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Hartford OKs Town Budget



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Hartford — Selectboard members gave final approval on Tuesday night to include their proposed $15.7 million municipal budget in the finalized warning language that will go before Town Meeting voters in March.

Before the unanimous vote, Town Manager Leo Pullar told the Selectboard that the town has seen significant improvement in the underlying cause of a 14 percent hike in workers compensation insurance. The insurance rates have been one of the main drivers of increased spending in the budget.

“We are trending in the right direction as far as insurance claims paid out over the past year,” Pullar told the Selectboard.

The town spent slightly more than $1 million on payouts in 2015, which contributed to the insurance rate spike, Pullar said. In 2016, the town paid out about $428,000 and in 2017, which was not included in the current insurance rate calculation, the town paid out just $200,000.

“We hope that our rates will stabilize after 2015 drops out of the equation,” Pullar said.

The budget is up 2.9 percent over the current year’s $15.3 million in spending, but because non-tax municipal revenues are down or flat, the impact on the municipal property tax rate is expected to increase by 3.4 percent, to 99.1 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

If the budget is approved by voters in March, the owner of a $250,000 home would see their taxes go up to $2,476.50 from $2,395.

The budget does not provide for the repair and operation of the Sherman Manning Pools, which have been plagued by costly fixes over the past few years. Town officials have considered closing the pool permanently in favor of a lower-cost alternative, such as a spray park, but the idea has sparked a passionate defense of the pool among many in the community.

Former School Board member Jeff Arnold suggested the town consider using part of an estimated $250,000 in revenues from the recently imposed local option tax to finance a bond and build a new pool.

Selectboard Chairman Dick Grassi said the Selectboard is forming a committee tasked with exploring the town’s options.

“I think the ultimate goal of this board is to have a water experience that will continue for the town of Hartford,” Grassi said. “Whether or not the pool is the proper option or not, that’s why we’re going to do our due diligence to figure that out, before we spend the taxpayers’ money.”

About 1.2 percent of the proposed spending — roughly $200,000 — is broken into 18 separate allocations for a variety of organizations that provide social services to the Hartford community.

Of those, only two of the proposed allocations are for more than $10,000.

If voters back the recommendations, Advance Transit would receive $77,050 for providing public transportation services, while Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire would receive $41,882 for providing home health care and hospice services.

Five of the allocations are for less than $1,000 each, with the smallest — $300 — going to support the trash bags, promotion, education and services of Green Up Vermont, which organizes an annual statewide trash pick up day in May.

The Selectboard also approved a warning for the “Annual Town and School District Meeting Day,” scheduled for Saturday, March 3. The warning pertains to a few items of municipal business conducted on that day — setting the due dates for tax payments, formally receiving the reports of town officers, and setting the payment rates for town officials.

Last year, Town and School District Meeting Day attendees — a majority of whom were members of the School Board and Selectboard — increased the pay of the Selectboard and the School Board to $75 per meeting from $50 per meeting.

Townwide voting on the budget is scheduled for March 6, Town Meeting Day.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached a t mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.

 Clarification

Former Hartford School Board member Jeff Arnold suggested at a Selectboard meeting on Tuesday night that the town consider using part of the $250,000 in revenue from the recently instituted local option tax to finance a bond to build a new town pool. A story in Wednesday's Valley News was unclear on the details of his proposal.