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Ames cites years of experience in bid for Orange selectman

ORANGE — David Ames says his 18 years of experience in town government sets him apart as a candidate for selectman.

“I know what works and what doesn’t work,” the former municipal administrator told the audience at a candidates night this week. Now, he says, he wants to “take that knowledge and help out my town.”

Ames recently retired after serving for eight years as Athol town administrator. Before that, he worked as Shutesbury town administrator, after serving for five years as the community development director in Orange. He works as a case manager at Franklin County Home Care Corp.

Ames faces Linda Smith in Monday’s polling for a three-year seat on the board.

Ames, who is 59, began his career in town government after serving 21 years in the Air Force. He was born and raised in Orange, and graduated from Mahar Regional High School. He and his wife have eight children, three of whom are adopted and attend school in town.

In an interview after the meeting, Ames said the biggest problem facing Orange is that the town continues to spend one-time revenues on basic operating expenses. One-time resources (such as money budgeted for a project but not expended or additional state aid) should be used for capital investments or socked away, so that the town can regain ground financially.

Ames said the town is dangerously low in its reserve funds. “If a big emergency came up, we couldn’t pay for it.” He added he was able to help Athol expand its stabilization fund from $270,000 to $650,000 in his tenure there.

Ames said it’s important for voters to understand the difference between Proposition 2 1∕2 debt exclusions, which create temporary tax increases, and overrides, which are permanent tax increases. He said that even though an override may only ensure that a program is funded for a year, he believes it’s important to continue funding for that program at the override level. Many residents expressed anger the library budget was cut by more than 20 percent last year during the fiscal crises, when voters passed an override to support the program at a much higher level in 2010.

On the issue of how he would support education as selectman, Ames said that “to provide education we need to provide funding.” While Orange dipped below the state’s minimum requirement for school funding at the elementary level in recent years, “we shouldn’t have gotten that low … we need to get back up to net school spending.”

In answer to questions about the prospect of a new school building, Ames said it’s important to express interest about the project with the state as the application for state funding “is a very long process.” The process is also expensive, and must begin with a feasibility study that will cost at least several thousand dollars.

Ames said that he has heard people say “we should replace the school because we had to replace a roof, but replacing a roof is a whole lot less expensive” and does not mean a new school is needed. He wondered if one of the many residents who work in the construction field could help officials assess the old schools.

He said the new school needs to be seen in the context of other capital needs in town, including the library, which “has been trying to do something for years; they need their due diligence.”

Ames sees the townspeople as the number one strength of Orange. “When there is a need, people come forward to help … there is a heck of a lot of talent here.” He said that officials need to do more to get people involved.

He believes that seniors who “have so much talent and ability” can be engaged in programs that match their interests with town needs. Such programs are not costly and benefit both seniors and the town.

In general, Ames said the town has the funding and assets it needs to operate. “We do have a system that works, we just need to fine-tune it.”

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