Orange residents will be voting ‘town meeting’ style on the proposed 2016-2017 budget at High Plains Community Center on May 9. The budget proposal carries a 2.55% increase over this current year’s spending plan.
With the town facing funding cuts from the state, Board of Finance Member Jim Leahy said this has been a particularly challenging year to draft a budget. In spite of the grand list rising 1% and spending increasing by less than 2%, the proposed budget will increase the tax rate by 2.55%.
Due to tax breaks given to United Illuminating and Fieldstone Village, revenue to the town is down by over $600,000. “That’s why we’re examining everything to figure out how to do more with less. We have to look at it as a long-term investment for Orange. UI could have been taxed $1.35 million. We’re only getting 30% of that. Over the next seven years, that number will gradually decline. At the eighth year out, we’re collecting the full amount in taxes,” Leahy explained at a budget hearing in late April.
“We made targeted cuts in the town budget. Not everyone is going to be in favor of every single one of them,” he said.
The Board of Finance requested both the Amity and Orange Boards of Education request no more than 1.99% increase over this year’s budget. “We cut as many things as we could cut, tried to influence the education budgets, bonded where we could bond, used a lot of money that could have gone into fund balance and we have a 2.55% increase,” Leahy said. Money that was returned to the town from the Amity Schools will be applied to the operating budget, as opposed to depositing to the fund balance. Without applying these funds to the budget, the tax increase would be 3.8%.
Kevin Houlihan, chairman of the Board of Finance said, “It’s probably a concern of everyone in this room, we were notified in February—originally the ECS (Education Cost Sharing) grant to Orange was supposed to be $1.6 million and the governor reduced it to $1.348 million. Since then it has been reduced an additional $198,000. There has been no action taken by the legislature, but as of now, this is the impact the state is having on the budget.”
First Selectman James commended the board and the town’s financial leaders for “working really hard to keep everything in balance.”
“One of the things that we’re proud of in Orange is our AAA credit rating. One of the contributing factors is our conservative fiscal policies, the town’s economic development, our very solid fund balance and community involvement. The people who serve on boards and commissions in this town, along with all of the volunteers—without them, I’m not sure where we’d be,” Houlihan said.
Sixty five percent of the town’s budget goes to education, nine percent is town employee benefits and the remainder covers town expenses including public safety and public works. The town budget increases 1.7% and both school districts come in at under 2%. What this means to taxpayers: if you have an average home ($355,000) the mill rate will go from .0314 to .0322. At a 70% assessment, taxes would be $8,013, a $199 increase over this current year.
By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent