The Recorder – Orange Selectboard opts to reopen town buildings, allow cash payments

Published: 3/13/2022 5:01:12 PM

Modified: 3/13/2022 5:00:31 PM

ORANGE — The Selectboard voted unanimously last week to reopen town buildings to the public starting March 14 and to require the tax collector to resume accepting cash payments following pandemic-induced changes in policy.

Municipal buildings had their doors temporarily closed a second time following a more recent spike in COVID-19 cases, but Selectboard members felt it was safe to return to business as usual.

“I think it’s well past time,” Town Administrator Gabriele Voelker told board members. “We’ve kept everybody safe over the past two years.”

The Board of Health — of which Selectboard Chair Jane Peirce is also a member — voted unanimously earlier this month to rescind the townwide mask mandate starting March 5. The previously-repealed mandate had been reinstituted in October 2021 when COVID-19 cases were rising. According to the Board of Health’s Facebook page, there were eight new cases of COVID-19 in the first week of March. Health Agent Matthew Fortier also reported one recent coronavirus death.

“Fortunately, high levels of transmission are now much lower,” he wrote, “with new cases being relatively stable over the last two weeks.”

At the Selectboard meeting on March 9, member Andrew Smith advocated for reopening town buildings to the public the following day. Voelker, however, suggested March 14 because there would not be enough time between the meeting and the start of work on March 10 to inform staff of the change. And Peirce mentioned Town Hall is closed on Fridays anyway.

This vote also applies to the town offices located at 62 Cheney St. These offices were moved following the Selectboard’s October vote to close the Orange Armory due to age and deterioration issues.

After the reopening vote, Voelker explained cash has not been accepted in the Tax Collector’s Office since the start of the pandemic, due to concern about the possibility of transmitting the novel coronavirus. Research indicates the risk of contracting the virus through cash is low.

Voelker said this decision has come with positives and negatives — the office now operates more efficiently and there have not been any issues that come with handling cash, but the policy has been difficult for people who don’t have a bank account. Voelker said Tax Collector Kim Lively, who was not present for the virtual Selectboard meeting, is opposed to accepting cash.

Voelker mentioned the Town Clerk’s Office and the Transfer Station accept cash, though they deal with fewer people. She also said the Tax Collector’s Office accepts online payments as well as debit and credit cards.

“It is a small amount of people that want to pay in cash, but it does affect her operations, it takes more time, she has to run it to the bank, it’s dirty,” Voelker said. She also mentioned the state recognizes cash as legal tender and requires municipalities to accept it as payment.

Vice Chair Tom Smith said the policy of not taking cash is unacceptable.

“It’s not up to us to tell somebody how you’re going to pay,” he said.

Selectboard member Richard Sheridan agreed, saying the policy can be a hardship for people without checking accounts.

“If it’s an inconvenience,” he said, “well, that’s the way it goes.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: [email protected] or
413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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