Hartland to Vote on Intersection Redesign

The Hartland School District Informational Meeting is set for Monday, March 3, at 7:30 p.m., and Town Meeting is on Tuesday, March 4, at 9 a.m. Australian ballot voting will be held from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Town Meeting Day. The meetings and voting take place in Damon Hall.

Hartland — Town Meeting voters will have the chance to weigh in on a range of issues, from a proposed redesign of a worrisome intersection to the prospect of Canadian tar sands oil flowing across the state.

On the school side, the proposed budget includes money to add one new staff position and expand several others.

The proposed fiscal year 2015 town budget, which includes a 2 percent raise for town employees, is about $2.3 million, representing an increase of $51,500, or 2.3 percent, over the current year.

“It’s pretty much a flat budget,” said Town Manager Bob Stacey. “We tried to keep it as low as possible, as always. It’s a struggle every year.”

The increase is due largely to a proposed plan to put $50,000 into a reserve fund for future purchases of fire trucks. “We want to start putting the money away so we won’t have to borrow,” Stacey said.

Case in point — another warning article proposes spending up to $450,000 on a new fire engine-rescue truck, to be financed over a period of up to 10 years. The large truck would replace two aging smaller vehicles. The request, to be decided by Australian ballot, would add about $52,000 a year to the budget during the repayment period.

The warning also includes a request to borrow up to $450,000 from the Capital Reserve Fund to realign the Three Corners intersection and repay the fund over a five-year period.

“It’s pretty unusual to for Hartland to bring that forward,” Stacey said. “We’ve never really done anything that big.”

The intersection near Damon Hall has long been a safety concern, especially for pedestrians. It has just one crosswalk, situated well back from the stop bar, the painted line that shows motorists where to stop, and there is “simply no convenient or safe way to move around on foot in the intersection area,” the Selectboard said in its 2013 report.

“Hartland citizens have experienced a number of close calls getting across traffic, and anyone who has been involved would do or pay almost anything to make sure this never happens again.”

Apparently because no serious accidents have taken place there, the project is “way down on the state’s list,” the report said. So, rather than wait for state or federal money to cover most of the costs, the Selectboard has taken what it calls the unusual step of endorsing a specific project.

“We have decided we must proceed with one voice, or nothing will ever go forward,” it said in the report.

A recent study, which was 80 percent grant-funded, resulted in several proposals for addressing the problem. The Selectboard settled on one that would realign the intersection, making all four roads meet at roughly 90-degree angles. The plan would accommodate four stop signs and four stop bars, with crosswalks just ahead of each stop bar. A fifth stop sign would be installed on the Route 5 north lane.

In the new configuration, the longest crossing would be just the width of the road, making it safer all around, Stacey said.

The plan, which includes additional green space, would also make coming into town “much more aesthetically pleasing.”

An engineer from White River Junction-based Resource Systems Group, which conducted the study, will present the plan in detail at Town Meeting.

The Selectboard said interest paid on the project would add about 2 cents on the tax rate, or about a $50 per year increase on a $250,000 home, during the repayment period.

The current municipal tax rate on $100 of assessed value is about 43 cents. If the total spending plan passes, homeowners would see an estimated increase of about 1.5 cents per $100 of assessed value, representing a tax increase of about $38 on a $250,000 home. The amount to be raised through taxes to support the current budget and articles is $1.8 million. Should the total proposed spending plan pass, the amount to be raised through taxes would be $1.87 million.

The two proposed articles involve a lot of money, but they are coming at a good time, Stacey said. “Cash is good right now. There’s no need to add onto the schools or any of the buildings.”

Non-spending articles include one that would change the due dates for property taxes to the second Friday in September and second Friday in February, for the first and second payments, respectively. Another asks whether Hartland should express opposition to the transport of tar sands oils through Vermont and ask the state Legislature and the U.S. Congress to ensure thorough environmental impact reviews of any tar sands oil pipeline proposals.

Adding the question to the warning required 125 signatures, which Karyn Stack collected with the help of her 16-year-old daughter, Gretta, and her daughter’s friends.

