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Orford: Old Town Hall Purchase Approved

The “ayes” had it in a motion to accept a proposed municipal budget of nearly $943,000, but not before several residents and members of the Selectboard and Budget Advisory Committee expressed frustration with the budgeting process itself.

Questions arose after Moderator Peter Thomson noted at the start of Town Meeting last night that budget figures appearing on page 18 of the town report needed to be corrected. The figure for total estimated revenue and credits for the proposed 2013 budget, Thomson said, should be increased from $343,505 to $527,645, and the estimated amount of taxes to be raised should be decreased from $891,647 to $834,507. When Terry Harwood came to the microphone to ask for an explanation, Ruth Hook of the Budget Advisory Committee, and also a candidate for Selectboard, said members of the committee were stretched for time to gather accurate figures. Budget Advisory Committee member Bob Palifka also said the committee was not given enough time to gather accurate information. “What we need to do next year is to start earlier,” he said.

From the front of the room, Selectboard members Anne Duncan Cooley and John Adams spoke to the issue, saying in the future they would like to work more closely with department heads in getting reliable figures to the Budget Advisory Committee in a more timely fashion. Selectboard Chairman Tom Steketee noted that the budget process is a lengthy undertaking that begins in October, but agreed that there is room for improvement.

Tensions also seemed elevated during the voice vote on Article 4, which asked the town to appropriate $32,500 toward the purchase of a police cruiser. The article passed.

When Article 9 came up for discussion, progress came to a halt as a proposed amendment to the article was debated. As originally worded, Article 9 asked the town to allow the Orford Historical Society to use donated funds to purchase the historic Town Hall on Route 25A and to then hand over ownership of the building to the town itself. In return, the town would lease the building to the historical society for $1 a year and assume responsibility for insuring the building and maintaining the exterior of the structure. Hook proposed an amendment that would ask the town to relinquish its right of first refusal of the old Town Hall. The town had sold the building to John and Marie Matyka in 1996. Hook argued that her amendment would allow the historical society to purchase the building outright and remove the town from the transaction altogether.

That amendment was turned down by paper balloting.

Jim McGoff, who had argued against town ownership of the old Town Hall, then made a motion for paper balloting on Article 9 itself. The article had passed 105-34.

In the contested Selectboard race, Steketee held onto his seat, winning 94 votes to 77 for Hook and 67 for Ann Green.

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