Trio of public safety articles top Orange Town Meeting warrant

  • Orange Town Hall at 6 Prospect St. Staff File Photo/Domenic Poli

Staff Writer
Published: 12/5/2022 6:48:43 PM

ORANGE — Voters will convene at Town Hall on Thursday to consider the 19 articles on the Special Town Meeting warrant, three of which pertain to the town’s public safety departments.

Residents will meet in Town Hall’s Ruth B. Smith Auditorium at 7 p.m.

One article asks voters to spend nearly $45,000 to replace a boiler at the Orange Fire Department’s Water Street station. Selectboard Chair Jane Peirce said approval would ensure the department’s staff are kept warm during 12-hour shifts in an inadequate building.

“The Fire Department is in such deplorable condition you wouldn’t want to spend any time in there,” she said.

The following article on the warrant pertains to allocating $26,000 to pay the remaining costs of replacing an unrepairable police cruiser and to pay all incidental and related costs. Peirce said it is crucial for the Police Department to have a sufficient number of police cruisers, “and that one is ruined.” Police Chief James Sullivan said the vehicle’s electrical components do not react well to water and it would cost more than the cruiser’s worth to rewire it.

Sullivan mentioned he recently received a new cruiser that was approved by voters at Annual Town Meeting and he is awaiting a new administrative vehicle that was approved at the same meeting.

These two articles require a two-thirds majority vote to be adopted.

Peirce said adoption of a separate article would increase pay for firefighters and EMTs for the rest of fiscal year 2023 and fiscal year 2024.

“The starting wage (for an EMT) is comparable to pumping gas or flipping hamburgers in Hadley,” she said.

The Orange Fire Department has been plagued with staffing issues, and many in town government believe insufficient wages are the cause. Union members came to a Selectboard meeting in October to advocate for wage increases to improve employee retention rates.

“We’re in a crisis at the Fire Department and we’re extremely short-staffed right now,” firefighter/paramedic Dan Emerson told the Selectboard at the time.

Gabriele Voelker, who plans to retire as town administrator and treasurer on March 3, told the Selectboard at the same meeting that she is very concerned about the health and welfare of the Fire Department’s members.

“They can’t sustain this,” she said. “It’s not humanly possible to sustain this kind of a schedule.”

There is also an article regarding $15,000 for a sealer of weights and measures expense line covering the purchase of weights and the salary of personnel. Peirce explained a sealer of weights and measures ensures the integrity and calibration of scales and pumps at all relevant town businesses so customers are not wronged on pricing. Examples include food scales at stores and farmers markets, as well as pumps at gas stations.

“So if you buy 5 gallons (of gas), you know you’re getting 5 gallons,” she said.

Peirce said the weights to be purchased are used in the sealer’s calibration process. She mentioned the town has gone without a sealer for much of this year but Building Inspector Phil Harris had handled the responsibilities, and before him it was Athol resident J.R. Greene. Peirce said Orange could use a state official to fulfill the task “but the state is very expensive.”

One of the final articles on the warrant pertains to transferring $135,600 for a sewer replacement project on Blodgett Street, between South Main and Prentiss streets.

“Blodgett Street is a residential neighborhood,” Peirce explained. “They have had a chronic problem with the sewer in that area, that actually causes the sewage (to get into) people’s basements during high-water events. And we have to address it.”

The full Special Town Meeting warrant is available at bit.ly/3B7avtL.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.


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