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Orange votes balanced budget

ORANGE — On the second evening of the annual town meeting, after hours of deliberation, a round of applause rang out in Town Hall when voters passed a balanced budget of $17,537,714.

The decision gives the nod so officials can move forward in setting the tax rate and filing a balanced budget with the state over the next few weeks.

Finance Committee Chairwoman Linda Smith told voters Tuesday committee members logged many hours making cuts and proposing raises that were fair for all employees rather than targeting or benefiting a few departments.

Board of Selectmen’s Chairwoman Kathy Reinig said the questions voters raised about the budget “were fabulous.” She said several residents have told her the two-day meeting was one of best they have attended because budget discussions were rich and thoughtful.

While a number of motions were made to make changes in a number of line items, in the end there were just two changes to the proposed budget.

The committee’s estimates for revenue were about $17,000 higher in revenue than expenses. Voters approved moving a little over $8,000 of that amount to the stabilization account. The remainder was used to increase Administrative Coordinator Sheri Cleveland’s pay.

Some highlights in the budget discussion:

General government: proposed: $698,757; approved: $703,105.

A motion passed to increase Cleveland’s current salary of $32,594 by $5,000. This change boosted the Finance Committee’s allowed 2 percent increase in town employee wages. Schindler proposed a $10,000 increase as she said the position fulfills a critical coordinating role for several town departments and is currently underfunded.

A motion was made to increase town lawyer’s account by $20,000 to cover legal advice over upcoming property sales at the Point. That motion failed.

Public safety: proposed and approved: $1,817,321.

A motion was made by Fire Chief Dennis Annear to increase Fire Department wages by $50,000. The committee recommended funding wages at $565,561 which reflects a reduction of over $200,000 from this year’s budget. The committee recommendation is based on lower projections of next year’s ambulance revenues and the termination of the SAFER grant supporting a larger staff of emergency workers. Annear’s motion failed.

Education: proposed and approved: $9,673,277.

A motion was made to reduce Orange Elementary Schools by $200,000. After much discussion, the motion was rescinded.

Public works and facilities: proposed: $958,543; approved: $962,969

There were several proposed amendments adding money to airport wages, but only one passed. An additional $4,426 was added to the Finance Committee’s recommendation, bringing that line item to $24,998, providing staffing sufficient to meet FAA requirements.

Human services: proposed and approved: $251,037.

Culture and recreation: proposed and approved: $306,596.

Debt service: proposed and approved: $516,522.

Miscellaneous (fixed) expenses: proposed and approved: $3,306,887.

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