New Orange operating budget up for vote at Thursday Special Town Meeting

Staff Writer
Published: 11/5/2019 6:03:51 PM

ORANGE — Residents will decide the town’s new operating budget Thursday, after the previously voted budget was nullified by voters’ rejection of a proposed tax override.

There are nine articles to be voted at the Special Town Meeting, which will be Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Ruth B. Smith Auditorium at Town Hall, 6 Prospect St.

Budget

Article 1, headlining the Special Town Meeting warrant, asks voters to pass a town budget of roughly $21.1 million for the 2020 fiscal year, which began July 1.

At the Annual Town Meeting on June 17, voters passed a budget of roughly $21.3 million. This article, if passed, would amend that budget.

The new budget is necessary because the originally voted budget was reliant on a Proposition 2½ tax override vote passing, which would have allowed the town to raise an additional $513,972 in taxes to cover town expenses.

The tax override failed overwhelmingly on July 31, with 672 opposed compared to 295 in favor, thereby necessitating a new budget to close the fiscal gap.

The new budget includes cuts to the original budget in several areas: $5,000 from town counsel; $4,365 from Orange Armory maintenance; $5,885 from the Police Department; $239 from the Building Department; $10,000 from regional animal control; $50,608 from the Orange Elementary School District; $7,560 from highway expenses; $6,526 from sanitation; $4,400 from the airport; and $100 from the Agricultural Commission.

The largest reduction, $84,765, is to the town’s snow and ice removal funds.

The Finance Committee plans to have a document for voters Thursday showing each line item cut.

In addition to cuts, the Finance Committee is recommending using $50,000 from the assessors overlay account and $235,000 from free cash — the remaining, unrestricted portion of a town’s budget — to balance the budget.

A concern among Finance Committee members in recent meetings has been the reduction to free cash. However, the Finance Committee has touted the reduction as necessary given the circumstances.

The Finance Committee reported in September that Orange has $692,739 in free cash. According to Finance Committee Chair Keith LaRiviere, a large portion of that goes toward snow and ice removal, which the town is required legally to provide as a service. LaRiviere estimated $150,000 to $170,000 will be taken from free cash for that purpose.

By reducing free cash by another $235,000, little will be left for unexpected costs.

Selectboard Vice Chair Jane Peirce and Town Administrator and Treasurer Gabriele Voelker reiterated the concern at a Selectboard meeting in October.

“It’s going to come back and bite us because next year we’re going to have no cushion to work with, especially if we have bad snow and ice,” Peirce said. “My fingers are crossed that it doesn’t lead to disaster.”

“This is a Band-Aid. This is not a solution,” Voelker said. “But it is the only solution we can present to you at the moment.”

Other articles

There are eight other articles included on the Special Town Meeting warrant, which is also available on the town website, townoforange.org.

Article 2 deals with the town’s Capital Plan, and amends an article voted at the Annual Town Meeting in June. The original article allowed $18,000 to be allocated to the Fire Department for fire thermal imaging. This article asks for $13,358 to be returned to the Stabilization Account. The town was awarded a grant for the imagers, and only needed $4,642 to match the federal share.

Article 3 asks the town to create a Water Department stabilization account titled “Water Source Development & Protection Stabilization” and to transfer money to that account from the proceeds of the Point property sales. According to Finance Committee Chairman Keith LaRiviere, Orange is selling the town-owned “Point properties” at Lake Mattawa. At least half of the proceeds from that sale are going to the Water Department to “develop new or replacement sources, and protect existing sources of public water within the boundaries of the town of Orange.” The account is created to make it clear that money from the Point sales is not normal revenue earned by the Water Department, LaRiviere said.

Article 4 asks for $217,621.83 to be transferred from the Water Department Retained Earnings to Water Source Development & Protection Stabilization, similarly to develop alternative water supply sources following the Point property sales.

Article 5 asks for $80,000 from the Water Department Retained Earnings to replace the Water Department’s dump body truck.

Article 6 asks for $100,000 to be transferred from Water Department Retained Earnings to install and test wells, referred to as “aging main replacement.”

Article 7 asks for $105,000 from the Water Source Development & Protection stabilization account to continue development and testing of Well No. 1’s satellite replacement drinking water source to back up the town’s current sources.

Article 8 requires a nine-tenths vote and asks for $117.02 from Sewer Enterprise Expenses to pay Fisher Scientific for past unpaid bills. This is a common, “housekeeping” article to pay for bills that “fell through the cracks” in previous years, LaRiviere said.

Article 9 would authorize the Selectboard to negotiate, execute and accept a tax agreement — known as a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes or PILOT — for personal property associated with a solar photovoltaic facility having a proposed nameplate capacity of approximately 6.63403 megawatts on privately owned land at 180 West Orange Road. According to LaRiviere, when owners of large projects — like this solar project — pay taxes normally, they typically pay more taxes in the first years of the project’s lifespan, but in later years, when infrastructure depreciates, they pay less and less in taxes. A PILOT agreement, LaRiviere said, is when the town and the owners of the project agree to a constant payment, rather than fluctuating taxes. A PILOT agreement allows the town to get a predictable sum of money each year, and town officials can better estimate future revenues.

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




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