Hartford Votes to Replace Sitting Selectboard Members With New Blood

  • Hartford, Vt., voter Joan Vogel talks with Hartford Selectboard candidate Jameson Davis on her way to the polls at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on Tuesday, March 6, 2018. "I had to go tease him on my way to vote for him," said Vogel, who teaches at Vermont Law School, where Davis is a student. Cyndi Salazar, of White River Junction, is at left, and Selectboard candidate Mike Morris, of Quechee, Vt., is at right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Rex England checks a voter in to the polls at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., Tuesday, March 6, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Hartford — Unofficial vote tallies show the town’s political winds may have shifted, replacing longtime Hartford residents and Selectboard incumbents Mike Morris and Sandy Mariotti with relative newcomers Jameson C. Davis, a law student who recently moved to Quechee, and Kim Souza, whose business has been part of White River Junction’s rapidly gentrifying downtown.

Voters also approved a $15.7 million municipal budget and a $38.2 million school district budget by significant margins, according to the tallies posted at the polls on Tuesday evening.

The candidates spent the day outside the Hartford High School polling station, exchanging greetings with voters and holding signs in the chilly March air.

Souza, 49, who moved to Hartford in 2007, was the clear front-runner with 970 votes; Davis’ 708 vote tally was enough for him to snag the second seat over Morris, who garnered 580 votes, and Mariotti, who netted 498.

“I’m really very, very honored with that, obviously,” Souza said, speaking by phone from Elixir restaurant in downtown White River Junction soon after the unofficial tallies were announced. “We just toasted to Sandy and Mike, because it was a pretty wonderful day together. It’s a bonding experience to stand 12 hours out in the cold together.”

Souza dedicated the win to her father, who passed away this week.

She said one of her first actions in office would be to develop a map of priorities for the town’s many infrastructure needs.

“It could highlight areas that really need attention sooner, and others that can maybe wait a few years,” she said.

In some ways, the new faces on the board reflect the community’s shifting character. Souza owns Revolution, a clothing boutique in downtown White River Junction that has thrived as part of a revitalization marked by a youthful and vibrant energy.

At 31, Davis, who attends Vermont Law School, will become the second-youngest member on the board, after 23-year-old Rebecca White, who was elected in 2015 at the age of 20.

Morris, 62, who owns a modular home building company, began his first term on the board in 2016, and has lived in town for nearly his entire life. Mariotti, 51, has lived in town for about 30 years, and works as a surgical technician at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. She served two terms, beginning in 2014.

Morris and Mariotti have been at odds with White and Selectboard members like Simon Dennis over cultural issues, such as when Morris and Mariotti voted against a Dennis-initiated move to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.

After the vote totals are certified, Souza and Davis will join White, Dennis (who ran unopposed this year), Alan Johnson, Dennis Brown, and Chairman Dick Grassi on the Selectboard.

Bill Brown, a real estate agent, said he cast one of his two votes for Davis, a Tesla field consultant who moved to Hartford only recently and has expressed enthusiasm for the area’s beauty.

“He has a fresh approach, looking at things with an open mind,” Brown said, shortly after exiting the polling booth. “He’s a thoughtful dude. I met him for two minutes, and felt like I knew him for much longer.”

Brown said he cast his other vote for Morris, whom he said he’s known for years.

“I know Mike does his homework, and he really thinks about the problem,” Brown said.

The town budget passed, 1,137-321, a 78 percent majority that was virtually identical to the 79 percent support for last year’s municipal budget.

Under the budget, municipal spending is up 2.9 percent over the current year’s $15.3 million in spending; the municipal property tax rate is expected to increase by about 3 cents, or 3.4 percent, to 99.06 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

That translates into an increase of about $82 on the tax bill of a $250,000 home.

Under the Hartford School District budget, the district’s general fund spending increases by 2.1 percent.

Before voting day, there were signs the school budget might face a stiffer challenge — after initially targeting a 3 percent education property tax rate increase, a reduction in state revenues forced School Board members to approve a projected 7.6 percent bump on a reluctant 3-2 vote.

But that didn’t deter voters, who passed the school budget handily on a vote of 901-451. That 67 percent majority constituted a wider margin than the 63 percent support for last year’s budget.

The education property tax rate is projected to increase by 12 cents, to $1.70 per $100 of assessed value, which would increase the taxes on a $250,000 home by $300.

The Selectboard is scheduled to hold an organizational meeting to choose board officers at 6 p.m. on Thursday in the Town Hall.

School Board incumbent Nancy Russell and Russ North ran unopposed for two seats on the School Board, which will next meet at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 14. Russell retains her seat, while North will replace outgoing member Lori Dickerson.

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