Stack, a Cobb Hill resident, worries about the oil’s effect on the environment

“It’s just supposed to be awful … for the air, the water, the land where it gets taken out,” she said. “Environmental groups are saying, ‘Just leave this stuff in the ground.’ ”

Transporting oil derived from tar sands requires using “a lot” of very corrosive chemicals that could explode or leak, she said. “People in Vermont are going to be affected if there’s any problem with this.”

While she was gathering signatures, Stack was surprised to find most of the people she approached had never heard of tar sands oil. But after learning more, “99 percent of the people were fine signing (the petition),” she said.

According to the website Tar Sands Free Vermont, 29 towns in the state passed the resolution last year; this year at least seven others, including Hartland, are considering it at Town Meeting.

The resolution is prompted by concern that oil companies will begin transporting tar sands oil from Northwest Canada to Maine, possibly by way of the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line, which transports conventional oil from Portland to Montreal.

The pipeline, which crosses the northeast corner of Vermont, is owned by Portland Pipe Line Corp., based in South Portland, Maine. The company, a fully owned subsidiary of Montreal Pipeline Ltd., has said it has no plans to transport the oil.

“Portland Pipe Line doesn’t handle oil sands and has no plans to do so,” Jim Merrill, a spokesman for the company, said Friday.

If that were to change, Portland Pipe Line would take part in every required public process to connect with the public at large, he said.

“An economic engine” for the region, the company has been a good neighbor for 72 years, Merrill added.

Selectboard Races

Voters will also elect two Selectboard members. Incumbent Gordon Richardson is running unopposed for a three-year term, and Scott Gray is challenging longtime Selectman Thomas White for a two-year term.

Gray, who works for Northern Nurseries in White River Junction, has lived in town for 31 years. Gray, 56, formerly taught and served as co-principal in the elementary school, and Hartland is “very near and dear” to him. “I don’t have any agendas. It’s just at this point in my life, I’d like to be more involved in the town,” he said. “I feel like it’s part of my civic duty to try to give back the town that I feel has taken me in.”

White, 82, has served on the Selectboard for 28 years. If he’s re-elected, he plans to focus on two or three projects, including the Three Corners intersection. “We are trying to rearrange that a little bit to make it better,” he said.

White, a Hartland native, is running again because enjoys the work. “There are a lot of nice of people in town and on the board,” he said.

School Budget

The proposed 2014-2015 school budget is $8.09 million, representing a decrease of about $195,000, or 2.4 percent, from the current budget. The change is due largely to lower special education and high school tuition costs, about $271,000 and $112,000 less than the current year, respectively. But due to overall education spending in the state, the projected tax rate under the proposed spending plan would rise 3 cents, to about $1.57 on $100 of assessed value. That would mean an increase of about $75 on a $250,000 house.

The proposed budget includes about $175,000 to expand instruction in art, family and consumer science, and health, and increase guidance services from four to five days a week. The money would also fund a half-time early literacy intervention position, restored after being cut last year, and a new full-time K-5 academic intervention position. The job was created to help the school meet responsiveness to instruction and intervention requirements, Principal Jeff Moreno said in an email. The proposed budget also includes a 2.5 percent raise for teachers and support staff.

Voters will also be asked to consider transferring money from the current capital reserve account, about $550,000, to a new capital reserve account that does not require voter approval to spend. The change would allow the board to make minor unanticipated repairs in the summer, rather than deficit spend or wait until budget season in March, said Bettina Read, School Board chairwoman.

“We do a lot of things in the summer, as far as building maintenance. Sometimes we don’t know what we need to do until the kids are gone.” Read said. “It would just be convenient if we could tap into the capital reserve fund and get (the repairs) taken care of.”

If major improvements were needed, the board would know in advance and seek voter approval, Read said.

Dan Emanuele and incumbent Nancy Gabriel are both running unopposed, for three-year and two-year terms, respectively. Emanuele, a senior vice president and relationship manager with Ledyard National Bank, has two children in the district and has served on the principal search committee and budget committee. Joining the School Board was “the next way that I could contribute,” Emanuele said.

Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.