by Jim Cornwell as a request to allocate $30,000. Cornwell said he is a member of the Orange Taxpayers Association, which has been working to contribute to the town’s future success. He said he knows Orange has had financial problems for years and that this audit could be the instrument to discover past problems and prevent them in the future. Cornwell said he was prompted to make the request last November when as a Trustee for Soldiers Memorials he was doing prep for the annual report. He went to the town to verify figures and the accountant could not find their account. After working with the town administrator to resolve the issue, he was given monthly reports they hadn’t received in a while.

The proposal was rejected after debate. Bruce Scherer, chairman of the Planning Board suggested that if this was something the town really wanted to do, then clarity should be provided in the form of a complete presentation showing what the final product could be at the end of the audit.

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