Due to failed override, Orange voters to adopt new budget in November

  • Following a failed Proposition 2½ tax override vote in July, Orange’s Special Town Meeting to adopt a new, balanced budget will be Thursday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 9/10/2019 11:03:09 PM

ORANGE — A new, balanced budget is expected to be adopted in November, when the town will hold a Special Town Meeting.

The Special Town Meeting will be held Thursday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall, 6 Prospect St. The last day for residents to register to vote is Oct. 28.

People wishing to submit an article for the Special Town Meeting warrant should submit it to the town administrator no later than Oct. 7.

Headlining the Special Town Meaning will surely be the new recommended budget from the Finance Committee, which will replace the budget voters adopted at the June Annual Town Meeting.

On June 17, Orange voters passed an overall town budget of $21,353,712 for the 2020 fiscal year, which began July 1. The budget was a 6.2 percent increase from last year — to compare, the year before the budget only increased by about 2 percent — with increases driven in areas like health insurance, new hires and, especially, education.

However, that budget — though passed — was contingent on a Proposition 2½ tax override vote passing July 29 to allow the town to fill a $513,971 fiscal gap and fully fund the budget.

The override failed overwhelmingly, with 676 opposed and 295 in favor. With revenues falling short of expenses and the subsequent override failure, the voted budget is nullified, requiring a new, balanced budget, expected to be adopted Nov. 7.

That budget will include cuts to previous line item numbers presented to voters. At the time of writing this article, the Finance Committee has not voted on a new recommended budget.

However, past statements from Finance Committee members indicated the town will likely use $250,000 from its “free cash” account, make small cuts to town departments’ budgets and halve the elementary schools’ budget increase over last year.

In the originally voted June 17 budget, the town’s elementary schools received a $300,000 increase over the previous budget, which was still about half of the roughly $600,000 increase the School Committee requested in the spring.

The $300,000 increase to the schools could now be halved again, to $150,000, as part of the new recommended budget. Conversations between the Finance Committee and School Committee members have indicated a $150,000 change will likely mean cutting some of the positions the schools hired last year.

“That ($150,000) apparently is not enough to maintain all of the positions they hired in the middle of the year,” Finance Committee Chair Keith LaRiviere said in July, following the override failure. “We anticipate lost positions.”

LaRiviere also said the new budget will likely leave very little free cash — the town’s remaining, unrestricted portion of funds. Free cash is projected to be $268,926.81 for Orange. If $250,000 goes toward balancing the budget, very little will remain to bail out the town if needed next year.

“It won’t be exhausted, but we’re not going to have a lot of free cash next year to balance the budget,” LaRiviere said.

“I would characterize it as ‘We’ll probably be starting out in a hole,’” he added. “I would not be surprised if we are recommending another override next year.”

Look for an article on the Finance Committee’s discussion of the new recommended budget in the Greenfield Recorder later this week.

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

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