Selectboard eyes July 15 for tax override vote

  • Orange Town Hall

Staff Writer
Published: 5/23/2019 11:14:13 PM
Modified: 5/23/2019 11:14:02 PM

ORANGE — A tax override vote will happen in Orange, and it will likely be July 15, barring strong public support for pushing it to a later date.

Now less than a month away from the Annual Town Meeting, the Orange Selectboard and Finance Committee have been frequently discussing the town’s budget situation and a Proposition 2½ override vote is inevitable.

There is a financial shortfall of hundreds of thousands of dollars — the exact number depending on what departments’ budget requests are cut, and by how much, for the next fiscal year starting July 1.

There are 34 articles to be voted at the Annual Town Meeting on Monday, June 17, including a citizens’ petition to put the town’s expense reports — its general ledger — online monthly, and another petition to sell town-owned property on Holtshire Road, the site of a former camp.

Headlining the annual Town Meeting warrant, however, is the budget, which, if passed, would be contingent on the passage of a Proposition 2½ override.

Proposition 2½ is a state statute allowing the town to raise more money than normally allowed from real estate and personal property taxes, which is 2½ percent.

If an override vote fails in Orange, the town will have to slash departments’ requested budgets to make ends meet.

Town Administrator Gabriele Voelker said during Wednesday’s Selectboard meeting that the town has sought legal advice, and found that a second, more austere budget would have to be prepared and voted on after June 17 if the override-contingent budget fails. A balanced budget should be in place July 1, the start of the next fiscal year, Voelker said.

A specific budget number — the grand total — has yet to be plugged in to the warrant article, with the Finance Committee still coming up with a recommended budget that would be contingent on an override passing.

A major difficulty in preparing the budget, Selectboard and Finance Committee officials have bluntly stated, has been the Orange Elementary Schools’ request of a $6,953,117 budget, a $577,473 increase (9 percent) over this year. School officials have justified the large increase by explaining 11 new staff — including classroom teachers, paraprofessionals and a guidance counselor — were hired mid-school year.

Selectboard member Bill Wrigley said he has never seen such an increase in staffing in one year before without a detailed public explanation and said the schools have not adequately explained the hires.

Selectboard Chairman Ryan Mailloux has also said, as a taxpayer, he would like further explanation before voting for an override to support the schools. There have been allusions, though none explicit, to problems at Fisher Hill Elementary School this year with student misbehavior leading to frequent evacuations of classrooms.

Feeling a lack of transparency is coming from school officials, with Finance Committee members agreeing, the Selectboard voted last week to support no more than a $300,000 increase in funding for the elementary schools, rather than the schools’ requested nearly $600,000 increase.

Also last week, the Finance Committee said it would take the Selectboard’s vote into consideration, and would likely cut the requested school budget increase by several hundred thousand dollars in order to save taxpayers money.

With suggested cuts to the requested schools’ budget increase, the town would still have to pass an override in order to fully fund the budget, just a smaller one — Finance Committee Chairman Keith LaRiviere said an override number of around $470,000 has been discussed.

Education makes up the majority of the town’s budget — this year it was roughly 55 percent of the $20 million budget.

But with other departments looking at a 2.5 percent budget increase, a 9 percent increase for the schools was seen as too much without an explanation for the new hires.

The Selectboard members also discussed Wednesday whether to hold a special election to fill the vacant seat left by James Cornwell, who resigned last week. Cornwell did not give an explicit reason for his resignation, but mentioned “stress” and “foolishness.”

The Selectboard did not formally take a vote, but it was decided Monday, July 15 would be the date of a tax override vote, unless the Selectboard members hear significant feedback from the public wanting the date to be pushed back.

The rationale for pushing the vote back to September would be to hold the vote concurrently with a special election to fill a vacancy on the Selectboard.

Selectboard Chairman Ryan Mailloux and Vice Chairwoman Jane Pierce both said they are fine with continuing with a four-person body until the next scheduled election in March 2020, thus having the override vote July 15.

However, both said they are open to persuasion if there is strong public support for a special election. It is impossible to hold both a special election and override vote on July 15, because there is not enough time for campaigning and taking out nomination papers.

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.




Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

Copyright © 2019 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy