Orange voters to decide on tax override July 29

Staff Writer
Published: 7/16/2019 10:56:03 PM

ORANGE — In less than two weeks’ time, Orange residents will decide if they really support the $21 million budget voted at Annual Town Meeting last month.

That’s because they will have the opportunity to go into voting booths and anonymously decide whether to pass a half-million-dollar Proposition 2½ tax override.

Orange’s tax override vote is Monday, July 29, to be held at the Orange Armory. Polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

On June 17, voters passed a Finance Committee-recommended $21,353,712.07 budget for this fiscal year, which began July 1. That was a 6.2 percent increase over last year’s budget of $20,103,315.92. By comparison, the year before, the increase was only about 2 percent.

However, the town’s revenue is short by $513,971 of fully funding the voted budget, and an override vote is necessary to allow the town to raise more through taxes to close the gap. If the Proposition 2½ tax override vote fails, the town will not legally be able to raise the money needed to fund its budget, and cuts will have to be made.

Proposition 2½ is a state statute that allows the town to raise more money than regularly allowed from real estate and personal property taxes, which is 2½ percent. It must be approved as a ballot question at an election.

Finance Committee Chairman Keith LaRiviere made his plea to residents on June 17 to not only vote through the budget, but to show up on July 29 to vote for the override. He said town departments’ requested operating budgets have been continuously cut in recent years, and that this is the year to “bite the bullet.”

“The typical result of the budget process is we’ve been increasing the school budgets and pretty much relentlessly cutting the budgets of the rest of the departments in town, and if we’re going to keep the town functioning … we think we need to bite the bullet this year and raise another half-million dollars,” LaRiviere said. “That’s the short story.”

According to the Finance Committee, since the 2013 fiscal year, the budget has increased by about $605,000 per year on average, while revenue has increased by $231,252.

Indeed, most of the increase to the budget this year came from the increases to education costs. Other increasing costs were driven by inflation, employee wage increases and insurance.

Orange’s elementary schools were given the largest increase of any line item, $300,000, which is still less than the original $600,000 increase — 9 percent — asked for.

The requested budgetary increase for the elementary schools was halved after some controversy. At a joint meeting between the Selectboard, Finance Committee and School Committee in May, it was revealed that mid-year hires were leading to increasing costs. It was later determined 11 new staff were hired in the middle of the school year — classroom teachers, paraprofessionals and a guidance counselor — at least in part to deal with student misbehavior and classroom disruptions at Fisher Hill Elementary School.

Selectboard members like Bill Wrigley questioned the hires, saying he hadn’t seen such a large increase in staff before, and Selectboard Chairman Ryan Mailloux said, “I have little interest in funding the schools with an override.” Others, including members of the Finance Committee, said the schools’ budget lacks transparency.

Education as a whole — Ralph C. Mahar Regional Schools, Orange’s elementary schools and others like Franklin County Technical School — makes up around 55 percent of the town budget.

By halving the elementary schools’ budget request, and making cuts to other departments’ requested budgets, the Finance Committee decreased the town’s budget gap from an initial roughly $730,000 to its current $513,971. That’s the number on the table on July 29.

If the tax override does not pass, the town will have to schedule a Special Town Meeting by Sept. 15 to balance the budget.

Orange Elementary School Committee member Alex Schwanz previously told the Finance Committee that an override vote failure would mean the schools will have to cut “about four staff members,” or up to five total. Classes would likely be consolidated, especially in the higher grades, resulting in more students per class, Schwanz said — 25 students per class in the fourth through sixth grades, as opposed to 22 or 23 currently.

Consolidation would be focused on the higher grades, Schwanz said, because “those students we can watch less.”

“When it comes to the lower grades, given the problems we had this year … we thought it was not appropriate to reduce teachers at that level,” he said.

The cut positions would be teachers and one counselor that was part of the mid-year hires.

If the override vote passes, a property valued at $200,000 in Orange would pay a $4,790 tax bill instead of the $4,590 without the override. The tax rate for the fiscal year that concluded on June 30 is $22.52, which would amount to a $4,478 bill for a property valued at $200,000.

Reach David McLellan at or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.

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