ORANGE — The school board walked away empty-handed and voters here refused to approve funding for a new municipal office building during an old-school town meeting that began at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and wrapped up nearly five hours later.
“We were almost here two days again,” Town Clerk Kathie Felch said of a meeting that featured a series of votes on various iterations of the $2.7 million budget proposed by the school board.
None of them passed, but all of the votes were excruciatingly close, and the last one — a 38-37 rejection of an amendment to return to the $2,728,875 figure initially proposed by the school board prompted Moderator Adrian Otterman to suggest a timeout was in order.
“It was time to take a break,” said Felch, who explained the school budget, which dominated discussion for more than an hour and was the subject of three paper ballots, will be the sole focus of a yet-to-be-scheduled special meeting.
A motion to approve the school board’s original request was rejected, 39-35, and a subsequent amendment to level-fund the budget at the $2,720,000 that was approved a year ago was defeated, 39-37, according to Felch. That, she said, set the stage for the amendment that failed by just one vote and prompted a collective decision to move on rather than risk leaving the fate of the school budget up to a shrinking number of voters as the night dragged on.
According to Felch, when Orange’s town meeting got under way at 6:30 p.m., there were 105 registered voters in attendance. By the time the focus shifted from town to school affairs three hours later, she said, nearly 30 voters had left, and those who remained were nearly evenly divided when it came to how much should be spent on the operation of Orange Center School.
Although the school board didn’t get a final answer on its budget, the Select Board did when it came to a plan to invest $300,000 to replace the tiny town office building.
Felch said economic uncertainty drove that decision, which didn’t involve much debate and was made by a voice vote.
“People felt that given the economy, now was not the time,” she said.
Voters agreed to a $2,000 increase in the proposed general fund budget to cover the unanticipated cost of county taxes and approved the $509,800 highway budget proposed by the Select Board. Both municipal budgets passed on voice votes, as did a proposal to raise $15,000 to replace a section of the school roof.
Although they couldn’t agree on the school budget, voters were mostly of one mind when it came to a proposal to change the way it is adopted each year. A suggestion that future school budgets be adopted using the daylong voting system commonly referred to as the Australian ballot was easily defeated, 52-17.
In Orange, where candidates for local office are still nominated and elected from the floor, the only race that materialized was for the Select Board seat David Childs had held for 15 years. Ron Tallman and Sue Perreault were both nominated to replace Childs, and Tallman won, 81-24.
Childs received a certificate of appreciation for his service on the Select Board — most recently as its chairman — and on the Planning Commission.
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