In a referendum on February 16, Orange residents overwhelmingly approved the purchase of Race Brook Country Club, appropriating $8.6 million for the purchase of the golf club at 246 Derby Avenue, a purchase that includes 287 acres of land, buildings and improvements. According to Town Clerk Patrick O’Sullivan, 1704 voted yes, 772 voted no. Of the 2,476 total votes counted, 589 were received as absentee ballots.
Finance Director John Cirafelli said last week that the town and the country club still need to finalize a contract before the town can go out to bond for the purchase. For financing the town would be looking for a 20-year bond, which, combined with interest, will cost the town some $10.3 million. However, the town will also be receiving lease payments from the club, said First Selectman Jim Zeoli at a virtual town meeting February 2 on Zoom. Those lease payments to the town will total $10.6 million over a 40-year period. “Their return to the town will be greater than the expense of the 20-year bond,” Zeoli said. “This is not a bailout.” The lease payment would be $250,000 for the first five years, then increase to $380,000. At the same time the town would lose $125,000 in property tax income.
Taxes will make up the difference between the lease payments once they kick in, and debt payments. Zeoli estimated that for a home worth about $360,000 the purchase would add roughly $52 to the yearly tax bill; a $700,000 home would see a $105 increase, and the homeowner of a $1 million home is looking at a $158 tax increase. These figures are estimates until the financing is finalized.
Due to the pandemic, public discussion of the proposal was limited. The virtual town meeting served as a forum to inform townspeople about the proposal. Letters from residents were read into the record. But discussion continued on Facebook, focusing on whether preserving more open space is inherently preferable to allowing development, even condos.
“I think the drive to keep things underdeveloped here in Orange is why it passed,” wrote Alisa Hobart Paskiewicz on Facebook. “Most want it to remain a smaller town and not an overdeveloped city such as Milford has become.”
By Bettina Thiel – Orange Town News Correspondent